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Lenten Stational Churches of Rome

by Gary D. Penkala

I. The Idea of Stational Churches

Early morning pilgrimage With the normalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire [fourth century], a practice developed known as "stational churches." Incorporating the concept of pilgrimage, these churches gradually became the location of afternoon Masses offered by the Pope, the bishop of Rome. The faithful would gather at one church, known as the collecta and process (hence the "pilgrimage" aspect) to the church designated as the station or statio for the day.

Generally, the weekdays of Lent, Holy Week and Easter Week were assigned stations. The traditional Station Churches are:

  • Ash Wednesday: Santa Sabina
  • Thursday after Ash Wednesday: San Giorgio in Velabro
  • Friday after Ash Wednesday: Santi Giovanni e Paolo
  • Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Sant' Agostino 

  • First Sunday of Lent: Lateran Basilica [San Giovanni in Laterano]
  • Monday 1: San Pietro in Vincoli
  • Tuesday 1: Santa Anastasia
  • Wednesday 1: Liberian Basilica [Santa Maria Maggiore]
  • Thursday 1: San Lorenzo in Panisperna
  • Friday 1: Santi Apostoli
  • Saturday 1: Vatican Basilica [San Pietro in Vaticano] 

  • Second Sunday of Lent: Santa Maria in Domnica
  • Monday 2: San Clemente
  • Tuesday 2: Santa Balbina
  • Wednesday 2: Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
  • Thursday 2: Santa Maria in Trastevere
  • Friday 2: San Vitale in Fovea
  • Saturday 2: Santi Marcellino e Pietro al Laterano 

  • Third Sunday of Lent: San Lorenzo-fuori-le-mura
  • Monday 3: San Marco al Campidoglio
  • Tuesday 3: Santa Pudenziana al Viminale
  • Wednesday 3: San Sisto (Santi Nereo e Achilleo)
  • Thursday 3: Santi Cosma e Damiano in Via Sacra (Fori Imperiali)
  • Friday 3: San Lorenzo in Lucina
  • Saturday 3: Santa Susanna alle Terme di Diocleziano 

  • Fourth Sunday of Lent [Laetare]: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
  • Monday 4: Santi Quattro Coronati al Celio
  • Tuesday 4: San Lorenzo in Damaso
  • Wednesday 4: Ostian Basilica [San Paolo fuori-le-mura]
  • Thursday 4: Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monti
  • Friday 4: Sant'Eusebio
  • Saturday 4: San Nicola in Carcere 

  • Fifth Sunday of Lent: Vatican Basilica [San Pietro in Vaticano]
  • Monday 5: San Crisogono in Trastevere
  • Tuesday 5: San Ciriaco (S. Maria in via Lata al Corso)
  • Wednesday 5: San Marcello al Corso
  • Thursday 5: Sant'Apollinare in Campo Marzio
  • Friday 5: San Stefano al Celio
  • Saturday 5: San Giovanni a Porta Latina 

  • Palm Sunday: Lateran Basilica [San Giovanni in Laterano]
  • Monday of Holy Week: Santa Prassede
  • Tuesday of Holy Week: Santa Prisca
  • Wednesday of Holy Week: Liberian Basilica [Santa Maria Maggiore]
  • Thursday of Holy Week: Lateran Basilica [San Giovanni in Laterano]
  • Friday of Holy Week: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
  • Saturday of Holy Week: Lateran Basilica [San Giovanni in Laterano] 

  • Easter Sunday: Liberian Basilica [Santa Maria Maggiore]
  • Monday of Easter Week: Vatican Basilica [San Pietro in Vaticano]
  • Tuesday of Easter Week: Ostian Basilica [San Paolo fuori-le-mura]
  • Wednesday of Easter Week: San Lorenzo-fuori-le-mura
  • Thursday of Easter Week: Santi Apostoli
  • Friday of Easter Week:Santa Maria ad Martyres in Campo Marzio (Pantheon)
  • Saturday of Easter Week: Lateran Basilica [San Giovanni in Laterano] 

  • Second Sunday of Easter [Octave of Easter / Divine Mercy Sunday]: San Pancrazio

Notice that some of the stational churches are repeated, particularly the four major basilicas of Rome: San Pietro in Vaticano [Saint Peter], San Giovanni Laterano [Saint John at the Lateran], Santa Maria Maggiore [Saint Mary Major] and San Paolo-fuori-le-mura [Saint Paul's outside-the-walls]. Music inspired by these papal basilicas can be found at Roman Processionals

II. The Devotion Today

The practice of pilgirmage to the Lenten Stational churches began to wane in the 11th century and ceased when the papacy moved to Avignon in 1305. A revival of this devotion began in the late 1960s, particularly among the American priests and seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Gaining momentum in the 80s and 90s, the mini-pilgrimages gathered very large crowds by the turn of the millennium.

Each morning of Lent, from Ash Wednesday but ending before the Triduum, student priests and seminarians from PNAC walk through the quiet streets of Rome to the appointed stational church, praying the Rosary along the cobblestone pathways. Mass is celebrated at 7:00 am, allowing enough time for a quick breakfast at a coffee bar before classes begin for the seminarians at one of the pontifical universities in the city. Virtually all the American seminarians participate, joined by English-speakers from the city, and other seminarians and religious. Often, American cardinals and bishops are invited to celebrate these morning Masses.

Much more information can be found on the PNAC website. See Station Churches. This great page has a list [with annotated links] of all the Station churches, a history of the practice, a map of Rome with the churches pinpointed, and a short video about the American involvement.

Parishes could certainly observe a link with Pope Francis and this Roman custom by remembering the Stational Church throughout Lent, perhaps with bulletin articles, displays of information on the churches on Sundays, or even special prayers focused on that church. Dioceses might want to consider their own set of "stational" churches for Lent. Could churches throughout the diocese, particularly in the major city, be designated as pilgrimage sites on the days of Lent? The parish could schedule special Masses and liturgies, and the bishop (or his vicars) might be present at some of them. This seems like a very promising custom to incorporate into our Lenten traditions.

Article written 17 March 2014

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