Lenten Tradition of Station Churches Lives On
An Edifice a Day Helps Focus on Paschal Mystery
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ROME, FEB. 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI celebrates Mass this Ash Wednesday at the Basilica of Santa Sabina, marking the start of Lent and the ancient tradition of the station churches in Rome.
Following the station church tradition, the faithful make their way to a different church each of the 40 days of Lent for Mass and the singing of the litany of the saints.
The tradition started as early as the third century to honor the martyrs of Rome. Similar to the 15 meditations of the Stations of the Cross, the 40 designated station churches offer time for mediation on the lives of the martyrs and prayers of intercession to these Roman saints.
In the sixth century, the tradition was designated by St. Gregory the Great to be a daily Lenten practice.
When the papacy moved to Avignon the tradition fell into disuse but was revived after the Council of Trent in the 16th century. It became popular again in the 20th century.
Deacon Andrew Keswick, studying for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, who attended all the station church Masses last year, said, "Attending the station churches truly enriches Lent beyond the regular sacrifices."
"The rhythm of a different church, a new martyr each day so early in the morning, is a powerful reminder of the purpose of Lent and the Way of the Cross lived by so many in the past," Keswick explained.
Seminarian Nicholas Vaskov, from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, remarked that there is a sense of pilgrimage when visiting all 40 churches, especially for those who walk to them.
"The experience of following the martyrs is very humbling. It makes our sacrifices pale in comparison with their ultimate sacrifice," Vaskov said.
The station churches include the basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore, St. Peter's and St. Paul Outside the Walls, as well as lesser-known churches scattered throughout Rome.
A plenary indulgence is granted to the Christian faithful who devoutly visit a station church on its stational day, taking part in the morning or evening services conducted on that day, along with the usual conditions for indulgences.