Wednesday of Week I of Lent

The Basilica of St. Mary Major (official website) is one of the four major basilicas in Rome, and so houses a holy door (which is only open in Jubilee Years) and a papal altar (only the Pope or his delegates can celebrate Mass there). Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló is currently the Archpriest of the basilica, as well as the Vice-Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church. It was previously known as a patriarchal basilica, but since 2006, Pope Benedict XVI changed the title to papal basilica, as the seven patriarchal basilicas (the four major basilicas, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls in Rome, St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi) were longer connected to the patriarchates.

According to a legend, snow fell on the top of the Esquiline Hill on August 5, a summer day. Pope Liberius followed a vision and and built a church at the spot covered with snow. This led to the former name of Basilica of St. Mary of the Snows. Historically, it was Pope Sixtus III who built the basilica around 440 AD, following the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) which declared that Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother (Bearer) of God, because Christ was truly and totally both human and God. In any case, it was one of the first churches in the world dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the largest one among more than 150 churches in Rome dedicated to the Mother of God.

Every year on August 5, churches around the world celebrate the (optional) Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major as prescribed by the General Roman Calendar. If you are in Rome on that day, do not miss the Eucharistic celebration in the basilica, for you will be amazed by rose petals that are dropped from the dome at the intonation of the Gloria, commemorating the snow that fell on the hill.

We will revisit the papal basilica on Wednesday of Holy Week and Easter Sunday.


Tuesday of Week I of Lent

Just a 300-metre walk away from the tourist popular Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the ancient Basilica of St. Anastasia was built at this spot in the late 3rd century. Later dedicated to the female martyr St. Anastasia in the 5th century, it was one of the first parishes in Rome. The church has undergone multiple restorations in its history. The present façade was restored in 1636 under the pontificate of Urban VIII after it was destroyed by a cyclone two years ago.

Starting with Pope Gregory the Great, popes celebrated three Christmas masses at three different churches: St. Mary Major, St. Anastasia and St. Peter. Mass was held in this basilica at dawn on December 25 because the Feast of St. Anastasia falls on the same day. This led to the three different liturgies (midnight, morning and daytime) that we still celebrate on Christmas day nowadays.

The basilica is the first church in Rome to practise Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. During the World Youth Day in the Great Jubilee Year, the church acted as a huge sacristy in which 700,000 sacred hosts were distributed to the crowd of young people in Circus Maximus next to the church.

Cardinal George Danneels, the former primate of Belgium, has been the Cardinal Protector of the titular church for nearly 30 years.

Monday of Week I of Lent

The Basilica of St. Peter in Chains has lived a long history since 432 AD when it was built. Consecrated by Pope Sixtus III in 439, it has undergone several renovations including the front portico in 1475.

The basilica holds the chains of St. Peter, the very reason why the church was built. When Peter was imprisoned, an angel came and shook the earth and freed Peter (see Acts 12:3-19). The chains were kept by devout Christians, and later passed on to the Empress Eudoxia who presented them to Pope Leo the Great. The basilica also holds the tomb of Pope Julius II, as well as Michelangelo's Moses statue (1515).

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the present Archbishop of Washington, has been the cardinal protector of the basilica since 2010.


First Sunday of Lent

On the First Sunday of Lent, the Romans gather at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, the Mother of all churches in the world. By definition, it is the most important church in the whole world, and the only church with the title of Archbasilica. Along with other major basilicas and certain buildings, it enjoys extraterritorial status of the Holy See (Vatican City State) according to the Lateran Treaty.

Constantine donated the land he had received from the wealthy Lateran family to Pope Sylvester, who built this magnificent basilica and consecrated it in 324. This remained the residence of popes until the 15th century. Although the Bishop of Rome no longer lives here, the official Chair (cathedra) of the Successor of Peter resides in this basilica. Upon his election, the Pope comes here to take possession of the Chair, the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach.

