Treatise on the Way of Sorrows, by F Alexis Bulens, OSF

Chapter 1 – Introduction to the Stations of the Way of the Cross

Q. What are the truths and doctrines that always have been, and always should be, engraved in the hearts of true disciples of Jesus?

A. They are the following: 1st, Never to glory but in the Cross of Jesus Christ; as Saint Paul says: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 6:14) 2nd, To know that there is no salvation but for such as shall have been crucified with Jesus.

Q. Which, of all exercises of piety, is best calculated to produce in our hearts the love of Jesus Christ?

A. It is the tender and fervent devotion of the Stations of the Cross.

Q. How do you prove this?

A. 1st, Because it is an exercise which enables us to persevere in works of penance, so necessary to appease God’s anger, which we incurred by our sins.

2nd, Because it makes us hate ourselves on account of our sins.

3rd, Because it inspires us with bitter sorrow for our sins, and causes us to detest and avoid them for the future.

Q. How does this happen?

A. This necessarily happens by frequent and serious reflection upon the infinite malice of sin, the only cause of the Passion and Death of our amiable Saviour, Whom we see, at each Station, reduced to a most pitiable condition, in order to satisfy for it.

Q. Is this devotion pleasing to God?

A. It certainly is; because it consists in meditating upon the Passion of His Divine Son, which glorifies Him and fully satisfies His justice.

Q. Is there any devotion more excellent than this?

A. No; for there is none better fitted for the conversion of hardened sinners; none by which it is easier to gain souls and attach them to the love of Jesus for ever; none more easily understood by both young and old, and none more worthy of the consideration of persons of every age and condition; none more sublime, for in it a God of glory, accompanied by the Queen of Angels, walks before us; none more advantageous, as will be seen in the following pages.

Q. Is there any devotion more important for ourselves?

A. There is none; for, as all the Saints and elect have followed, and ever will follow it, till the end of time, so we too must follow it, if we wish to arrive with them at the heavenly Jerusalem. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24)

Q. In what consists the life of a true follower of Jesus?

A. It consists in continually annihilating himself with Jesus; in depriving himself of all worldly things with Jesus; in suffering with Jesus; and, along with Mary, in sympathizing with Jesus in His sufferings.

Q. Where do you learn this?

A. In the Stations of the Cross, to which the Mother of God invites me to accompany Jesus along with her, to follow Him constantly until death, and afterwards to go and receive the eternal Kingdom which He reserves for them who shall have followed Him upon earth. “If we suffer with Him, we shall also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17)

Chapter 2 – Origin and Diffusion of This Devotion

Q. What do you understand by the Way of the Cross?

A. In a literal sense, it is the space of ground which was trodden by Our Blessed Saviour, carrying the Cross, between the palace of Pilate, where he was condemned, and the top of Mount Calvary, where He was crucified.

Q. What do you understand by it in a spiritual sense?

A. The following in spirit of our Divine Model along the traces which His Blood has left, and meditating upon His sufferings, which His love caused Him to endure at these sorrowful places.

Q. Why was it called the Way of the Cross, or Way of Sorrows?

A. 1st, Because no other word could be found to express it; for, indeed, it is nothing else than a pious representation of the painful road trodden by Our Lord from the house of Pilate to the place of His crucifixion. 2nd, Because Our Saviour has gone over that road, carrying on His shoulders the heavy Cross the perfidious Jews had laid on Him. 3rd, Because it was the most atrocious martyrdom Our Divine Saviour suffered in His sacred humanity.

Q. With whom did the idea of following Jesus along that Way of Sorrows originate?

A. With the Blessed Virgin Mary, as history tells us. Adricomius, in his “Description of Jerusalem,” says: “A pious and ancient tradition relates that the Blessed Virgin, who had followed, with those who attended her, the blood-stained footsteps of her Son even to the Cross, returned to the spot after His entombment, and, before all others, devoutly made the Way of the Cross; which appears to have originated the processions, and carrying the Cross, among the faithful.” Our Lady revealed to Saint Bridget that such had been her practice. “After the Ascension of my Son, I constantly visited the places where He had suffered, and had shown forth His wondrous acts.” (Revel, lib. 6. c.6). (Pope Leo X, 1517)

Q. Was this example and teaching of the Blessed Virgin followed by the people of those times?

A. It was. The Apostles and the Disciples of Jesus, the holy women, and many other daughters of Jerusalem, made it their duty, after the example of Mary, frequently to visit the places sanctified by the blood of our Blessed Redeemer; and, as we learn from history, the Way of the Cross became afterwards the favourite devotion of the faithful.

Q. Was this devotion practised by the inhabitants of Jerusalem only?

A. No, not merely by them. As the Christian Religion was rapidly spreading everywhere, it became a universal devotion, from the very earliest ages, as we read in history, which tells us that pilgrims of every description, rank, nation, and language, were seen hastening in crowds to Jerusalem, in order to venerate the Holy Places where Our Lord suffered before reaching the heights of Mount Calvary. Vicissitudes, however numerous – distance, however great – and trials, however painful – did not damp the ardour of those pious souls, or deter them from their expedition to the Holy Land.

Q. Was this custom not interrupted by some people of those times?

A. It was. The ancient and pious custom of visiting the land which the Son of God, in human form, had sanctified by His footsteps, and where He had consummated the world’s redemption, so excited the envy of the inveterate Jews that they induced the Emperor Adrian to prevent these religious meetings, by causing the whole circumference of Calvary to be covered over by an immense mound of earth, upon the summit of which was erected a Pagan temple, with a Pagan statue surmounting it.

Q. How long did this work last?

A. This infamous work of sacrilege continued for two hundred years, when Saint Helen piously undertook to uncover the sacred spot.

Q. Did she succeed in her pious enterprise?

A. She did. She set a large number of men to work, and mountains of earth were soon removed; then they came to the surface of the glorious old Mount of Calvary, and soon discovered the Holy Sepulchre, near which was found the Cross and the other instruments of our Saviour’s crucifixion. “This event of the Invention, or Finding of the Cross, is celebrated annually by the Church, on the 3rd of May.”

