By Elena Dini
ROME — A group of Lay Centre scholars experienced the grace of participating in Rome’s historic Lenten Station Masses just days before the ban on the public celebration of the Eucharist came into effect.
The local practice of Station Masses — which dates back to the late second or early third centuries, when the celebrant was the bishop of Rome — includes the celebration of the Eucharist at a different Roman church each day throughout Lent. The use of a different church each day was then aimed at unifying various communities present in the city, reaching different neighborhoods, and commemorating feast days in a church that is more closely associated with that feast.
The term “statio” is connected with the early Christian tradition of stopping at the tomb of a martyr to contemplate his or her life and Christian witness. Those gathered would then process to the church for Mass. Eventually, “statio” came to be applied to the Eucharistic celebrations and extended to the churches themselves.
A group of Lay Centre scholars headed out to a Station Mass March 5, at 6 a.m., and walked to the Church of San Lorenzo in Panisperna, where Mass was being celebrated that day. The decree of the Italian bishops’ conference, banning all public celebrations of the Eucharist, was issued March 8.
Lay Centre scholar Sophia Ilwu, who was attending the Station Masses daily, was among them.
“With the outbreak of the coronavirus, I feel more of a desire to go to church, to pray, and ask for grace. Station Masses help me to do this, just as the Via Crucis does on Fridays,” she said, adding these Masses are also an opportunity to follow “John Paul II’s advice” to learn more about the Church in Rome.
Lay Centre scholar Alexander Aboutanos noted how the Church of San Lorenzo is closed most days, but was open for the Station Mass. He said he was moved by the example of the martyred St. Lawrence, “who responded to the threat on his life with fortitude and humor,” and called upon him for his intercession.
The Station Masses begin each year on Ash Wednesday. Pope Francis celebrated this year's Station Mass on Ash Wednesday at the Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill.
“Lent is not a time for useless sermons, but for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love,” he said in his homily. “Let us not grow resigned. You may ask: ‘How can I trust? The world is falling to pieces, fear is growing, there is so much malice all around us, society is becoming less and less Christian.’ Don’t you believe that God can transform our dust into glory?”
Although this Lent will be different from the ones Lay Centre scholars and friends are used to in Rome, there are many ways in which people can stay close to others spiritually and pray together. For instance, the Italian bishops’ conference has issued a call to pray the Rosary at home on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, at 9 p.m., Rome time.
In a message issued March 12, Lay Centre Director Donna Orsuto offered many ways in which people can connect during these weeks: through prayer, a phone call, and service. Let us make the most of this time and #stayconnected.