Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Station Church of Santa Sabina - Ash Wednesday

In 2010 during our stay in Rome, one of the highlights of our year, was attending Mass at the Stational Churches during the Lenten Season.  This tradition dates back to the second or third century, when the Bishop of Rome would visit the various parishes of his diocese to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy.  There were practical reasons for this as well as the ability to commemorate certain feast days at the Church which had a particular link to that feast.  Therefore, Good Friday came to be celebrated at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem because of the relics of the passion that were venerated there.  Many of these churches held special relics of the early Christian martyrs and contained memories of the early history of the Church in the city of Rome.

By the last half of the fifth century, there was a fairly regular fixed schedule for the Holy Father to visit these parishes and celebrate Mass with the faithful.  During Lent, the various stations were originally organized so that the Masses were held in different areas of the city each day.  The term “statio” came to be applied to the Eucharistic celebrations that took place on these Lenten days, but later the term was used for all of the visits of the Holy Father throughout the year.
The stational cycle during Lent was fixed by the time of the Council of Trent.  If you remember the Roman Missal, these Stational Churches were listed each day of the Lenten Season, so the faithful could be present in spirit with the Holy Father in Rome.  Today many of these ancient churches are only opened to the faithful on that particular assigned day of Lent in commemoration of this practice.

When we were there, the Pontifical North American College sponsored an early morning Mass each day as a Lenten pilgrimage. We were able to join a couple hundred people each morning to celebrate Mass and venerate the precious relics of the holy martyrs contained there.  It was a grace that we will never forget and a practice that we would recommend to anyone who might be able to visit Rome during the Lenten season.

Each day we will return in spirit to these holy places, recalling our own experience and uniting with this practice revived by the North American College.  Please come back to join us.

Ash Wednesday: Stational Church of Santa Sabina - One of the most complete examples of early Christian architecture in Rome, brought back to its primitive splendor in the 1900's, the church of Santa Sabina was originally built in 422 by Peter of Illyria and covered a building belonging to the Roman matron named Sabina.  The adjoining Dominican cloister, the headquarters of the Order of Preachers for many years, was built in the 13th century.  Since then, countless friars, including St. Dominic, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. Pius V, have passed through this holy place.
After entering the church the mosiac above the main doors are two figures representing the church of the circumcised and the church of the nations.  These demonstrate the continuing memory of the two major groups that comprise the early Roman church, from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. On the left side is a small chapel in honor of St. Dominic, with a black rock sitting on a small pillar.  Legend has it that, while St. Dominic was once praying in this church, the devil hurled this stone at him. One the other side is the Chapel of St. Catherine of Siena where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.  In the pavement are tombs of several past master generals of the Dominican Order.

Under the high altar stands at the front of the apse, a small casket containing the relics of SS Sabina, Seraphia and the other early martyrs Alexander, Theodulus, and Eventius - all placed here by Eugenius II.  Since the time of Blessed Pope John XXIII, the Holy Father has offered the evening Mass here on Ash Wednesday to begin the Lenten Season. 
As we begin our own Lenten journey, an inscription in the wall above a tomb reminds us: “Ut moriens viveret, vixit ut moriturus” “That dying he would live, he lived as one who was to die.”  With our eternal destiny before our minds and an unshakable belief in God's infinite love for us, we enter this special season of the year.
View of Rome from Santa Sabina

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