Q. What was the result of this happy discovery?

A. The result was, that the faithful again assembled in these Holy Places, made so precious by the Sacred Blood of Jesus Christ, and began to build magnificent churches – especially the one over the Holy Sepulchre.

Q. What do you understand by these Holy Places?

A. They are the different places where, as tradition tells us, Our Blessed Saviour stopped on His Way to Calvary, and are therefore called Stations.

Q. Why did Jesus stop different times on His painful road?

A. It was not to alleviate but to increase His sufferings, and to show His ardent love for us.

Q. How often did He stop on this painful journey?

A. Our Blessed Lord, overwhelmed with grief, sorrows, and fatigue, stopped twelve times. Hence twelve Stations: and adding to these, Jesus laid in the arms of His Sacred Mother, and Jesus placed in the Sepulchre, we have the fourteen Stations of the Cross.

Q. What do these Stations represent?

A. Each one represents a place, at which is seen some special phase of Our Lord’s sufferings on His Way to Calvary.

Q. Are there still traces of that sorrowful Way trodden by Jesus?

A. Yes; and they can be traced with the greatest exactness, as will be seen in the following chapter.

Chapter 3 – Glance Over the Sacred and Sorrowful Way of the Cross

Q. What is the length of the sorrowful Way of the Cross?

A. The distance from the house of Pilate to the summit of Mount Calvary is about thirteen hundred and fifty paces.

Q. Can you give a description of the places where Our Lord stopped on this Way, and which are now called the Stations of the Cross?

A. Yes. The first nine of these Stations are in the streets forming the Way of Sorrows, and are piously visited by pilgrims. They are the following:

I. The first Station is at the very spot where Jesus was condemned to die upon the Cross. It was a terrace, or a kind of balcony paved with marble or stone, from which terrace Pilate pronounced the sentence of death. It is now inclosed in the Turkish barracks. As the avenues to it are guarded by janissaries, it cannot be reached except with Turkish leave, which now is rarely given. Hence this first Station is usually made in the street, before a mark of the Scala Sancta, cut in the wall of the Turkish barracks, about fifteen yards east from the door of the Convent of Flagellation, The Scala Sancta, or Holy Staircase, by which Our Saviour ascended three times during His Passion, was, by order of Saint Helen, removed to Rome, where it is now an object of reverence in the Church of the Holy Cross, near Saint John Lateran.

II. The second Station is made in the street, down at the foot of the Scala Sancta, for this is the spot where Jesus, delivered up to His implacable enemies, was hurried away by a furious mob, loading Him with imprecations, to be burdened with His Cross, which He was to carry on His shoulders to Calvary. Tradition tells us that the Cross was fifteen feet long, and eight feet broad at the arms. It was cut and made half a mile from Jerusalem, at a place called the Holy Cross, which is occupied by the Greek schismatics.

III. Proceeding from the second Station toward the west for about two hundred and seventy paces, we are at the end of the street. Turning to the left, in the street which comes from the Gate of Damascus, a prostrate column of red marble, broken in the middle, half buried in the sand, and lying against the wall, indicates the precise place where Jesus fainted and fell for the first time under the weight of the instrument of His execution. The Turks would have long since destroyed this column, but for the energetic objections of the French consuls. The Crusaders had built chapels to perpetuate these Stations; but the Mussulmans destroyed them. Yet God allowed some fragments of a column, or of a stone, or some marks in the walls, to remain, in order to bear witness of the authenticity of these Holy Places.

IV. A little lower down, about fifty paces further south, just opposite a pathway coming from the house of Pilate, is the fourth Station. Here it was that Jesus, toiling under the weight of the ignominious wood on which He was about to die, met His most afflicted Mother. Overwhelmed with grief, and tortured with anxiety, she had hastened, by this short path, to meet her Divine Son, but was violently thrust back by the rude soldiery.

V. About sixty paces farther, at the very entrance of a street towards the west, at the foot of the hill which leads to Calvary, is the fifth Station. Here it was that Jesus, exhausted by His long sufferings, stumbled, and that the Jews, eager for His blood, stopped a Cyrenean and forced him to help Jesus to carry His Cross. This Station is indicated by a mark, or a small excavation in a stone of the wall of the first house at the left. This mark is said tQ be an impression of Our Saviour’s Hand, which He leaned on that spot when His strength failed.

VI. An ascent of about ninety paces leads to the sixth Station. It is indicated, at the west of a low arch, by a piece of column, set in the pavement at the left. It is the site of the house of Veronica, or more correctly speaking, the spot on which that house stood, as even the very ruins of it have disappeared. Here is the place where that holy woman fearlessly forced her way through the soldiers and crowd which surrounded Jesus, and throwing herself at His feet, respectfully wiped from His adorable face the dust, the sweat and blood which this painful ascent had brought upon Him. She was rewarded by having the sacred countenance of Jesus miraculously impressed upon her veil, which from thence was called Vera icon – a true image. From this fact was derived the name of Veronica, a name which that pious woman bore ever after.

VII. The road continues ascending for about ninety paces. Here, at the end of the street, is the Judgment Gate, through which malefactors passed who were to be executed on Mount Calvary. This gate shows the seventh Station, where Jesus, through fatigue and exhaustion, fell a second time.

VIII. About sixty paces farther on, in a street facing the latter one, at the left, a small incision made in a stone in the wall of Saint Caralembo’s Greek Monastery indicates the eighth Station. Here Jesus addressed the women of Jerusalem, who followed Him, bewailing and lamenting Him. Here He said to them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.” By these well-known and celebrated words He told them of all the evils that soon were to fall upon the city ofJerusalem. Only sevenand- thirty years afterwards the most terrible punishment came down upon the Jews. Their grand city was destroyed.

