A message from Father Nick 50

“One body, one spirit in Christ”

Almost a year has passed since “Lockdown” made such changes in the way we worship. Our own generation is the first to be able to live-stream a parish mass and that has given welcome continuity to our lives, but our absence from each other at the Eucharist comes at great cost. Watching mass at a distance, however devoutly, can never be ideal.

From the beginning, Sunday Eucharist was celebrated quite specifically as a coming together in Christ. Like the elements of bread and wine that coming together was essential to the sacrament, and its strong meaning was emphasised by two ancient Roman practices.

The first is called the fermentum. During mass the Bishop of Rome would break from his own Eucharistic loaf particles to be taken by ministers to the other Roman titular churches. Each celebrant would then place a particle in his own chalice as a sign of unity. Like the sound that is said to have rumbled around the hills of Rome when congregations shouted out the Great Amen, it was a powerful reminder that we share a universal mystery.

The second is the custom of gathering at Lenten “Station” churches, still practised in Rome today. This began in the fourth century as a way of strengthening community and honouring the martyrs of the city. The faithful would end their daily Lenten fast by gathering at a church (the collect). Then, singing the litany of the saints, they would walk in procession to that day’s station church where the Bishop of Rome would celebrate mass with them. The sequence of station churches was fixed by Pope St Gregory the Great (540-604)

Today the pope is present only at the first station church, Santa Sabina, on Ash Wednesday, as in our picture, but the practice still has popular appeal. During the rest of Lent, connections are made between Scripture readings, particular saints and the choice of station churches, but in Holy Week emphasis on the Passion predominates. As one professor of liturgy puts it,

“During Holy Week venues appropriate to the day were utilized, including the great basilicas closest to the papal palace that, in an anomaly of history, were located far from the population centres. Crowds could be expected on Palm Sunday and Holy Wednesday, Thursday and Easter Sunday. The Good Friday service with the pope presiding took place at “Jerusalem”, Helena’s palace along the Aurelian wall dedicated to the holy cross. Clergy especially would attend there; liturgies that included readings, prayers, veneration of the cross and a communion service would be celebrated also at the “tituli” [specifically established and recorded early churches].

The invariable stations for Holy Week were:

Palm Sunday – “Our Saviour’s” (St John Lateran)

Holy Monday – Ss Nereus & Achilleus (later replaced by S Prassede)

Holy Tuesday – S Prisca on the Aventine

Holy Wednesday – St Mary Major (the so-called “Manger church”)

Holy Thursday – the Lateran

Good Friday – Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Helena’s palace)

Holy Saturday – Lateran Baptistery & Lateran Basilica

Easter Sunday – St Mary Major

May it not be too long before we too are once more able to come together.

Basilica of the Holy Cross, Jerusalem