The Stational Churches

What Are They?

  • Many Missals have notations for particular Masses indicating a station church. What does this mean? Station churches are churches in Rome specially designated to be the location for worship on a particular day. The seven most important—the Sette Chiese—are the four great and three minor basilicas: St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary Major, the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, St. Lawrence, and the Twelve Apostles. Others were added later to fit various liturgical occasions. The 1962 missal has 86 station days, with 45 station churches altogether, the last two—Santa Agatha and Santa Maria Nuova (a.k.a. Santa Francisca Romana)—having been added by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
  • The word “station” comes from the Latin word statio, meaning a soldier’s post. On special days the faithful of Rome, together with the Pope, would gather at a particular church (the ecclesia collecta) and then solemnly proceed to the statio, the church chosen to be the “post” where Mass would be offered. During the procession a litany would be sung or a psalm (which would later become the Introit of the Mass). Once there, the pope would “collect” the people and their petitions into a single prayer—the “collect”—and then begin the Mass.

If you would like to learn more about the Stational Churches of Rome, please visit the Cantius Webstore to purchase a booklet compiled about this: http://www.cantius.org/go/webstore/product/stational_churches_of_rome/

What Is Their Significance?

The Station Days Are…

Universally Christian,
  • The practice of processing from one place to another demonstrates the Church militant’s pilgrim status on earth. Since Christians are in this world but not of it, we cannot call this world our true home. Rather, our current life is to be understood primarily as a pilgrimage to God. (This is foreshadowed in the Old Testament by the nomadic journeys of Abraham and the patriarchs, as well as by the forty years spent by the Hebrews in the wilderness.)
  • Processions are also significant as public testimonies of the faith. Contrary to our modern notions of religion as a private phenomenon, classical Christianity affirmed the public character of faith through its preaching, its corporal acts of mercy, and its public visibility. Processions served this visibility admirably. It is no coincidence, for example, that station observance began in Rome as soon as the persecutions ended.
  • Accordingly, most of the other historic apostolic rites made processions an important part of their liturgical life. The Byzantine rite at the time of St. Germanus (d. 733), for example, conducted an impressive procession from a small building called the skeuophylakion to the vestibule of Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday. There was even a similar station arrangement, with processions from various churches culminating at Hagia Sophia. Further, the church in Jerusalem began the practice of the Stations of the Cross by following in solemn procession the path that our Lord took to Golgotha. This kind of procession was imitated by the Crusaders, who brought it back with them to Europe.

Uniquely Roman,
  • One of the Roman variations of Christian processing is the station churches. While other rites used to have some kind of station, no other liturgical tradition has this particular arrangement—i.e., changing the place of worship in order to shed light on the meaning of the liturgy being celebrated. Having, for example, the station church for Palm Sunday be the Holy Cross in Jerusalem deepens our memory of our Lord’s triumphant entrance and passion.
  • Thus, in keeping the stations, we are not only enacting a universal Christian truth and keeping alive a once universal Christian practice, but cherishing our ecclesiastical heritage.

Usefully Instructive,
  • Stations, as mentioned above, shed light on the meaning of the Mass. They are therefore useful to keep in mind during Mass as a way of understanding the teaching of the day. In many cases they have actually affected the choice of propers. The collect and epistle of Sexagesima Sunday, for example, are linked to the station: ad Sanctum Paulum.
Communally Unifying,
  • A station church was assigned for each day of Lent because the Roman Church recognized its powerful psychological effect. All Christians or would-be Christians—the faithful, catechumens, and public penitents—mingled as one, exhorting and inspiring each other. (This was especially desirable during Lent as a means of enduring the harshness of the fast.) But it serves to remind us, even outside of Lent, of the importance of fraternal encouragement and aid.
  • Further, the station observance, as Pius Parsch once put it, is “a constant exhortation to worship in common” (The Liturgy of the Mass (NY: B. Herder, 1941), p. 80). It is a conscious reminder that we are part of one Christian family moving together towards God through the sacrifice of the Mass.
  • Perhaps the most important part of this communal awareness is its sanctoral dimension. Stations are mostly named after saints, and these saints played an important role in the station observance. Again Parsch remarks that on a station day “the saint was represented as a living person, and considered as alive and present in the midst of the congregation” (ibid., p. 78). The saint acted as the leader of the faithful present and as a special intercessor for that day. Thus, station observance is a form of veneration of the saints and an important one at that.