IX. The road to the ninth Station is closed here. The one which formerly led to Calvary, and along which Our Saviour passed, no longer exists; it is covered with buildings, amidst which is the ninth Station. To visit this, the pilgrim is obliged to follow a new way formed at the distance of one hundred and sixty paces. At the end of this a column, of the same sort as the one described at the first fall of Jesus, standing in a corner near the door of the Coptish Bishop’s palace, marks the Station where Our Blessed Redeemer fell the third time under the weight of His Cross and the blows of His executioners.

Here end the outside Stations; and the last five are in the immense Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which we shall visit in the following chapter.

Chaper 4 – Golgotha, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Retracing our steps a little, we see two columns, and proceeding from thence to the right, and passing by two streets at the left, and then taking the right, there is at the end of the street a low and narrow doorway leading to the open space in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This Church, the most august and the most sacred on earth, is an extensive edifice, with two domes, very irregularly built, because it was requisite that regard should be paid to the inequalities of the ground that was to be encompassed by it. It contains not only the Sepulchre, after which it is named, but also Calvary and other sanctuaries connected with the death and burial of Our Blessed Redeemer.

Crossing the threshold, the first object seen is the Stone of the Unction upon which the body of Our Lord was perfumed with myrrh and aloes before it was deposited in the tomb. It is elevated but a few inches above the floor, and is about eight feet long and two feet broad. As some pilgrims took the liberty to break pieces off, it has been covered with red marble; a ball of copper gilt adorns each of the four corners; ten lamps are continually burning above it; on either side are enormous candelabra with wax-candles from fifteen to twenty feet high. This sanctuary belongs in common to the Catholics, the Greeks, and the Armenians, who come there daily in turns to burn incense.

On the right of the entrance to the Church, and twelve paces from the Stone of the Unction, is Mount Calvary, or rather, as the Gospel has it, the place which is called Calvary. According to the most learned opinions it was only a little eminence in a place where strangers and malefactors were buried. It is about eighteen or twenty feet above the level of the ground; two flights of steps lead up to it on either side. The top is converted into two chapels, built partly upon the rock, partly upon arches and massive pillars. Both are cased and floored with marble, and separated by three large pillars. The nineteen marble steps at the right, and the nearest to the entrance of the Basilica, lead up to the first chapel, which is called the Chapel of the Crucifixion. At about five yards east from the top of the steps, a round piece of marble laid in the pavement indicates the place of the –

Xth Station. Here Jesus was cruelly stripped of His garments, before He was nailed to the Cross.

XI. Three yards farther to the east, and before the Altar of the Crucifixion, a large mosaic square marks the exact place of the eleventh Station. The mosaics, inlaid in the pavement, are of different colours, among which red predominates, as if to indicate that this was the spot which was dyed by the precious Blood of Our Lord. Here Jesus, the Holy Victim, the Lamb of God, was nailed to the Cross. In honour of this mystery of love the Franciscans, every night during the procession, incense the whole mosaic place. Here the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is daily celebrated, and a great quantity of lamps are kept incessantly burning. At the farther end of the Chapel is the Altar of the Crucifixion, ornamented with a beautiful painting which represents this sorrowful scene in a most touching manner. Two yards back, to the right, is a barred window looking into an exterior Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Dolours. Here Mary was with Saint John when the hands and feet of her Divine Son were pierced with long sharp nails, and when the noise of the redoubled blows of the hammers awakened the most lamentable echoes in her soul. Here, every day before dawn, a Franciscan Father offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

XII. Four yards farther up, to the northeast of the preceding station, is the second Chapel, called the Planting of the Cross where Our Saviour died. It belongs to the Greeks, who violently took possession of it in the year 1808. It is constantly lighted by twenty-six silver lamps, reminding us of the adorable mystery that was accomplished there. Its pavement is, as in the first Chapel, of white and black marble, the ceiling painted in a blue colour, with a star here and there, a moon and a sun. At the further end of this Chapel, behind the Altar, stands a large black wooden Cross, with a Christ of natural size, and most touching in its form and expression; at its right stands the Blessed Virgin Mary, her hand pressed upon her broken heart; at its left stands Magdalen, deeply affected and in a praying posture. Under the Altar, or rather the table of marble, supported by four short columns, is a little vault, in the middle of which is a small hollow place, surrounded with marble and coped with a silver plate, which is highly venerated, fervently and devoutly kissed by the pilgrims. Here the holy Cross was erected; here is the place of the twelfth Station; here Jesus died on the Cross. On either side of the Altar, about two yards back, two round black stones mark the spots where the crosses of the thieves were planted.

Not far from the place where the Cross stood, is to be seen one of the rocks that were cleft when Jesus expired; it is still visible and striking; it is exposed to view, and is seen through a trelliswork of silver.

XIII. About two yards towards the right, between the two last-named Chapels, is the thirteenth Station. It is marked by a little Altar standing between two columns, and called the Altar of the Stabat Mater, to commemorate the sorrows that pierced the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the death of her Divine Son. As the Altar of the Planting of the Cross, it rests upon the true rock. It points out the place where Jesus, being taken down from the Cross, was laid in the arms of His most afflicted Mother.

XIV. Descending from Calvary, and turning to the right for about forty paces, there is the Holy Sepulchre, under the large Cupola. It is a magnificent rotunda, surrounded by eighteen massive pilasters, which support a gallery and a majestic dome. The outside is richly decorated with panels, niches, and most beautiful marble. The interior is divided into two parts, forming two small and almost square chambers, or cells, placed side by side, communicating between each other by a little low gate. Three lamps are always burning in front of it.

The entrance is towards the east. When you have passed the door, you find yourself in the Chapel of the Angel so called because, according to the Gospel, here the angel of the Lord announced to the holy women the resurrection of Our Saviour. It is a kind of porch about four yards long by three broad. Its inner walls are completely lined with marble. Fifteen lamps hanging down from the ceiling, and burning day and night, beautifully display its splendid white marble and pilasters. In the middle stands a pedestal, supporting a stone eighteen inches square, upon which was seated the angel on the day of the resurrection, when the holy women came to embalm the body of Jesus, and he said to them: “He is risen; He is not here.” This stone is only a part of the one that closed the entrance of the Holy Sepulchre.

