Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ashes to Ashes

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return"

Today begins the holy season of Lent, which is a time of preparation for the celebration of the Easter mysteries. Originally Lent was 40 day period of preparation for baptism that was eventually extended to all the faithful as an intensive time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

In Rome there is an ancient tradition called 'Station Churches'. Basically each day of Lent is assigned a different church where the 'stational' Mass is celebrated. In former times, the Pope would personally preside at a pilgrimage walk and celebrate the Holy Mass with the people of Rome at each station church during Lent. The tradition is quite ancient, perhaps from the around the 5th century. The North American in the last few decades has spearheaded a renewed interest in this tradition. You can go to the NAC website for more information. I honestly don't know much about the tradition, but I'm planning on making as many of the station churches as I can.

Some impressions from Ash Wednesday ...

I woke up early this morning for the pilgrimage walk to the first station church. Ash Wednesday is always celebrated at Santa Sabina on the Aventine hill. I checked the weather hoping that I wouldn't have to take my umbrella. Sure enough there wasn't any rain. I had to be sure to pack everything I needed for class since I'd be going from the church straight to the Angelicum. During the silent brisk morning march to Santa Sabina I was struck by several things. First that for more than a thousand years Christians have done exactly what I was doing in order to begin Lent. I felt surrounded not only by my brother seminarians, but also the numerous saints who had gone before. Second, I was surprised to find out that Santa Sabina is the burial place of several saints, but most famously of St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas is one of the greatest doctors of the church who has left us with a monumental work of theology that still guides theology today.

During Mass I was confronted by the intense mystery of the communion of saints. There is something special about actually being in the location where for centuries Christians have started the annual observance of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Walking away from Santa Sabina I was left with a mark both physically on my forehead with ashes and spiritually by the fellowship with all those holy men and women of old and of today. And fundamentally I was marked or more accurately transformed by my encounter with the living God in the Eucharist. What a blessing... What a grace...

Hopefully as time allows I can share with you some of my impressions as we journey through the different station churches through the season of Lent towards to the great feast of the Paschal Lamb of God.

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