16 March 2014

Second Sunday in Lent: Santa Maria in Domnica

A few years ago, I did a series of posts on the stational churches of the Sundays of Lent for our Provincial website.  Below is a reprint of the one for the Second Sunday of Lent, Santa Maria in Domnica, more popularly known as the Navicella.  It also happens to be our parish church, as San Clemente is not a parish, and is just a bit down the street from us.

Stational Churches of Rome: Santa Maria in Domnica

From March 2012

We continue to look at the Stational Churches of Lent. These are particular churches in Rome associated with a particular day. Every day in Lent has, by ancient custom, a stational church associated with it. This series examines the stational churches associated with the Sundays of Lent. 

On the first Sunday of Lent, we encountered the great Basilica of St. John Lateran, notable both for its size and its tie to the Holy Father. Not far from St. John Lateran, in fact, just a short walk down the Via dell'Amba Aradam, we come to the much more modest church of Santa Maria in Domnica. Yet, it somehow seems fittting that as we move through this Lenten season we are brought to the humility of Mary on this second Sunday of Lent. The grand splendor of St. John's Basilica gives way to Mary's small church. For, it is Mary who was with Christ from the beginning, Mary who was there when he began his ministry, Mary who stood beside his cross, and Mary who prayed with the Apostles in the Upper Room as the Holy Spirit descended in tongues of flame. We do not make our Lenten journey without Mary, for Christ did not make his salvific journey without Mary. Like St. John Lateran, the site of this Church has ancient Christian roots. The location as a gathering place for Christians seems go back as early as the third century. By tradition, these early Christians, gathering in a time of persecution, came to this house owned by Cyriaca, a Greek woman. Nearby was a Roman barracks, on the site of what is now San Stefano Rotondo. The Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica probably did not first become a church, but rather a diaconia. That is, it was a place given over to the care of the poor, often headed by a deacon of Rome. This diaconia was especially associated with the martyr St. Lawrence, an important deacon in Rome and keeper of the Church's treasury. It is said that the Emperor once had St. Lawrence brought before him and demanded to be given the treasury of the church. The holy saint agreed, asking leave to retrieve it. He returned with the poor, the orphans, and the sick, proclaiming to the Emperor that this was the true treasury of the Church. He was eventually executed, his body being taken by Cyriaca and buried in her family cemetery at what is now the Church of St. Lawrence outside the Walls. This former diacona should remind us of our duty of service through almsgiving in this Lenten season

In the 9th Century, the Pope, Paschal I, has the old diaconia, which was then falling apart, torn down and replaced with the current church, done in a stye to hearken back to the early Christians in Rome. About 700 years later, the church found itself again in a state of disrepair and was renovated by a Cardinal of the Medici family, who later became Pope Leo X. The name of the Church is a bit of a mystery. Some hypothesize that it is the Latin form of Cyriaca, the woman whose home it was, from the Greek word meaning "of the Lord". (The Greek word being Kyrie of the Kyrie Eleison that we sometimes sing at Mass). The Latin form of the Greek word would be Domnica. Some also guess that the word is merely a corruption of dominicum, which was commonly used to describe Rome's numerous house-churches. Finally, some have even posited that the word (which is grammatically feminine) refers to the wife of the Emperor, and that perhaps she donated the land for the Church.