Opposite the pedestal is an aperture or door, which is so low that no one can enter without stooping, and so narrow that only one person can pass through it at a time. This chapel is smaller than the preceding one, for it measures only about three yards long by two broad. It has a pilaster in each of its four corners, and its sides are covered with white marble to protect the rocks from the hands of the pilgrims. It is lighted by forty-three lamps, the smoke from which escapes by three holes made in the vaulted roof. At the north of it is the Holy Tomb of Jesus. It is chiselled out of the solid rock in the form of a trough, and was new: for no man had ever been laid there. Joseph of Arimathea had meant it for himself. It is covered with marble, to preserve it from the indiscretion of pilgrims, who sometimes used to take the pious liberty of breaking off and carrying away fragments of it.

It is about sixty-five inches above the pavement, ninety-three broad, and about two yards long. Here Jesus was buried. Here the fourteenth Station is made. The Franciscan Fathers say Mass daily in the Holy Sepulchre.

Chapter 5 – The Popes and the Stations of the Cross

Q. Did the Popes ever encourage the devotion of the Stations of the Cross?

A. They did. Hearing of the extraordinary graces and consolations received at these Holy Places, and knowing the advantages of so pious an exercise, they encouraged it, approved of it, and rewarded it by opening all the treasures of Holy Church.

Q. Have they also been distinguished by their zeal in establishing and promoting this devotion?

A. Yes; they have always done whatever was in their power to induce the faithful to love this practice.

Q. Can you mention a few of these Popes, and also what they have done for this purpose?

A. 1st, Sixtus V granted a Plenary Indulgence for every visit to each of the following places: the Holy Sepulchre; Mount Calvary; the places of flagellation, or scourging; of the crowning with thorns; of the Crucifixion, and to many other sacred places that have been sanctified by the presence of Jesus (Piis fidelium votis, 8 April 1588).

2nd, Pope Innocent XI was the first who attached to the Stations erected in the Franciscan churches the Indulgences of the Way of the Cross in Jerusalem, in favour of all the religious, and all members of the Order of Saint Francis subject to the General of the Observants (Decr., 5 September 1686).

3rd, Innocent XII confirmed this by Decree (24 December 1692 and 26 December 1695).

4th, Benedict XIII confirmed the Decrees of his predecessors, and, moreover, made all these Indulgences applicable to the souls in Purgatory, and granted the same favours to all the faithful of Christ who would piously and devoutly practise this devotion of the Way of the Cross in any church of the Franciscans subject to the General of the Observants, exclusive of all others (Inter plurima, 3 March 1726).

5th, Clement XII confirmed this on 16 January 1731 (Exponi nobis); and seeing the immense fruits of the Stations of the Cross, granted the same Indulgences to the Stations erected by the Franciscan Fathers in the chapels and oratories not subject to their Order, with the restriction that there should be only one Way of the Cross in the same parish. Thus, by virtue of this Decree, it became no longer necessary to visit the churches of the Friars Minor in order to gain the aforesaid Indulgences. The same Pope, in the same Decree, granted the exclusive privilege of erecting the Stations of the Cross to the Franciscans of the Observance.

6th, Benedict XIV confirmed the Decree of his predecessor, Clement XII, and exhorted all parish priests to have the Stations of the Cross erected in their respective churches; and he confirmed at the same time all that his predecessors had done, and decreed in favour of the said pious exercise (16 January 1741, Cum tanta sit Passionis). In the same year, he granted to the said Franciscans of the Observance the privilege of blessing and erecting the Stations in parish churches, with the written consent, if convenient, of the Ordinary, and at the request of the respective parish priests or superiors. They were to be erected only in one church of a district, if people of other parishes could conveniently go to that one church to gain the Indulgences (30 August 1741). But in the following year, that all the faithful might have an opportunity of gaining the blessings and favours of these holy exercises, he allowed the Stations to be erected in all churches, chapels, and oratories (Decr., 10 May 1742).

7th, Clement XIV, considering the many spiritual advantages accruing from this devotion, and desiring to extend its salutary effects to such of the faithful as may, through sickness, old age, or other inability be unable to visit in person a place where the Stations are erected, has sanctioned in a Decree dated 26 January 1773, that all such persons may gain the Indulgences attached to the Way of the Cross, provided some few prayers be said before a crucifix. It is to be remarked here that it is prescribed by the same Pope (in the same Decree), that this crucifix should be blessed specially for this purpose by a Superior of the Friars Minor of the Observance, or by any other priest having faculties from the Sovereign Pontiff or the General of the Franciscan Order. (see Chapter 11)

Chapter 6 – The Franciscans and the Way of Sorrows

Q. By whom, and when, was the Way of the Cross instituted in its present form?

A. By the children of Saint Francis in the middle of the fourteenth century.

Q. Who was Saint Francis?

A. Saint Francis was born at Assisi in the year 1182. God had chosen him to promote His glory, and to make known to the world the sufferings of His Divine Son.

Q. What happened to Francis while a youth, and in search of evangelical perfection?

A. Having three times opened the Missal, to learn there evangelical perfection, he, by a particular providence of God, opened it each time at the Passion of Christ; as if God would hereby say to him: You seek the means of becoming perfect, and pleasing Me; here it is: “Contemplate and imitate My sufferings.”

Q. What did God do to impress this more and more upon His holy servant?

A. For this purpose God, on seven different occasions, showed him the Cross as the model he was to follow.

Q. And how did God favour His servant on Mount Alverna?

A. When the holy man was in deep meditation on that celebrated mountain, Our Lord appeared to him in the form of a crucified seraph, and imprinted the marks of His five Sacred Wounds upon His servant’s feet, hands, and side.

Q. What did Francis understand by this wonderful event?

A. Saint Francis understood that he was to seek no other treasure than Jesus crucified, and that for the remainder of his life he should think but of Jesus crucified, live but for Jesus crucified, and impress upon the minds of men the sorrowful remembrance of Jesus crucified.