And Prayerfully Efficacious
  • All of these facets make prayerful meditation on the stational days a fruitful enterprise. An excellent guide for this may be found on pp. 1630-1674 of The New Roman Missal by Rev. F.X. Lasance and Rev. Francis Augustine Walsh, O.S.B. (Palmdale, CA: Christian Book Club of America, 1993; reprint of 1945 edition).
  • Lastly, plenary indulgences can be gained on stational days for anyone attending a station in Rome. Those outside of Rome may gain plenary or partial indulgences in a number of ways, including membership in certain confraternities or assisting at the explanation of the Catechism.


Station Churches and the Roman Lent

Beginning in the fourth century, the Church of Rome began to keep each day of Lent with not only a fast, but also a Procession and a Mass at a different church each day. Over the course of the day, people would gradually come together at a church called the Collect church (from the Latin ‘colligere – to gather’) and in the late afternoon the Pope would come to that same church to lead a procession to another church nearby, called the ‘Station’ (from the Latin ‘statio - a stopping point’), where he would celebrate Mass. Over time, the full celebration of this ancient custom has become less and less frequent, the Collect churches being altogether dropped, and the Processions held within the Station church, or not at all. Nonetheless, the custom of visiting all of the Station Churches throughout Lent remains a popular devotion for those who live in or visit Rome during this period.

Each morning there are usually Masses in several languages, including English, in the Station church. Many of the Station Churches (e.g. Saint Mary Major) bring out their more important relics and celebrate a more solemn Mass in the evening, often with a procession within the church. Some of the Station churches (e.g. Saint Eusebius) do NOT keep special hours on the Stational day. However, as is generally the case in Rome, it is best to come early and check in advance.

The three Sundays before Lent were formerly a period of preparation for the austere fasting of Lent itself. Each of these Sundays was celebrated with a stational visit to the tomb of one of the patron Saints of the city of Rome, first that of Saint Lawrence, the renowned Roman deacon and martyr of the third century, then Saint Paul, and lastly Saint Peter, these being the two Apostles who founded the Roman Church.

Septuagesima Sunday (the 3rd Sunday before Ash Wednesday): Saint Laurence outside the Walls (at the beginning of the via Tiburtina)
Sexagesima Sunday (the 2nd Sunday before Ash Wednesday): Saint Paul’s outside the Walls
Quinquagesima Sunday (the Sunday immediately before Ash Wednesday): Saint Peter’s in the Vatican

Lenten Stational Churches

Ash Wednesday: Saint Sabina (on the Aventine Hill)
Thursday after Ash Wednesday: Saint George ‘in Velabro’ (near the Mouth of Truth)
Friday after Ash Wednesday: Saints John and Paul (on the Celian Hill, near the entrance to the Palatine Hill)
Saturday after Ash Wednesday: Saint Augustine (behind the Piazza Navona: Station listed at Saint Trypho in older liturgical books, although this church was destroyed in 1598 and the stational observance transferred)

First Sunday of Lent: Saint John in the Lateran
Monday: Saint Peter in Chains (near the Colosseum)
Tuesday: Saint Anastasia (next to the Circus Maximus, at the base of the Palatine Hill)
Wednesday: Saint Mary Major (on the Esquiline Hill)
Thursday: Saint Laurence in Panisperna (via Panisperna on the Esquiline Hill, close to S. Mary Major)
Friday: Twelve Apostles (near Piazza Venezia)
Saturday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican

Second Sunday of Lent: Saint Mary ‘in Domnica’ (on the Celian Hill)
Monday: Saint Clement (up the street from the Colosseum)
Tuesday: Saint Balbina (on the Aventine Hill, right next to the Baths of Caracalla)
Wednesday: Saint Cecelia (in Trastevere)
Thursday: Saint Mary in Trastevere
Friday: Saint Vitale (on the via Nazionale)
Saturday: Saints Peter and Marcellinus (on the via Labicana, up the street from Saint Clement’s)

Third Sunday of Lent: Saint Laurence outside the Walls (at the beginning of the via Tiburtina)
Monday: Saint Mark (in the Piazza Venezia)
Tuesday: Saint Pudentiana (on the Esquiline Hill, close to S. Mary Major)
Wednesday: Saint Sixtus (across from the Baths of Caracalla)
Thursday: Saints Cosmas and Damian (on the via dei Fori Imperiali)
Friday: Saint Laurence ‘in Lucina’ (off the via del Corso)
Saturday: Saint Susanna (on the via XX Settembre, near Piazza della Repubblica)