But the Church also has a second name, Santa Maria alla Navicella, which is also the name of the street on which the Basilica stands. The origin of this name we do know. Nacicella means 'little boat' and it refers to the marble statue of the small boat (a 16th century replica of an ancient statue) that has stood in front of the since the time of its renovation by the Cardinal de Medici. (See photo) The image of the boat is a common one for the Church and for Mary Upon entering the Church one notices immediately the great mosaic on the back of the Apse. (See photos.) The Mosaic goes back to the time of Pope Paschal, the early 820s. The image depicts Mary seated on a throne with the child Jesus in her lap. The style is very much influenced by the Byzantine style of art that remained popular through much of the early middle ages. Surrounding Mary are "myriads of angels in festal gathering" (Heb 12:22) At the feet of the Blessed Virgin is an unusual figure--a man with a square halo. In the Byzantine style, a square halo meant that the person depicted was still living. This, then, is an image of Pope Paschal, venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary. This main scene in the Apse is flanked by two other figures--most likely Moses and Elijah. In keeping with the ancient tradition, the liturgical reading for this day is the story of the Transfiguration. (In fact, the priest is directed on this day to use the Preface from the Feast of the Transfiguration.) The people gathered for Mass on this day not only hear of the glorified Christ with Moses and Elijah, in this church they also see him in his humanity with the glorious and ever Virgin Mary, accompanied by Moses and Elijah--a wonderful example of the ancient tendency to link art and liturgy that has been so sadly lost in our modern age.

Above these,one sees another mosaic frieze of Christ and his Apostles (and two angels). Christ, seated within a mandorla (the almond shaped figure that is meant to represent the union of heaven and earth), is flanked by the Apostles each holding an iconic symbol. Peter, holding the keys of his office, can be clearly seen to the right of Christ. Above these Carolingian mosaics is a baroque ceiling placed by Cardinal de Medici. The various panels of the ceiling depict images of the Blessed Virgin, many of them from types from the Old Testament, as well as the Cardinal's coat of arms. To the right is a depiction of the Arc, a symbol of the Blessed Virgin. It also mirrors the marble carving of the boat in front of the Church. As the boat symbolizes the Church, so it symbolizes Mary who is a type of the Church. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, "the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ." (LG 63) The words on this boat recall the words of the Salve Regina: Spes Nostra Salve, "Hail, our Hope". Below is a collection of images of this ancient Church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. May the beauty of this Church continue to aid us so that by following our Lenten observances, we may better imitate Mary in our love and fidelity to Christ.

O God, who have commanded us to listen to your beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word, that with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

13 March 2014

Marseille France

After my stint in Toulouse, I stayed with the Dominicans in Marseille on the southern coast of France.  Marseille has a beautiful location right on the sea.  In recent years the city has been inundated--overwhelmed might be a better word--with immigrants from North Africa.

One of the most recognizable sites in Marseille is the church of La Bonne Mere.  It is a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary built on top of one of Marseille's tallest mountains.  It has served since it's construction as a beacon for French sailors returning back to shore.  The Church is filled with tokens of thanks of sailors saved from storms and rough seas attributed to the intercession of Mary.

I went to Marseille with another French Dominican who studies Canon Law with me in Rome.  When he was a student in Marseille, he got to know a Catholic family who have an apostolate in one of the housing complexes in Marseille.  He took me there on New Year's Eve.  The housing complex reminded me a bit of the old Cabrini Green in Chicago--mile after mile of high-rise housing complexes with little to no commercial real estate in sight.  In Marseille, they are filled almost entirely with immigrants from North Africa.  They are not the safest places in the world.  The complex we went to had a group of young men out front sitting together over a fire.  Apparently these are spotters, who look out for rival gangs and the police.  They are usually the ones who get shot in the occasional acts of gang retribution.

Near one of these high rises, there is a community center built by a Catholic family (and given some assistance by the government).  It is staffed by young Catholics who volunteer a year of their time to live there and carry on the apostolate.  For New Year's we had a mix of young Catholics and the homeless from the area.  It's a small effort, but a wonderful example of some of the vibrancy in French Catholic evangelization and mission.

The story of the Dominicans there is interesting.  The current Dominican church in Marseille was built by a prominent Catholic family. At some point the French government in one of its many eruptions of anti-Catholicism took the church.  Apparently, the same family bought it back from the government and gave it back to the Dominicans--essentially paying for it twice.