Q. What did he do for this purpose?

A. He planted the Cross in every place, spoke of the Cross to every one, and exhorted everybody to embrace the Cross of Jesus.

Q. Henceforth, what did he consider his mission to be?

A. To preach Jesus, and Jesus crucified, and to make known everywhere the love, the beauty, the virtue of the Cross and Passion of Jesus, Our Blessed and Divine Redeemer.

Q. What did he order his children to do?

A. He ordered them to plant the Cross in all places, in order to revive in the minds of men the remembrance of the sufferings and death of the Divine Saviour, and always to cultivate in their hearts and souls a burning love and desire for Jesus crucified.

Q. Has the Franciscan Order always been faithful to the wishes of its Founder?

A. It has. From its very foundation up to this hour, its members have ever loved to meditate upon the Cross – to erect it everywhere, and to preach it to all nations.

Q. What places did they go to in order to satisfy their great devotion towards the holy Cross and Passion of Jesus?

A. In the year 1219, when Jerusalem was almost shut against Christians, and the Holy Places without light, without honour and reverence, Saint Francis himself, with a few of his children, went thither to pray and to offer up the holy Sacrifice.

Q. When were the Sacred Places of Christ’s Passion entrusted to the care of the Franciscans?

A. In the year 1230, Pope Gregory IX appointed the Franciscans guardians of the Holy Sepulchre, and in the year 1244 they took possession of that sacred spot; and in the year 1342 Pope Clement VI declared the Friars Minor perpetual guardians of the Holy Sepulchre (Nuper Carissimi, Avignon, 21 November).

Q. What was their first work in these Holy Places?

A. They began to study the places where the chief mysteries of our redemption were accomplished, and preserved the remembrance of all the remarkable circumstances of the Condemnation and Death of the Son of God. They began to re-establish, upon the Holy Mountain, the Stations of the Way of the Cross, which the Pagans, through jealousy and hatred, had destroyed and replaced by profane monuments. They began also to perform the Stations solemnly and daily, after complin, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, pilgrims in fervent prayer assisting and following the Fathers.

Q. What did the Franciscans do when the Holy Land had fallen into the hands of the Saracens, and when Christians could no longer make this pilgrimage with safety?

A. They then invented the Stations of the Cross as a substitute, and, with the authority of the Holy See, erected Calvaries in various places of the world, surrounded them with Stations and pictures, representing the most moving and remarkable events of Our Lord’s Passion, from the time of His sentence to His burial, hung them about the walls of the Church, requested the faithful to stand around them, and to listen to the recital of the sad tragedy, in holy meditation, thus to enable every one to imitate, in some manner, the devotion of Catholics of former days, although by a pilgrimage far less long and painful.

Q. Are, then, the faithful no longer obliged to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Places to gain the blessings of the Stations of the Cross?

A. No. Without quitting their country, they can now honour the Lord’s Passion by commemorating its mysteries in the same way as they would have done on the very soil where these mysteries were accomplished, and thus partake of the same precious favours and graces granted to those who visit the Holy Places.

Q. What do you mean by commemorating the Lord’s Passion?

A. I mean the pious practice of the Stations of the Cross.

Q. And what was the result of this grand devotion?

A. In all the places where it was introduced, faith was seen to revive, morals to improve, and the love of Jesus was rekindled in the hearts of all.

Q. What did the Sovereign Pontiffs do, seeing the immense blessings of this devotion?

A. Always attentive to the spiritual wants and happiness of the faithful, they granted to the Stations erected by the Franciscans of the Observance, the same abundance of Indulgences which they had already granted to the real Stations of Our Lord’s Passion.

Q. Can you name a few amongst the Franciscans who distinguished themselves by their piety and zeal for the Stations of the Cross and the Passion of Jesus?

A. I can.

1st, Saint Francis had so tender a devotion to the Passion of Jesus, that constantly, whenever he thought of it, he broke out in sighs and lamentations, and melted into tears.

2nd, Saint Bonaventure greatly praised the meditation upon the Passion of Jesus. He says: “It is a most powerful means to arrive at the highest perfection and sanctity.” He always had before his eyes the image of the Crucifix, which he called his library. “I will,” he says further, “take my repose in the sacred side of my Saviour: I will there watch, read, pray, drink, eat, and treat of all my affairs; I will there speak to His Heart, and shall obtain of Him whatever I please.” He confesses that the Cross was the book in which he had learned all that he knew.

3rd, Saint Peter of Alcantara took the greatest pleasure in erecting crosses of considerable size, on the top of the highest mountains of Spain, in order that people might see them from all sides, and weep over the death of the Son of God.

4th, Saint Leonard of Port-Maurice says: “That the Stations of the Way of the Cross is the most excellent, the Mother, the Queen of all devotions, a remedy against sin and temptation, and sufficient to sanctify a whole parish.” He blessed and erected the Stations in more than five hundred churches and chapels.

Chapter 7 – Saint Leonard of Port-Maurice, OSF, At the Coliseum

Q. What was the favourite devotion of Saint Leonard of Port-Maurice?

A. His dearest and greatest devotion was to the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He continually meditated on it, and had it imprinted on his heart, and recommended all people to meditate frequently upon the sufferings and death of their Divine Lord. “This is the way,” said he, “to sanctify the Catholic world, and free it from the power of Satan, to make all the faithful often think in their hearts of the Passion of Our Divine Redeemer; to obtain this I would willingly give the blood from my veins, my breath, and my life.” He visited every day the Stations of the Cross, with so much devotion and tenderness, that he always shed tears of compassion in meditating on the sufferings of Jesus there described. He wrote: “I will bear Jesus Christ crucified impressed in my thoughts, and on my heart, and I will often fall at His feet to weep for my sins.” He frequently ejaculated these words: “May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ be always in my heart.” He kissed with reverence every cross he saw. He took great care to establish the Way of the Cross wherever he preached. Having obtained permission from the Pope to extend this holy devotion, he very soon succeeded in introducing it into convents and churches where it had been until then unknown.