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Holy Cross ‘in Jerusalem’ (down the street from Saint John Lateran)
Monday: The Four Crowned Martyrs (on the Celian Hill, right next to Saint Clement)
Tuesday: Saint Laurence ‘in Damaso’ (near Campo dei Fiori, in the Palazzo della Cancelleria)
Wednesday: Saint Paul outside the Walls (on the Ostian Way, Metro ‘San Paolo’)
Thursday: Saints Martin and Silvester (on the Esquiline Hill, close to S. Mary Major)
Friday: Saint Eusebius (in the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele)
Saturday: Saint Nicholas ‘in Carcere’ (next to the Theatre of Marcellus)

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Passion Sunday): Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Monday: Saint Chrysogonus (in Trastevere, on the viale Trastevere)
Tuesday: Saint Mary ‘in via Lata’ (on the via del Corso: Station listed at Saint Cyriacus in older liturgical books, although this church was destroyed in middle of the 17th century and the stational observance transferred)
Wednesday: Saint Marcellus (on the via del Corso)
Thursday: Saint Apollinaris (behind the Piazza Navona)
Friday: Saint Stephen on the Celian Hill
Saturday: Saint John before the Latin Gate

Palm Sunday: Saint John in the Lateran
Monday: Saint Praxedes (on the Esquiline Hill, next to S. Mary Major)
Tuesday: Saint Prisca (on the Aventine Hill)
Spy Wednesday: Saint Mary Major (on the Esquiline Hill)
Holy Thursday: Saint John in the Lateran
Good Friday: Holy Cross ‘in Jerusalem’ (down the street from Saint John Lateran)
Holy Saturday: Saint John in the Lateran

Stations of Easter Week

Easter Sunday: Saint Mary Major
Easter Monday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Easter Tuesday: Saint Paul outside the Walls
Easter Wednesday: Saint Laurence outside the Walls
Easter Thursday: Twelve Apostles
Easter Friday: Saint Mary of the Martyrs (the Pantheon)
Easter Saturday: Saint John in the Lateran
Low Sunday, the Octave Day of Easter: Saint Pancras (on the Janiculum Hill)

Non-Lenten Stations

Prior to the liturgical reform of Pope Paul VI, the Roman Missal listed stations on several days of the liturgical year outside of Lent and Easter, days on which a particular church was appointed for the Pope to celebrate Mass. For the sake of historical completeness, and because these stations are still occasionally observed in one way or another, we include the list here.

Ascension Thursday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Saturday, the Eve of Pentecost: Saint John in the Lateran
Pentecost Sunday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Pentecost Monday: Saint Peter’s in Chains
Pentecost Tuesday: Saint Anastasia
Pentecost Wednesday: Saint Mary Major
Pentecost Thursday: Saint Lawrence outside the Walls
Pentecost Friday: Twelve Apostles
Pentecost Saturday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican

First Sunday of Advent: Saint Mary Major (on the Esquiline Hill)
Second Sunday of Advent: Holy Cross ‘in Jerusalem’ (down the street from Saint John Lateran)
Third Sunday of Advent: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Wednesday: Saint Mary Major (on the Esquiline Hill)
Friday: Twelve Apostles (near Piazza Venezia)
Saturday: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican
Fourth Sunday of Advent: Twelve Apostles (near Piazza Venezia)

First Mass of Christmas at Midnight: Saint Mary Major (in the Chapel of the Crib, now known as the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament)
Second Mass of Christmas at Dawn: Saint Anastasia (next to the Circus Maximus, at the base of the Palatine Hill)
Third Mass of Christmas at Midnight: Saint Mary Major (on the Esquiline Hill)
December 26, the Feast of Saint Stephen the First Martyr: Saint Stephen on the Celian Hill
December 27, the Feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Saint Mary Major
December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents: Saint Paul outside the Walls (on the Ostian Way, Metro ‘San Paolo’)
January 1, the Octave of Christmas, and Feast of the Circumcision: Saint Mary in Trastevere
January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany: Saint Peter’s in the Vatican

If you would like to learn more about the Stational Churches of Rome, please visit the Cantius Webstore to purchase a booklet compiled about this: http://www.cantius.org/go/webstore/product/stational_churches_of_rome/