The Lenten framework for our lives revolves aroundprayer, fasting and almsgiving, as a way to lead holier lives which more in tune with the call of discipleship following after the Lord. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving can take various forms of sacrifice and penance. Some of these we are more faithful than others.
MayI offeranother point of reflection for Lent on what is entitled “The StationalChurches”, all of which can certainly lead us to greater prayer with the entire Church in this season. In the early centuries of the life of the Church we know that public worship was not always possible due to persecution. After Christianity was tolerated or recognized as a religion by the Roman Emperor, Christians were able to worship publicly. They often then, gathered in homes or Roman basilicas that had been turned into sites of Christian worship. These become known as “Stational” or stopping places for worship, especially during the season of Lent as it grew and developed. These especially became important when the Bishop of Rome gathered with the early Christians in these sacred places, eventually for the entire season of Lent.
ThestationalMasses were arrived at by walking. One can find the list of thestationalChurches in the Missal prior to the Second Vatican Council. The place of thestationalMass is listed each day of Lent. Lent,then,in Rome BECAME a place of daily walking in pilgrimage to early morning Mass, which of itself then involved prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Like many customs which unfortunately fell into disuse in the late l960’s and early l970’s, theStationalChurches became forgotten to many, except for Santa Sabina on Ash Wednesday. That is the Dominican Church on the Aventine Hill.
In the early l980’s a revival of theStationalChurches occurred, due in large part to seminarians from the North American College. The priests and seminarians would gather at around 5:30 AM or so outside of the Seminary on the Gianiculumor the Casa Santa Maria and would walk (or take the bus) to these historicalplaces of worship for Mass. I tried to do this each of the four years I was in Rome, and thestationalChurch where I was the main celebrant was San Marcello on the Via del’Corso, which is theServiteChurch!One got the sense that one was indeed worshipping with the Christians of every time and place! The stationalMasses have continued to grow in popularity. As an example of some of thestationalChurchesare,for example, San Giorgio inVelabro(near the Palatine Hill) on Thursday after Ash Wednesday, Saints John and Paul on theCoelianHill on Friday, Saint Augustine (where Saint Monica is buried) on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday, and the First Sunday of Lent, St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of Rome (and indeed of the whole world).
If you are ever in Rome during Lent, I would recommend that you inquire as to the place of thestationalMass on the day that you visit. The Visitors Office of the North American College would be most helpful in this. You can always use one of the search engines on the internet to find out more.
The history and concept of thesestationalMasses is even now mentioned in the 3rdedition ofthe RomanMissal, where it says“It is strongly recommended that the tradition of gathering the local Church after the fashion of the Roman ‘stations’ be kept and promoted, especially during Lent and at least in larger towns and cities, in a way best suited to individual places. Such gatherings on of the faithful can take place, especially with the chief Pastor of the Diocese presiding….”
Either from a distance or in person, theStationalMasses represent a living, historical and even “transcendent” way of living the call of Lent to penance and holiness, and being “stationary” in the midst our own walk of life to embrace or strengthen the call to holiness in our lives, and to leave sin and darkness behind!
Next Lent, God willing, perhaps we canhave,as the Roman Missal suggests, our ownStationalmasses here in the Diocese of Orange.