Q. In what particular place did he cause this devotion to be established?

A. On the occasion of the Jubilee in 1750, he petitioned Benedict XIV for the establishment of the Way of the Cross in the great Flavian (Vespasian’s) amphitheatre, called, from its vast size, the Colosseum, or Coliseum.

Q. What was this Coliseum, and what was it designed for?

A. It was an immense and magnificent building. It was designed for the exhibition of impious and barbarous entertainments of gladiatorial combats, but it was made venerable by the blood of thousands of Martyrs.

Q. Was it a sublime thought to erect the Stations there?

A. It was, and even a duty; for in the old times of pagan persecution the blood of the first Christians had flowed in torrents on this arena; they perished there by thousands, not like gladiators, who made a trade of self-destruction, but were delivered up defenceless to the savage animals which had been brought there from the burning sands of Africa.

Q. How long did this persecution last?

A. For three centuries these massacres were daily renewed. The pagans, as Tertullian says, attributed all their misfortunes to the Christians. Hence, on the smallest pretext, and even without any, they fiercely shouted through the streets: “Give the Christians to the lions.” This fact proves that the blood of thousands of our brethren inundated this enclosure. Besmeared with pitch and resin, these courageous Martyrs were here burned alive to show light to the Romans, or cast to ferocious beasts for the amusement of still more ferocious people, assembled to behold and glut themselves with their sufferings.

Q. What was it that encouraged the Martyrs in their horrible sufferings?

A. It was the thought of what Our Saviour had suffered for them. His adorable Wounds were the source whence they derived their courage and constancy. Raising their eyes on high, they saw, like Stephen, the glory of heaven; they rushed forward in spirit towards that immortal country, after which they had so long sighed, and they only left a senseless body to their executioner.

Q. How great was the number of these Martyrs who suffered in this amphitheatre?

A. The Calendar of these holy Martyrs was, until lately, seen on the gate of the Chapel of Our Lady. The number of these glorious ones is Legion, and their prayers and sufferings obtained the conversion of Rome, which, from being a den of savage beasts, became the capital of Christianity, and the home of every Catholic devotion.

Q. Who was the builder of the Coliseum?

A. The Emperor Vespasian built it in the year 71 of the Christian era, in the centre of Rome. He employed in its construction about 12,000 Jews, who were all slaves, and he spent on it about 10,000,000 crowns.

Q. What is its form and magnitude?

A. Its form is oval, its greater diameter being 581 feet, its lesser 481 feet. It is said to have held 87,000 spectators sitting, and 20,000 standing.

Q. How long did it exist in all its splendour and beauty?

A. This wonderful monument existed in all its beauty till the year 546, when the barbarians who sacked Rome were the first to injure it, by taking away the bronze clasps by which the stones were bound together.

Q. Was this example followed, and by whom?

A. It was. When the Popes were at Avignon, some powerful persons threw down a part of it, to find suitable and cheap materials for the erection of magnificent palaces; and this accounts for its ruinous appearance.

Q. Who spared it from total destruction?

A. Pope Clement X, considering its origin and its destination, resolved to dedicate it to religion.

Q. What did he do for this purpose?

A. He erected around the arena fourteen uncovered altars, in memory of the Mysteries of the Passion, and a small Chapel, which was dedicated to “Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Q. Did his successors follow his example?

A. Yes; later Popes were ever careful to prevent the dilapidations extending further, by consecrating the whole building, and supporting it with massive walls.

Q. How did Benedict XIV show his veneration for this most august place?

A. He granted the petition of Saint Leonard for the erection of the Way of the Cross within the arena, caused the fourteen little Chapels, or Stations, to be built round the oval circuit, and imparted Indulgences to those who would perform there these pious exercises.

Q. When did the solemn erection of the Crosses take place in the Coliseum?

A. It took place on 27 December 1750, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist; the ceremony was performed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the sermon was preached by Saint Leonard himself, before an immense multitude, whom he exhorted to attend frequently the Stations of the Cross.

Q. What did Saint Leonard do for the promotion of this devotion?

A. With the permission of Pope Benedict XIV. he instituted a Confraternity of pious persons, giving them the title of “Lovers of Jesus and Mary,” who undertook to visit in procession the Stations of the Cross raised within the Coliseum, and also induce others to join in a devotion so holy and so acceptable to Our Lord.

Q. What did he do in favour of this Confraternity?

A. He published a book, containing its Rules, and the prayers to be said; he intended to build an oratory for its members, but death prevented him from fulfilling this intention. However, Benedict XIV caused one to be erected near the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, in Campo Vaccino; and also, in order to provide for the wellbeing of the Confraternity, he appointed that the women should assemble in the Church of the Martyrs, and the men in the oratory, and gave them, for their spiritual director, the Father Guardian for the time being of the Convent of Saint Bonaventure, which is near the Coliseum. He also, four years afterwards, in 1754, promoted the Association of Saint Leonard to the rank of an Archconfraternity, with the power of aggregating branch Associations in other parts of the world, and of admitting them to share in its privileges and Indulgences, under certain conditions.

Q. Have “The Lovers of Jesus and Mary” been faithful to their pious institution?

A. Yes; they have, ever since the year of their institution, 27 December 1750, until recent spoliations and robberies in the Eternal City. Every Sunday and Friday afternoon the men used to assemble in their oratory, in the Campo Vaccino, and the women in the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, repairing thqnce, in procession, to the half-ruined amphitheatre, praying and singing hymns.

Q. What happened on their arrival in that holy place?

A. A Franciscan Father from the Convent of Saint Bonaventure came down, and preached to them a short and touching sermon on the Passion of Jesus Christ; then the members, headed by their Cardinal Director, who bore uplifted a large Cross, moved from Station to Station, reciting the prayers and singing most plaintive stanzas, composed by Saint Leonard for these occasions.