Originally dedicated to the Holy Saviour, the name of the basilica became longer over time. In the 10th century, St. John the Baptist was added to the name, and in the 12th century, St. John Evangelist was added. The first symbolizes the beginning of time while the latter symbolizes the end of the time. Hence the basilica is known as the Papal Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, St. John Baptist and St. John Evangelist, or in short, the Lateran Basilica.

We will come back to the basilica on Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday.


Saturday after Ash Wednesday

On the first Saturday in Lent, Romans gather at the Basilica of St. Augustine to the North-East of Piazza Navona in the historical centre of the eternal city. The present church was built in 1446, dedicated to Augustine of Hippo, the great Father of the Church. This Augustianian church was raised to the title of minor basilica in 1999, the latest one in the papal see. The church became a Cardinal Titular Church in 1587. Presently, the Cardinal Archbishop of Bordeaux holds the Title of St. Augustine.

Born in 354 in Algeria which then belonged to the Roman Empire, Augustine studied rhetoric in Carthage and followed the Manichean religion. He began to live a hedonistic life, to the dismay of his mother, Monica, who followed him wherever he went, constantly praying to God for his son's conversion. Her nagging paid off. At the age of 29, he met St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, who greatly impressed Augustine with his intellect and rhetoric skills and planted in him the seed of conversion. Three years later, while reading about the life of Saint Anthony the Hermit (Father of all Monks), he heard a mystic voice singing "tolle lege" ("take up and read") repeatedly. He opened the Bible, and his eyes fell on Romans 13:13-14: "Conduct properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." He was so touched that he resolved to serve God with his entire life and live celibately. He received the grace of baptism from the hands of St. Ambrose a year later.

He became a priest in 391, was elected Coadjutor Bishop of Hippo in 395, and succeeded to the see shortly afterwards. He died in Hippo on 28 August 430. The Roman Calendar celebrates his memorial on his day of his birth into heaven, while the Eastern Church commemorates him on 4 November. His remains are still venerated in the Basilica di San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, Italy.

Those who have not read his book "Confessions" must do so. Other than this spiritual classic, his written works and homilies, which can fill an entire bookcase, have been passed on to this generation more than 1600 years later. This led the Church to proclaim him as one of the original four Doctors of the Church in 1298, together with St. Ambrose, St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great. He remains as one of the most prominent of the 33 Doctors of the Church. Pope Benedict will soon add to the list St. John of Ávila and St. Hildegard of Bingen.

Since 1867, the Bishop of Constantine also holds the title of Hippo in recognition of the eminence of St. Augustine. In Hippo, present-day Annaba in Algeria, a majestic Basilica dedicated to the saint was consecrated in 1900. A week ago, Pope Benedict XVI made a personal donation to the basilica for its restoration.

When you visit the Basilica of St. Augustine in Rome, don't forget to pray before the tomb of St. Monica to the left of the main altar, and admire Caravaggio's Madonna of Loreto.


Friday after Ash Wednesday

Named for the martyrs of the fourth century, the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul is the stational church for this day of abstinence from meat. This ancient titular church finds itself together with two other titular churches on the quiet Celian Hill, 300 metres south of the Colosseum. Cardinal Edward Egan is the cardinal protector of the titular church, the fourth Archbishop of New York in a row to hold this post.

The basilica is dedicated to John and Paul, two wealthy brothers who served in Constantine’s court under his daughter Constantia. She converted them to Christianity and they would host Christian rites here in their home. When the emperor Julian came to power, he wanted them to deny their faith and embrace paganism. They refused and were martyed inside their home in 362. Today, they are still commemorated in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I).

In 398, Pammachius, a wealthy senator and a friend of Saint Jerome, had a basilica built over the home of these martyrs. Sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and flattened by an earthquake in 442, it has been restored several times, most recently by the late Cardinal Francis Spellman after he succeeded Eugeio Pacelli, who had been elected pope and taken the name Pius XII, as the Cardinal-Priest of the church.

