On Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of the Savior into Jerusalem is quite rightly celebrated at the cathedral of Rome dedicated in His name. In the early Middle Ages, a large number of chapels and oratories were constructed by various Popes around the Lateran basilica; one of these was dedicated to Pope St. Sylvester I, and large enough that at least one medieval source refers to it as a basilica. The palms for the procession were blessed there by the cardinal archpriest of St. Lawrence outside-the-Walls, and then brought to the large dining hall known as the triclinium of St. Leo III; there, the Pope distributed them to the clergy and faithful, before the procession made its way through the complex into the cathedral itself. In the later Middle Ages, the Popes often preferred to reside at the Vatican, and so Palm Sunday also has a station informally assigned at St. Peter’s; on these occasions, the palms were blessed in an oratory known as S. Maria in Turri (St. Mary in-the-Tower), directly underneath the bell-tower within the large courtyard that stood before the ancient basilica. During the extensive renovations of the Lateran and Vatican complexes in the 16th and 17th centuries, S. Sylvester in Laterano and S. Maria in Turri were both demolished; and nowadays, the Pope routinely celebrates Palm Sunday at St. Peter’s.
|The Basilica of St. Peter as it stood ca. 1450, by H.W. Brewer.|
Truly it is worthy and just etc. … Who gloriest in the counsel of Thy Saints. For Thy creatures serve Thee, because they know Thee to be their only author and God, and all Thou hast made praiseth Thee, and Thy saints bless Thee. Because with free voice they confess the great name of Thy Only-Begotten Son before the kings and powers of this age. Before Whom stand the Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations, and with all the army of the heavenly host, they sing the hymn of Thy glory, saying without end. Holy, Holy, Holy etc.On Monday of Holy Week, the station was originally kept at the church known as the “titulus fasciolae – the title of the bandage,” to the south of the Caelian Hill near the Baths of Carcalla. Several explanations have been proposed for this odd name; an ancient tradition states that when St. Peter had been released from prison by his jailers, and was fleeing Rome, he stopped on the site of this church to change the binding on the wound where his fetters had been. The church was also associated with two of the most venerated Roman martyrs of the early centuries, Ss. Nereus and Achilleus; nothing is now known of them for certain beyond their martyrdom and that they were soldiers who renounced their military service to follow Christ. Their unreliable legend states that they were baptized by St. Peter himself, and in the years after the Apostle’s death, made many converts among the Roman nobility, among them, Flavia Domitilla, a relative of the Emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. Being close by the Lateran, their church (now much smaller after extensive restorations in the mid-15th and late 16th centuries) would have made a convenient station after the lengthy ceremony of the previous day.
|The interior of Ss. Nereus and Achilleus. Photograph by Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P.|
|Ss. Praxedes and Pudentiana, together with the Virgin Mary, from the mausoleum of Theodora, (portrayed on the left) the mother of Pope St. Paschal I, (817-24). Paschal rebuilt the church and added this funeral chapel on the north side of it; it is also called the Chapel of St. Zeno, but in the Middle Ages was often referred to as the Garden of Paradise. Theodora was still alive when the image was made, hence the square blue halo, as recently noted by David Clayton.|
The gospel read at this Mass was originally John 13, 1-32, a longer version of the gospel of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. In this first chapter of the five which St. John devotes to the events of the Last Supper, St. Peter himself figures very prominently, first as the only disciple to speak when Christ washes the feet of the Twelve, and then as he asks John to ask the Lord which of the disciples is the traitor among them. Later on, it was replaced by the Passion according to St. Mark, the longest of the four Passions in proportion to its Gospel as a whole. St. Jerome, who lived for a time in Rome on the Aventine hill, records the tradition (also attested in much earlier sources) that Mark was the disciple and interpreter of Peter, who calls him “my son” in his first epistle, (5, 13) and composed his gospel in Rome before going to evangelize Egypt. It is therefore possible that St. Prisca stands on the very place where Mark wrote the Gospel, having learned of the life of Christ from one of the most important eyewitnesses.
|St. Peter preaching in the presence of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico, ca. 1433, part of the predella of the Linaioli altarpiece.|
Thus sayeth the Lord God: Tell the daughter of Sion: Behold thy Savior cometh: behold his reward is with him. Who is this that comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength? I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save. Why then is your apparel red, and your garments like theirs that tread in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel. etc.The Fathers of the Church understood this passage as a prophecy of the Passion of Christ, starting in the West with Tertullian.
The prophetic Spirit contemplates the Lord as if He were already on His way to His passion, clad in His fleshly nature; and as He was to suffer therein, He represents the bleeding condition of His flesh under the metaphor of garments dyed in red, as if reddened in the treading and crushing process of the wine-press, from which the laborers descend reddened with the wine-juice, like men stained in blood. (adv. Marcionem 4, 40 ad fin.)
The necessary premise of the Passion is, of course, the Incarnation, for Christ could not suffer without a human body. Indeed, ancient heretics who denied the Incarnation often did so in rejection of the idea that God Himself can suffer, which they held to be incompatible with the perfect and incorruptible nature of the divine. St. Ambrose was elected bishop of Milan in the year 374, after the see had been held by one such heretic, the Arian Auxentius, for twenty years. We therefore find him referring this same prophecy to the whole economy of salvation, culminating in the Ascension of Christ’s body into heaven, thus, in the treatise on the Mysteries (7, 36):
The angels, too, were in doubt when Christ arose; the powers of heaven were in doubt when they saw that flesh was ascending into heaven. Then they said: “Who is this King of glory?” And while some said “Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in.” In Isaiah, too, we find that the powers of heaven doubted and said: “Who is this that comes up from Edom, the redness of His garments is from Bosor, He who is glorious in white apparel?”In the next generation, St. Eucherius of Lyon (ca. 380-450) is even more explicit: “The garment of the Son of God is sometimes understood to be His flesh, which is assumed by the divinity; of which garment of the flesh Isaiah prophesying says, “Who is this etc.” (Formulas of Spiritual Understanding, chapter 1) Therefore, like the Mass of Ember Wednesday, this Mass begins with a prophecy of the Incarnation as the church of Rome visits its principle sanctuary of the Mother of God, in whose sacred womb began the salvation of man.
|The Risen Christ and the Mystical Winepress, by Marco dal Pino, often called Marco da Siena, 1525-1588 ca. Both of the figures of Christ in this painting show very markedly the influence of Michelangelo's Last Judgment.|
|The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary, by Albrecht Durer, ca. 1496. The lower middle panel show the Virgin fainting as Her Son passes by Her on the street on the way to Mount Calvary.|
Finally, the station of Good Friday is kept at the basilica of the Holy Cross ‘in Jerusalem’. This denomination comes from the tradition that when St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, built the church to house the relics of the True Cross discovered by herself in the Holy Land, the ground first was covered with earth brought from the city of the Lord’s Passion. As the Bl. Ildefonse Schuster writes in his book on the liturgical traditions of Rome, The Sacramentary, the choice of station fulfills the words of Christ Himself, “it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.”
|A reliquary with pieces of the True Cross from the relic chapel of Holy Cross in Jerusalem.|
Holy Saturday will be included in an article to be published next week on the stations of the Easter Octave.