The Roman Station Liturgy
The information in this section comes largely from The Urban Character of Christian Worship, by Rev. John Baldovin, S.J. Footnotes refer to the pages in his text where further information can be found.
Station Churches 2013
Each year, the North American College follows the ancient tradition of the Roman stational liturgy. All are invited to join us for the celebration of Mass each day. Using the side bar on the left, you will find the schedule and listing of the churches. Each page contains a short description and history of each church. At the bottom of each page, you will find the address of the church, an interactive map marking its location, and a link that provides walking directions from any location in Rome.
Mass will begin each day at 7am, with the exception of Mass on Ash Wednesday which begins at 6:45am. Please note that we do not celebrate either Sunday Mass or the Paschal Triduum at the station churches.
Our modern observance of the stational liturgy traces its roots back to the practice of the Bishop of Rome celebrating the liturgies of the church year at various churches throughout the city, a tradition dating back as far as the late second or early third century. One reason for this was practical: with the church in Rome being composed of diverse groups from many cultures, regular visits by the bishop served to unify the various groups into a more cohesive whole. Another reason, particularly following the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313 which permitted public worship, was to commemorate certain feast days at churches with a special link to that celebration. Therefore, Good Friday came to be celebrated at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and Christmas at St. Mary Major, where a relic of the manger was venerated. In time, the original churches in the city, known as tituli (sing. titulus) because they often bore the name of the donor, took on an additional significance as the places that held the relics of the martyrs and the memory of the early history of the church in this city.1
As time passed the schedule of these visits, which had earlier followed an informal order, took on a more formalized structure. By the last half of the fifth century, a fairly fixed calendar was developed, having the order of the places at which the pope would say Mass with the church community on certain days throughout the year. In the weeks before the beginning of Lent, the three large basilicas outside the walls were visited, forming a ring of prayer around the city before the season of Lent began. During Lent, the various stations were originally organized so that the Masses were held in different areas of the city each day. During the octave of Easter the stations form a litany of the saints, beginning with St. Mary Major on Easter Sunday and continuing with St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Lawrence, the Apostles, and the martyrs.2
The liturgy of these Masses had several elements, many of which developed over time. According to the structure of the late first millennium, the people would gather in mid-afternoon with the pope at one church, known as the collectum. There, after some prayers, the group would move in procession to the statio, at which Mass would be said. The use of the term statio for this ending point has a connection with the practice of fasting on these days. The Christians of this time made a comparison of their fasting and prayer during Lent with the guard duty of soldiers, seeing their actions as something to be approached with a similar seriousness of purpose. The term statio came to be applied to the Eucharistic celebrations that took place on fast days. Later the term came to be used for all churches at which the major liturgical celebration in the city was to be held on a certain day.3
The order of the stations, originally organized in the fifth century, would undergo several changes over the following three centuries. The current order was essentially fixed by the time of the Council of Trent. Over the last several centuries, two of the original stations have been lost, although most older liturgical books still list their name as the station for their original day. The church of St. Augustine has taken the place of St. Tryphon, an older church which once stood on a nearby site. The second lost church is that of St. Cyriacus, which originally stood near the Baths of Diocletian. Having fallen into ruin, its stational day was transferred to Santa Maria in Via Lata, possibly because a monastery, also dedicated to St. Cyriacus, once stood behind this church. The other churches have not passed the centuries without their difficulties either: many have been destroyed and rebuilt; some fell into ruins, being saved only when on the verge of final collapse; all have been modified in various ways throughout the ages. Yet what remains through all the changes is the memory of those past Christians who worshiped at these places. While other cities, such as Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Milan once had similar stational liturgies, Rome is the only city in which these continue in some regular form. Therefore, just like the writings of the Fathers of the Church and the art of the early Christian era, the stational cycle comes down to us as a monument of the early church, a living connection to those days when the witness of the martyrs was still fresh and the echo of the apostles’ voices could still be heard in the city’s streets.
2 Pp. 153-158
3 Pp. 143-144; 161-162
Rome Reports posted a short piece on the station churches. You may enjoy the video below.