Passionists proudly serve in the church, with their founder St. Paul of the Cross buried together with Saints John and Paul.


Thursday after Ash Wednesday

We continue our Lenten journey today at the Church of St. George in Velabro. Located near the Tiber River, west of the presently snow-covered Colosseum, this ancient diaconal church dates back to the seventh century. There is even mention of an earlier chapel near this spot dating back to 482. The church was dedicated to Saint Sebastian up until the eight century until the titular was changed to the great soldier saint of St. George. The bell tower and the portico were added in the 13th century. The church was most recently restored in the 1920s.

Blessed John Newman was the Cardinal-Deacon of the church from 1879 to 1890. Since 2010, the Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has been the Cardinal-Deacon of the diaconal church.

Ash Wednesday

During the next 40+ days of Lent before Easter, Romans gather at a designated church every day to strengthen the faith while honouring the holy martyrs of Rome. The pope in the past visited a church with the people every day, led them in prayer and celebrated Mass. Over time, a church and liturgical propers are specified for each day. The practice of visiting the stational churches was revitalized by Blessed Pope John XXIII.

I have been to Rome several times and am fortunate enough to have visited all the stational churches. As my Lenten exercise, I will upload some pictures of the station church each day. I hope you'll enjoy the spiritual pilgrimage and feel the same devotional spirit of the faithful in the eternal city.

Although no longer taking part in the station on each Lenten day, the pope has been participating in the devotion on Ash Wednesday. He starts off at the Basilica of St. Anselm, seat of the Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation and the home of the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm. Cardinal Fortunato Baldelli, former Major Penitentiary, is currently the Cardinal-Priest of Sant'Anselmo.

Next the pope joins the 300-metre procession in a mini-popemobile led by monks, priests and bishops, while the Litany of the Saints is sung, passing by the Church of Santa Maria del Priorato, seat of the Knights of Malta, and the fourth-century Basilica of Santi Boniface and Alexius. The destination is the Basilica of St. Sabina, the stational church of the day, where he presides in a Eucharistic celebration, blesses and imposes ash on the faithful gathered. (See the full video of the pope's visit earlier today.)

The basilica was originally built between AD 422-432, rebuilt in 834 and restored in 1914. Four saints are buried here, Pope Saint Alexander, Saint Eventius, Saint Theodulus and, of course, Saint Sabina, the Roman matron whose house became this majestic church. It is the headquarters of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) in Rome, since Pope Honorious III ceded the basilica to St. Dominic in 1222. Many illustrious saints have lived in the adjacent monastery: Pope Saint Pius V, Saint Hyacinth and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has been the Cardinal-Priest of San Sabina since 1996 when he was promoted to the presbyteral order.

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.
(Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.) 
– Genesis 3:19

Stational Churches in Rome
Week of Ash Wednesday: Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday


Order Matters

The excitement began when Pope Benedict XVI announced on the Solemnity of the Epiphany the list of 22 cardinals that he would create today. I planned to write several articles on different aspects of the cardinals, but time did not permit me to do so. While anxiously awaiting the live TV/internet coverage of the consistory in a few hours, I can afford to write on an interesting topic.

The order in which the cardinals are created in a consistory is significant and determines their ecclesiastical precedence. Within the Church, regulations governing precedence are historically defined. In formal liturgical celebrations, the precedence determines the celebrant and the order of procession. As an example, when a higher-ranking prelate is present in a Mass in another diocese where the Bishop is the celebrant, he does not concelebrate, which would be liturgically incorrect, but rather presides or participates in choir.

The Pope holds the highest precedence as the Head of the Universal Church, while Cardinals, his closest collaborators, follow him. The list continues thus: PatriarchsMajor Archbishops, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, Territorial Prelates, Territorial Abbots, Abbots, Exarchs Apostolic, Prefects Apostolic, Apostolic Administrators, Personal Prelates, Protonotaries Apostolic de numero, Protonotaries Apostolic supernumerary, superiors of religious orders, Canons, Prelates of Honour, Chaplains of His Holiness, Vicars General, Vicars Forane, Vicars Episcopal, other priests, deacons, and religious brothers and sisters. Within each category, precedence is derived from the date of episcopal or sacerdotal ordination or promotion to that rank.

