Lent in Rome
Are you giving up anything for Lent? In Italy it is still common for Christians to make a fioretto, a small sacrifice throughout Lent which is actually 46 days – 40 days plus Sundays. It’s a way to show some solidarity with the poor and suffering, who often go without.
Ash Wednesday Papal Mass
On Ash Wednesday, on the Aventine Hill in Rome, Pope Francis leads a penitential procession of cardinals, bishops, the Benedictine monks of Sant'Anselmo, the Dominican friars of Santa Sabina and some faithful. At 4:30pm they walk from the Church of Sant’Anselmo to the Basilica of Santa Sabina where the Holy Father celebrates Mass with the blessing and imposition of ashes on members of the congregation. Photos below taken Ash Wednesday, 6 March 2019.
Station Church Pilgrimage
For the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, not including Sundays or the Easter Triduum, pilgrims in Rome follow in the footsteps of ancient Romans by attending daily Mass at 40 different ‘Station’ Churches. It is one of the most incredible ways to really experience some of ancient Roman culture since this tradition dates back to the late second or early third century. It’s also a tradition that can be followed in Italian or English since the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) celebrates Mass in English at each of the Station Churches at 7.00am [except on Ash Wednesday (at 6.45am) to allow for the imposition of ashes at the Church of Santa Sabina, pictured below]. In the evenings, Italian Mass is celebrated at the same churches but also includes a procession before Mass in which clergy and lay people chant the Litany of Saints, and relics of that particular church are laid out for veneration. The list has had minor changes over time - for example when a church is being restored or has even been destroyed (San Trifone was demolished and the Mass moved to Sant’Agostino). The Italian Masses are organized by the Pontificia Accademia Cultorum Martyrum. The PNAC website lists the complete Schedule of Station Churches, which includes information about each church, directions on how to arrive, and even a map link. After each Mass, there is time to explore and learn about the churches and related saints. It’s also a tradition for many English-speaking Catholics in Rome to go to these Station Masses year-in, year-out and you’ll quickly make friends if you hang around for breakfast at a nearby bar afterwards.
Pilgrimage of Seven Churches
Another Lenten tradition in Rome is to walk the pilgrimage of the “Seven Churches” which includes visiting the four Major Basilicas and the three more important Minor Roman Basilicas. This walk is often completed on the Wednesday of Holy Week. If you’d like to join the pilgrimage with the PNAC on Saturday, April 6th, be ready to walk at 9:00am at St. Peter’s Square (by the obelisk). The walk will finish around 5:30pm at St. Mary Major. Here are the churches you’ll cover throughout the day:
St. Peter's Basilica (Major Papal basilica)
Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (Major Papal basilica)
Basilica of St. John Lateran (Major Papal Archbasilica)
Basilica of St. Mary Major (Major Papal basilica)
Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls (Minor Papal basilica)
Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Minor basilica)
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love (Shrine) or St. Sebastian Outside-the-Walls (Minor basilica)
Above: Visiting the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls with my husband’s Swiss Guard troop during the Pilgrimage of the Seven Churches.
Ten years ago…
Exactly ten years ago (2009), in my conversion to the Catholic faith, I took part in my first Lenten journey of the Station Churches in Rome. My friend Sean Donovan, a fellow student at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (‘The Angelicum’) and seminarian at the PNAC, encouragingly gave me a copy of Procedamus in Pace, the PNAC's “Guide to the Station Churches of Rome”. Inside he wrote the following: “May God draw you into His all-embracing love and guide you through these Lenten pilgrimages and through your preparation for Confirmation and Holy Eucharist”. Ten years on, it’s still my go-to guide for the Station Churches and I’m grateful for the ongoing friendship of a great priest, Fr. Donovan.