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From as early as the third century, the Church of Rome observed the season of Lent by journeying each day while singing the litanies of the Saints to a "Station Church" or one of the ancient and prominent churches of Rome. Here the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father, would lead the people in prayer as they honored the holy martyrs of Rome. The holy relics of the saints are exposed on this day and the Holy Mass is celebrated. It is a pilgrimage of faith, a symbol of unity, and an incentive for us all to adhere more fully to the Gospel.

In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great designated it as a Lenten practice. Unfortunately, the custom ceased during the Avignon papacy in 1305 but interest was revived by Saint Leo XIII at the turn of the 20th century. Blessed John XXIII fully restored the custom in 1959 and it continues to this day. As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:

“These rites retain their value, despite the passing of centuries, because they recall how important it also is in our day to accept Jesus’ words without compromises: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23)(Benedict XVI, Ash Wednesday Homily, 1 March 2006).

Father Bill Swengros