Q. And do you mean to say that these impressive ceremonies have ceased to exist?

A. Yes. For all these sweet devotions have now been abolished by the Italian Government. The Stations of the Cross have been thrown down in the interest of profane works. The destruction of the oratory also, in Campo Vaccino, was decreed three years ago, to make way for excavations in the Forum.

Q. What is our duty at the sight of these acts of sacrilege?

A. It is to make fervent acts of reparation, by frequently and devoutly making the Stations of the Cross. And as now in our gloomy days the enemies of Jesus crucified are trying to destroy both religious and civil society, trampling under foot all divine and human right, all order and justice in the world, it is our duty to save the world by promoting everywhere that loving memorial of our crucified Lord, the devotion of the Way of the Cross.

Chapter 8 – Motives for Practising the Holy Way of the Cross

Q. What are the motives that should induce us frequently to practise the Stations, and to think upon the Passion of Jesus?

A. They are several. The first is that this devotion is greatly pleasing to the sacred and loving Heart of Jesus.

Q. How do you know this?

A. Because Jesus Himself has declared, by several revelations, that no devotion is more pleasing to Him than that which we have to His Passion and Death.

Q. Can you mention a few of these revelations?

A. Yes, certainly.

1st, Our dear Lord revealed to Saint Gertrude, that, as often as anyone should, with devotion, look upon a Crucifix, so often should he be amorously looked upon by the benign mercy of God. (Blessed Louis of Blois.)

2nd, Our Lord one day assured one of His servants that nothing was more pleasing to Him, than to see us devoutly performing the Stations of the Holy Way of the Cross. (Blessed Louis of Blois.)

3rd, Another author says that a certain person, ardently desiring to know by what devotions he might best please Almighty God, Our Saviour, with a Cross upon His shoulders, appeared to him, and said: “My son, you cannot offer any devotion more pleasing to Me than to help Me in carrying this My most heavy Cross. Frequently make the Stations, and be sure you will be giving great consolation to My Divine Heart.” (Specul. Exempl. Dist. 9, exempl. i 5 8)

4th, Saint Mary Magdalen, having begged of Our Lord to make known to her by what exercise she might become the more agreeable to Him, Our Saviour sent her an Angel with a Cross in his hand, which he placed at the door of her cell, into which she had retired, telling her that she should ever have that Cross before her eyes, and continually meditate upon the mysteries that were wrought upon it; which she did afterwards till the end of her life.

5th, When Saint Bridget was very young Jesus appeared to her, nailed to the Cross, and quite covered with blood; and from that time the Passion of the Son of God became the subject of her daily meditations.

6th, We read in the life of Saint Eusebia, of Rome, that she had a very great devotion to the Stations of the Cross. One day Our Lord appeared to her and said: Listen, my daughter; wilt thou rejoice my Heart, acquire great merits in this life and an immense glory in the next? Practise the Stations of the Way of the Cross every day.”

Q. What is the second motive?

A. It is that Jesus Christ Himself has given us the example of this devotion. For He unceasingly thought of what He was to suffer for us. “My sorrow,” He says, “is continually before Me.” (Psalm 37:18) He frequently spoke of it to His Apostles, and frequently foretold His Disciples that He was to suffer in Jerusalem (Matthew 20:18). In the hour of His agony, He tenderly rebuked His Apostles for their want of courage in sharing His Passion and Sorrow (Matthew 27:40). And when He was transfigured upon Mount Thabor, before three of His Disciples, Moses and Elias were conversing with Him, “And they spoke of His decease that He should accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)

Q. Has He not told us of the necessity of that devotion?

A. He has, saying: “He that taketh not up his cross, and followeth Me, is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38) “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23): “Whosoever doth not carry his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). Now, it is by the devotion of the Stations that we take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus.

Q. Did not even our Saviour carry His Five Wounds with Him into heaven, and why?

A. He did, in order to have the marks of His Passion before His eyes for all eternity.

Q. What is the third motive for practising this devotion?

A. It is that it also gives great satisfaction to the heart of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. For her tender and affectionate heart continually meditated upon the bitter sufferings of her Divine Son, as Simeon the prophet said to her: “Thy own soul a sword shall pierce” (Luke 2:35). Her generous heart will obtain of Jesus a great share in the joys and consolations which she herself felt in this most holy exercise, for all those that follow her in that heavenly devotion, the royal Way of the Cross, which she herself, the Queen of Heaven, had invented.

Q. Can you mention a fourth motive to make us love this pious exercise?

A. Yes. Because it also gives great satisfaction to our own heart. For we know that by this devotion we make amends, as much as lies in our power, for the insults and injuries offered to Jesus on the Cross, and for all the offences He daily receives in His most Holy Sacrament of love.

Q. Have not the Apostles also recommended this devotion?

A. They have; for Peter and Paul and the rest of the Apostles, by their examples and writings, have preached unto us the importance and the necessity of frequently thinking upon the Passion of Jesus. Saint Paul says: “With Christ I am nailed to the Cross.” (Galatians 2:19). Further on: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatian 6:14) “Let us go forth, therefore, to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13); that is, bearing His Cross, being willing to suffer with Christ, to follow Him, even to death, if we desire to partake of the benefit of His sufferings for man’s redemption.

Q. Is there no fifth motive for practising the Stations of the Cross?

A. There is; namely, their many Fruits and Indulgences, which are treated of in the two following chapters.

Chapter 9: Fruits and Advantages of This Pious Exercise

Q. What are the fruits and advantages of this pious exercise?

A. They are the following: it dispels the darkness of our intellect, enlightens us injsuchja manner as to make us judge and esteem things as they really are, and teaches us that our greatest and only happiness consists in esteeming, loving, and seeking that which the world despises, hates and abhors.

Q. What did Saint Bonaventure say about the fruit of this great devotion?

A. He said: “No practice of devotion produces more notable fruit of Sanctification than the devout remembrance of Our Redeemer’s Passion; for it renders man not angelic merely, but divine.” (Stim. Divin. Amor., p.i, c.i) Such devout remembrance being the special and sole object of this exercise, all who earnestly practise it may hope to gain those fruits of piety of which the holy Franciscan speaks.

