It is evident that Catholics are acknowledging Lent in various ways throughout the Eternal City. However, some may not realize that there is a particular Lenten tradition in which English-speakers have been participating.
The Pontifical North American College has been following the tradition of the Roman station churches. Information about the station churches, including the the history of Roman stational liturgy history, the schedule, times, and history of the churches themselves, can be found on PNAC’s website www.pnac.org.
This Roman tradition dates back almost back to the start of Christianity. It started with the pope celebrating Mass every day of Lent at a different church in Rome. The objective was to bring more unity within the city and its different churches.
Now, every morning, at a different “station” church in Rome, the Pontifical North American College has a 7am Mass in English, allowing the English-speaking world to participate in the tradition. At night, Italians observe the same tradition with the same ‘”station” churches through Italian Masses.
The Pontifical North American College itself is for seminarians and priests from North America, however, these masses are open to everyone.
Participating in the tradition last Tuesday, ZENIT spoke to attendees at the Mass held at San Lorenzo in Domaso. One could easily go right past this church without realizing it exists since it is hidden with the facade of Palazzo di Cancelleria. However, once one enters, one is struck by its decoration and frescoes.
To accomodate the turn-out, extra seats had been set up behind the pews. Even having done this, still many individuals, male and female, clergy and laypeople, of all ages, were standing in the back or crouched down in any little spaces they could find near confessionals or side chapels.
Gold angels above the alter overlooked the reverant participants. However, this tradition has its social aspects too. Many travel there together or go for coffee or breakfast in groups afterward.
Sara Farnes, a student at the Angelicum, explained that she enjoys participating in this tradition. She said generally the majority of the attendees are from pontifical universities. She also said that this Mass had an added feature, explaining that deacons from the Venerable English College were participating. She said that although many often go for a quick breakfast afterward, many others “rush to classes right afterward.”
Fr. Justin Darlow, priest student from the Diocese of Wagga Wagga in Australia and studying the history of the Church at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, spoke to ZENIT: “Many of the seminarians the Pontifical North American College’s Casa Santa Maria walk together to the Station Church each morning, praying the rosary.” He said, “Some seminarians ride their bikes.”
He recommended: “If one were interested in learning more about the Station Churches, one should read “Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches” by George Weigel and Elizabeth Lev.”