Friday, April 14, 2023

The Station Churches of the Easter Octave (Part 3)

Alongside the Apostles, the martyrs were held in special honor among the early Christians; their feasts are the oldest and most universal in the early liturgical calendars, and the first among them, St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents, are celebrated immediately after the birth of Christ. It was anciently the custom in some places to commemorate those who have shared most especially in the Passion and Resurrection with a collective feast on the Friday of Easter Week, a custom still kept by Chaldean Christians. For this reason, the Roman station is held the same day in the ancient building known as the Pantheon, dedicated as a church with the name “St. Mary at the Martyrs” in 609 A.D.

The Pantheon, by Ippolito Caffi, first half of the 19th century
There is very good reason to believe that the Pantheon was not in point of fact a temple at all. (See Amanda Claridge’s Rome: An Oxford Archeological Guide, p. 206 of the 1998 edition.) Nevertheless, it was believed by early medieval Christians to have been a temple of all the countless gods of pagan Rome; its dedication as a church was therefore understood to have re-founded it as a monument to the triumph of Christianity over every pagan cult and superstition at once. This idea fits well with the stational Mass’ Gospel, Matthew 28, 16-20, and the Communion antiphon taken from it: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth, alleluia; go and teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, alleluia, alleluia.”
On Saturday, the station was kept once again at the Lateran, eight days after the station of Holy Saturday. The Mass of the Easter vigil is not traditionally a first Mass of Easter, as the midnight Mass of December 24th is the first Mass of Christmas; it is a vigil, a keeping watch for the Resurrection, which is not truly revealed in the liturgy until the morning of Sunday. For this reason, the vigil Mass is textually incomplete; the Introit, Creed, Offertory and Agnus Dei are all omitted, the Alleluia which is said after the Epistle is nothing like the normal Alleluia said between the readings, and the Communion antiphon is substituted by Vespers. The Mass of Low Saturday, therefore, brings the Church back to the Archbasilica of the Holy Savior to celebrate Easter with the fullest solemnity on the octave day of Holy Saturday.

The Epistle of the Mass (1 Peter 2, 1-10) describes the baptized as “newly born infants”, words which are repeated in the Introit of the following day, when they would put off the white garments which they had worn throughout the week and take their place among the rest of the faithful. The Communion antiphon of the Mass is the same text sung by the Byzantines at the Easter vigil before the Epistle: “All ye who have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ, alleluia.”
Fragments of medieval Agnus Dei’s in the Vatican Museums’ collection of relics from the Sancta Sanctorum. These were traditionally distributed by the Pope on the Saturday of Easter Week at the stational Mass.
The final station, that of Low Sunday, is the only one kept at the basilica of St. Pancras, an orphan who was martyred in Rome during the persecution of Diocletian at the age of fourteen. In the Roman world, this was roughly the earliest age at which a young man could receive the toga virilis, which signified that he was now entering adulthood. Thus, the white garments of spiritual infancy were laid aside at the tomb of one who gave his life for Christ when he had just become an adult, and legally capable of being killed for his faith. Over the course of Lent, the catechumens had visited the churches of many different martyrs; on the day they become adults within the Church, they are reminded that although they are just at the very beginning of their spiritual adulthood, they must give their whole lives to Christ, who gave His own for the salvation of the world.
The altar of San Pancrazio decorated for Mass on Low Sunday, following the common Polish custom of draping a stole over the Crucifix in Eastertide.

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