Well actually, the good motivation for this has been in the works for some time now. But what has pushed it over the edge is a special little something that starts to happen in Rome about this time of year. Cue down the house lights and bring up the spots.
So, every year during the liturgical season of Lent (the 40 days before Holy Week, which culminates on Easter Sunday) there is a loong long standing tradition in Rome called the Station Churches. What are the Station Churches and where do they come from?
The roots of this tradition go as far back as the late second / early third century in Rome. The bishop of Rome (the pope) would celebrate different liturgies of the liturgical year at various churches throughout the city (at that time, churches were still 'underground') as a way to unify the Christian community, particularly in the midst of sometimes bloody Roman persecution. After Christianity became legal in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan, these 'stational' liturgies by the pope became much more public and began to take on a more formalized structure. St. Lawrence's feast day at the church where he was buried, St. Paul's feast day at the church where he was buried, Christmas at St. Mary Major which holds a relic of Jesus' manger, etc... Well the Lenten station churches in particular have stood the test of time, and so even today 17 centuries later this yearly tradition continues.
Every day during Lent, the Christian community celebrates the Mass at a designated station church somewhere in the city of Rome. For the past several years the North American College has been participating in this tradition: many of us (it's optional) walk en masse from the College to the day's church (sometimes near, sometimes on the other side of the city! sometimes in the cold or rain) in time to celebrate a 6:45am Mass for ourselves and whoever else shows up. It means sacrificing a little bit of sleep each day to get up earlier and make the walk, but you have to take advantage of these things while you still can!
So anyway, I have decided this year that as part of my Lenten practices of prayer, penance, and almsgiving, I will be participating in all the weekday station church liturgies. Prayer because.. well that's obvious. Penance because getting up earlier is a huge penance for me. And almsgiving because I will be daily posting on this blog a picture or two and a short description of all the station churches I attend. How's that for creativity!
Good, now part of your Lenten practice of prayer will be to ask for the grace that I make my daily post. Seriously! I'm serious, give me.. approximately one Hail Mary a day. For Pete's sake I'm clearly not able to blog with consistency, so let's help me out.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first of 40 days of Lent, so let us begin yonder Roman Station Church journey. Most of my commentaries on these churches will come from a little book with a Latin title called Procedamus in Pace which the NAC has put together. All informational credit is due this book and the seminarians / priests who put it together.
Ash Wednesday: Santa Sabina
|Walking in. Extra chairs are outside because Pope Francis is going to celebrate Mass here later on today.|
Santa Sabina is located on the Aventine Hill, one of the seven original hills of Rome. It was originally built during the last days of the Roman Empire, and is believed to be located near the house of the Roman matron St. Sabina, a widow who was converted to the Christian faith by her slave, Seraphia. Around 126 AD they were both condemned to death and executed for being Christians.
The current church was built by the priest Peter the Illyrian during the papacy of Celestine I (422-432) and has undergone major restorations several times through the centuries (820s, 1560s, 1910s). Santa Sabina was given over to the Dominicans by pope Honorius III (1216-1227) and it now serves as the mother church and world headquarters for this religious order.
One significant thing about this church are the main doors which are made from cypress and are original to the church (!). These wooden doors are generally agreed to be about 1600 years old. The uppermost left panel of the left door contains one of the oldest depictions of the Crucifixion in Christian art. Whoa!
As it says in my handy book Procedamus, one of the tombs along the right aisle has an inscription which is appropriate for the beginning of our Lenten journey:
Ut moriens viveret, vixit ut moriturus
That dying he would live, he lived as one who was to die