There is also a very ancient tradition that Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Lazarus, went to southern France following Christ's resurrection, near Marseille.  The relics of Mary Magdalene were found and turned into a shrine.  Apparently, recent tests of the bones suggest that they were of a middle-aged woman from the 1st century.  Mary lived up in a cave in one of the mountains, and there a shrine was built.  The Dominicans have had care of the shrine for several centuries.  (Mary Magdalene is one of the patronesses of the Order.)  Unfortunately, during the French Revolution, anti-Catholic forces climbed up the mountain and destroyed the large shrine that was there.  The current shrine is much smaller than the former one.  It is a quite and prayerful spot (after a very long climb up the mountain).

Here are some pictures from Marseille:

Here are some of the shrine of Mary Magdalene and environs:


After a bit of a delay, some more pictures from France.  This is from our trip into the Pyrenees near Toulouse.  The Pyrenees form the natural border between France and Spain.  The mountains were absolutely beautiful.  While there we celebrated Mass for a convent of Benedictine Nuns.  We also had lunch there with another French priest and some others.

04 March 2014

Lenten Penances

The Blessed Sacrament Altar of San Lorenzo fuori le mure (Rome) appointed for the season of Lent

As we begin the season of Lent this Wednesday, we remember that as Catholics we have a duty to do penance in reparation for our sins and the sins of others as well as to foster a proper detachment from the goods of the world.

The Code of Canon Law (can. 1249) reminds us of the importance of penance in the life of the Church:
All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence...
For the benefit of the faithful, below is a a brief listing of the obligations for fasting in the Lenten season.  This is only for Catholics in the Latin Rite, as the Eastern Catholic Churches have their own set of obligations.

Penitential Days of Lent 

Ash Wednesday - Abstinence and Fasting
The Fridays of Lent - Abstinence
Good Friday - Abstinence and fasting
Holy Saturday - No obligation to fast or abstain from meat, but the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council urged that "where possible" the Good Friday penances be extended throughout Holy Saturday until the start of the Easter Vigil that night.  (Sacrosanctum Concilium 110)

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (this year March 5) and ends with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday (this year April 17).  Although Good Friday is part of the Triduum and not technically a part of Lent, Catholics are obligated to fasting and abstinence on that day.

Who exactly is bound by these obligations?

Abstinence from meat is a requirement only of those who are 14 years old and older.
Fasting is required by all those older than 18 and younger than 60.

Also, even if children are too young to be bound by these requirements, parents are reminded that they have an obligation to make sure these children are taught the true meaning of penance. (can. 1252)

What exactly do abstinence and fasting require?

Pope Paul VI addressed these in his 1966 Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini:

Regarding fasting, he said: "The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom."

Regarding abstinence, he said: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat."

What if I cannot fast on a particular day?

Your pastor always has the power to dispense you from a particular obligation to fast or abstain from meat for a sufficient reason, and substitute an appropriate penance in its place.

Are there days when we do not observe these penances?

We always feast when the church feasts and fast when she fasts.  In some years a solemnity falls on a Friday in Lent (The Annunciation or St. Joseph's Day).  In that case, the obligation to abstain from meat is lifted.  Note that this is true for any solemnity, but not any holy days of lower rank (Feasts or Memorials).  No Solemnity falls on a Friday of Lent this year (2014).

Wait, don't I have to "give something up" for Lent?

While a laudable custom, there is no requirement to give up anything additional during Lent, other than the fasting and abstinence described above.  The Lenten season should be marked by three things:  prayer, penance, and almsgiving.  In this holy season of Lent, Catholics should seek out new opportunities to pray, to detach themselves from the things of this world, and to help their neighbors, especially the poor.  So, by all means, give up that chocolate for Lent!  But also give that money you've saved to the poor and, even better, offer up a daily rosary for all those who suffer the worst poverty of all, spiritual poverty.

03 March 2014

Toulouse, France

Shortly after Christmas, I took a trip to Southern France, and stayed in Toulouse and Marseille.  Toulouse is in many ways the birthplace of the Dominican Order.  It is not far from there that St. Dominic gathered the first nuns together in the convent of in Prouille.  It was in Toulouse that St. Dominic began his work of founding an order of men dedicated to the 'Holy Preaching'.  Below are some pictures of Toulouse and some of the 'Dominican Country' around it.



St. Maximin