Each day of Lent has its own special Collect and Roman “station”. There were station Masses each day during Lent, on Ember Days, Sundays of Advent and certain other great feasts for a total of 84 days per year.
On station days the clergy and people of Rome would “collect” together at an appointed church. After prayers (including the Collect), they marched in solemn procession to a nearby “standing still” church, the statio, where the Pope or his deputy would say Mass.
The names of the stations are printed in the pre-conciliar editions of the Roman Missal, as well as in people’s trusty hand missals. The prayers and texts for the daily station Mass often pertained to the patron saint of the church, or to some historical event associated with it. Speaking of stations, the history of the Mass, and station, for the Second Sunday of Lent is connected to the tradition of Ember Days which I wrote about last week. In ancient Rome, the Sunday following the Lenten Ember was once of far less importance because Ember Saturday was observed at San Pietro on the Vatican Hill. This is why the Sunday station Mass is at the relatively new Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica on the Caelian Hill, one of the Roman “deaconries”, rather than at a far more significant basilica such as San Giovanni in Laterano (First Sunday), San Lorenzo (Third), Santa Croce (Fourth) or San Pietro (Fifth).
Pope St Leo the Great (d 461) ended one of his Lenten sermons by saying: “Let us fast, therefore, on Monday and Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday, however, let us celebrate the vigil with the blessed Apostle Peter” (s 42, March 12 444). On Lent’s Ember Saturday, people assembled at St Peter’s grave. They fasted and prayed all night and then had Mass on Sunday morning. Saturday was a special day of thanksgiving and the occasion for ordinations.
The custom of stations was kept all over the world. People could gain special indulgences by visiting churches designated by the bishops where they lived. In fact, the Ordo, a little book containing practical information for the whole liturgy each day, published every year, still mentions the practice of the stations and recommends their observance. In the Latin Missale Romanum of 2002, on the page before Ash Wednesday, the rubric strongly recommended (valde commendatur) that this Roman custom be maintained in large cities.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (27/2/15). Also in this week’s issue: Andrew M Brown says all baptisms should have a touch of The Godfather, Mary Kenny on the wisdom of Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife and Colin Brazier says we should breed like rabbits. Take up our special subscription offer – 12 issues currently available for just £12!
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