Q. What does Benedict XIV say in his Decree, ‘Cum tanta sit’ (30 August 1741), with regard to this devotion?

A. The illustrious Pontiff says: “The serious meditation or consideration upon the Passion, Cross, and Death of Our Blessed Redeemer, is the most powerful means to heal the wounds of our soul, to purify our hearts, and inflame them with Divine love.” O. It is, then, advantageous to know well and frequently to practise the holy Way of the Cross?

A. It is.

1st, For the just to advance in virtue and love of God;

2nd, For sinners to hate their sins, and to be converted; and

3rd, For the tepid to change their conduct and to become fervent.

Q. Tell me the great advantage the just derive from the practice of the Way of the Cross?

A. This practice becomes for them a source of unspeakable joy and sweetness, which comforts and supports them in the various trials and tribulations which they meet with in the path of perfection and the love of God.

Q. What other advantage do they find in this holy Exercise?

A. By following Jesus on the way of His sufferings, from Pilate’s house to Calvary, by meditation, and the touching prayers that are said at each Station; their souls are filled with holy thoughts and pious feelings, and their devotion becomes a most sweet and delightful occupation.

Q. What is the third advantage?

A. Our dear Lord, appearing to a holy person, promised them every blessing during life; He will appear to them at the moment of death, assist them in their last agony, protect them from all temptations of hell, and conduct them into the place of eternal rest (Blessed John Taulere).

Q. Do you know of any other advantage?

A. Yes, I do. Blessed Albert the Great says that we deserve and gain more by one thought upon the Passion of Jesus, and by fervently practising once the Stations of the Cross, than by fasting every Friday of the year upon bread and water, by the severest penances and mortifications we can inflict upon ourselves, or by reciting all the prayers of the psalter.

Q. Can you mention other advantages the just draw from this devotion?

A. Yes. It is for them a most powerful means of obtaining a victory over their passions, of overcoming the world, and of arriving at the highest perfection.

Q. Is there any other advantage you can think of?

A. There is. The frequent practice of the Stations of the Cross gives to the just a great horror of sin, for which Jesus suffered such cruel sorrows; it gives them a great fear of committing sin again, and of thus renewing, in a certain manner, His dreadful torments; it makes them like unto Him, and gives them a love for humility and abjection, patience in their crosses and trials, and makes them think only of heaven.

Q. What blessings did the Saints find in this holy practice?

A. They found in it the contempt of the world and of themselves, the spirit of penance and mortification, zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of their neighbour.

Q. Are these happy results always to be found in the Stations of the holy Way of the Cross?

A. They are, most infallibly, by all those who practise them with the required dispositions (see chapter 11).

Q. Is the holy Exercise of the Way of the Cross also advantageous to sinners?

A. Yes; because it is for them a means of obtaining the grace of a sincere conversion and a real change of life.

Q. What is the cause why so many people are living in the state of sin and in continual danger of losing their soul for all eternity?

A. The reason is, because there are very few that consider in the heart and meditate upon the infinite sufferings by which the Son of God has redeemed us from the slavery of the devil.

Q. The meditation upon the Passion of Jesus, or the Exercise of the holy Way of the Cross, makes, then, a great and favourable impression upon sinners?

A. Undoubtedly it does.

Q. How does this happen?

A. When sinners see in the Stations the enormity of sin, the terrible punishment sin deserves, the value of their soul, the extent of the loss, and the justice of God; when they consider the goodness of God in sacrificing His Divine Son, arid when they behold that Son, naked, bruised, and covered with blood and wounds for their sake, their hearts will be touched, and moved with compassion and sorrow; they will be converted, changed, and compelled to return sincerely to God; they will triumph over the seductions and temptations of the world, the devil, and the flesh; they will renounce and deny themselves, enrich and beautify their souls with virtue.

Q. What are the principal virtues we ought to learn from the Stations of the Cross?

A. They are the following:

1st, The love of our neighbour, considering Jesus suffering so fearfully, and dying so horrible a death on the Cross for the love and salvation of man. “He loved us unto the end.” (John 13:1) “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Ibid 15:13.)

2nd, Patience in our daily tribulations and sufferings, trials and difficulties, pains and contradictions, seeing Jesus most patient in His tribulations and trials, suffering with unalterable and serenest patience and silence all insults and mockeries, blows, and pains. “I, as a deaf man, heard not; and, as a dumb man, not opening his mouth.” (Psalm 37:14).

3rd, Forgiveness of our enemies in all cases, seeing Jesus, in the bitterest torments, forgiving His murderers, and even praying for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

4th, Deep and sincere humility, seeing that Jesus, in each Station, humbleth Himself to punish our pride and ambition – alloweth Himself to be made the form of a servant, trampled upon by all. “Learn of Me, because I am humble of heart.” (Matthew 9:29)

5th, Full and entire obedience to our parents, superiors, and masters, considering Jesus obedient to His executioners on the Way of the Cross up to the very top of Calvary. “He became obedient unto death – even to the death of the Cross.” (Philemon 2:8)

Q. Is this devotion also useful to the souls that are tepid and lukewarm in God’s service?

A. It certainly is, for the contemplation of the sufferings of Jesus will move them with the deepest compassion, make them hate their deplorable state, kindle in their hearts more fervent love for God, and make them daily die to themselves, that they may live with Jesus throughout all eternity in heaven.

Q. The Way of the Cross is, then, the Way to heaven?

A. Yes, it is. If anyone wishes to avoid hell, and to go to heaven, this is the way, let him walk in it, and go not aside, neither to the right hand nor to the left; let him follow his Divine Saviour, and he will never fall into the darkness of sin, but arrive at the sweet light of eternal life, for Jesus says: “He that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

– text is taken from Treatise on the Way of Sorrows, by F Alexis Bulens, OSF, 1882; other sections have meditations and prayers related to this devotion, and wil be found elsewhere on this site