Within the College of Cardinals, the Cardinal-Bishops are accorded the highest precedence, followed by the Cardinal-Priests and then Cardinal-Deacons. When promoted to Cardinals, residential Bishops become Cardinal-Priests, while others are made Cardinal-Deacons (see the Cardinals created by John Paul II and by Benedict XVI). Within the Order of Cardinal-Priests (or Cardinal-Deacons), the cardinals who were elevated in an earlier consistory precede the ones in later consistories. Within the same consistory, the precedence is governed by the order in which the cardinals were created in that consistory. This is precisely what I want to comment on regarding the consistory of 2012. See the full list of precedence.

Only since 1994, it has been the custom for (1) bishops serving in the Roman Curia to appear first in the biglietto, followed by (2) local Pastors, and then (3) those who are over 80 of age or older. Within each category, the Latin-rite Patriarchs and Archbishops go first, followed by Bishops. (The order of Eastern-Rite Patriarchs is in effect irrelevant, as they become Cardinal Bishops and outrank the rest.) This is more or less the order in which cardinals are created. But more interestingly, it is only in this year's consistory that the precise order in the list is most logical.

Except for Cardinal-designate Filoni, for the first time, the order in the 3 categories follows exactly the ecclesiastical precedence of the prelates at the time of announcement. In Category 1, except for Filoni, the order is determined by the date of episcopal consecration. In Category 2, the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop is first, followed by the Archbishops in order of their dates of episcopal ordination, followed by the Bishop of Hong Kong. In Category 3, the Romanian Major Archbishop goes first, followed by Monsignor Julien Ries (Prelate of Honour), Father Prosper Grech (ordained in 1950) and lastly Father Karl Becker (ordained in 1958). This orderly sequence, which is predictable and does not exhibit favouritism, is indeed desirable.

In each consistory, the first Cardinal to be created is given the responsibility of addressing the Pope. The choice of Fernando Filoni as the first Cardinal and deviation in the order is not surprising. Informally known as the "red pope", the President of the Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples is often reckoned to hold the fourth most important position in the Roman Curia (after the Secretary of State, the President of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and the President of the Congregation of Bishops), responsible for selecting bishops in missionary dioceses (i.e. half of the world). Fernando Filoni also enjoys the trust of Pope Benedict, having acted as Apostolic Nuncio to many countries and the informal delegate to China and served as the #3-official in the Secretariat of State.

In due time (in November 2020 to be exact), when the 2010 class of Cardinals opt for the class of Cardinal-Priests, he will become the Cardinal Protodeacon, the Cardinal-Deacon who holds the highest precedence. By Canon 355, this senior Cardinal-Deacon will have the privilege to announce "Habemus Papam" and the name of the new pope to the world following a papal election. The Protodeacon will also have the power to confer the pallium on metropolitan archbishops or to their proxies. His office of course will not last long, for in February 2022, he too will be promoted to the presbyteral order. If a papal conclave happens during this short 15-month window, Filoni will be announcing the name of Benedict XVIII or Pius XIII or Paul VIII from St. Peter's balcony just like Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez announced about the Ratzingerian papacy:

It seems that it is only since the pontificate of Benedict XVI that Cardinal-Deacons have restored the practice of wearing dalmatics when assisting the Pope (but not concelebrating). The dalmatic is the proper liturgical vestment of deacons, a sign of service, dedication to the Gospel and to others. Bishops are required to wear the dalmatic underneath their chasuble in pontifical Masses. (How many bishops follow this rule?) If  Cardinal-Deacons are concelebrating, they should wear the chasuble instead, the vestment proper to priests.