Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Station Mass of the Saturday after Ash Wednesday

The Roman station for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday seems to have been the very last to be instituted in the early Middle Ages. As I have noted in other several other articles, the Thursdays between Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, and the Saturdays after Ash Wednesday and Passion Sunday, were originally kept as “aliturgical” days in Rome, on which no Mass was celebrated. Pope St Gregory II (715-31) added the Masses for the Thursdays, appointed stations for them, and assigned Gregorian propers to them which were all taken from other Masses. When Masses were assigned to the two Saturdays, their Gregorian propers were simply repeated from the Mass of the preceding day, which indicates that this was done by a different Pope.
The introit of the Friday after Ash Wednesday, which is repeated the next day.

However, the earliest sources of the Roman Rite do not offer a clear picture of which Pope this might have been or why he did so. In the Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite (ca. 650 AD), nothing is assigned to any these days, but in the oldest sacramentary, known as the Old Gelasian Sacramentary (ca. 700), Masses are assigned to the two Saturdays, but not to the Thursdays. (This manuscript does not list the Roman stations at all.) The Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780, has a Mass for both days, but no station for either of them; on the other hand, today still appears as an aliturgical day in early manuscripts of the Gregorian sacramentary which are contemporary to the Gellone, and in the Echternach Sacramentary a century later.
Folio 24v of the Gellone Sacramentary, ca. 780 AD. The Mass for today is headed “ the Saturday within Quinquagesima (week)”, and no station is given, whereas the following Mass for the First Sunday of Lent, the station is noted at St John in the Lateran. (Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 12048)
When a Lenten station was finally established for the day, it was assigned, for no obvious reason, to a small church dedicated to a martyr named Trypho very close to what is now the Piazza Navona, and the station is still listed there to this day in the Roman Missal. In 1287, this church was given over to the Augustinian friars, who two centuries later, moved next door into a new and much larger church dedicated to their patron Saint. Like many churches in the low-lying area of central Rome known as the Campus Martius, St Trypho was badly damaged by the frequent winter flooding of the Tiber; early in the papacy of Clement VIII (1592-1605), the station was transferred to the church of St Augustine, along with the relics of St Trypho and the titles of its various altars. The last ruins of the former stational church were cleared away in 1746 to make room for the expansion of the Augustinians’ convent.
The Epistle of the new Mass, Isaiah 58, 9-14, continues from that of the previous day, verses 1-9 of the same chapter, which speaks of the appropriate manner of fasting. “Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the homeless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh.” (verses 6-7) The continuation was also certainly chosen for Saturday also because it contains two references to the Sabbath. “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy own will in my holy day, and call the sabbath delightful, and the holy of the Lord glorious, and glorify him, while thou dost not thy own ways, and thy own will is not found: to speak a word: then shalt thou be delighted in the Lord, and I will lift thee up above the high places of the earth, and will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father.” (verses 13-14)
St Peter Walks Upon the Water. The original mosaic was made by Giotto on a wall of the courtyard of the old St Peter’s Basilica in 1298, opposite the church’s façade. Only a few fragments were saved from the destruction of the old basilica; this copy is an oil painting made in 1628 from drawings of the original. In 1675, a new mosaic on the same design was mounted in the portico of the new basilica, facing the main door, as a reminder to pilgrims as they leave the church to pray for the Holy Father. (Public domain image from Wikimedia.)
The Gospel, Mark 6, 47-56, appears in the Wurzburg lectionary on the rarely celebrated Sixth Sunday after Epiphany. [note] Within a hundred years, it was rescued from effective disuse and assigned to today in the Murbach lectionary (which, however, records no station for the day.) Despite the tradition that St Mark was the interpreter of St Peter and composed his Gospel in Rome, the Roman liturgy traditionally makes very little use of it, with two very significant exceptions, Easter and the Ascension. (The only other Gospel of his read in Lent is the Passion on Holy Tuesday.)
However, the most ancient lectionaries of the Roman Rite also attest to a system of ferial readings for the seasons after Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost, which is very irregular in Wurzburg, but arranged much in a much more regular fashion in Murbach. In this system, St Mark figures much more prominently, and many of the ferial Gospels are his parallels to episodes from the Gospels of Matthew or Luke read on the preceeding Sunday. It is in this light that we should consider the decision to preserve this particular passage by assigning it to this day.
This reading begins with St Mark’s account of the storm on the sea of Galilee, when Christ walked upon the water to reach the disciples in their boat “in the fourth watch of the night.” St Matthew’s version, chapter 14, 22-32, is the better known because it includes the story of how Peter, with characteristic eagerness, also walked over the water towards Christ, but faltered; this is assigned to the octave of Ss Peter and Paul already in the Wurzburg lectionary. The placement of the Marcan parallel on the Saturday after Ash Wednesday therefore looks back to the station of the previous Sunday, Quinquagesima, and forward to that of the following Ember Saturday, both of which are held at St Peter’s basilica. It also looks to the station on the following day at St John in the Lateran, where St Peter’s successors in the bishopric of Rome lived in the Middle Ages.
The ship in the story is of course a symbol of the Church, which is piloted first and foremost by Peter. As noted by St Bede in the Matins lesson for today, which are every bit a pertinent as they were thirteen centuries ago, “The toil of the disciples in rowing, and the wind contrary to them, signify the various toils of the Holy Church, which amid the waves of a world that fights against her, and the blasts of unclean spirits, seeks to reach the rest of the heavenly fatherland … Here it is well said that the ship was in the midst of the sea, and He alone on the land; for sometimes it the Church is not only so afflicted, but also befouled by such great pressures of the gentiles, that her Redeemer would seem for a the time to have wholly forsaken her, if such were possible. … But He does not forget the prayer of the poor, nor does He turn His face away from them that hope in Him… although for a time He seems to delay in bring help to the distressed, nevertheless in the regard of His love He strengthens them all the while…”
St Peter Healing the Sick with His Shadow, 1425-27, by Masaccio, in the Brancacci chapel of the Carmelite church of Florence.
The Gospel continues with material that is not read on the octave of Ss Peter and Paul. “When they were gone out of the ship, immediately (the people of Genesareth) knew Him: and running through that whole country, they began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard He was. And whithersoever he entered, into towns or into villages or cities, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch but the hem of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.” (verses 55-56) This closely parallels an account in the Acts of the Apostles of miracles of healing performed by St Peter: “they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that when Peter came, his shadow at the least, might overshadow any of them, and they might be delivered from their infirmities. And there came also together to Jerusalem a multitude out of the neighboring cities, bringing sick persons, and such as were troubled with unclean spirits; who were all healed.” (Acts 5, 15-16)
[note] The current system by which the readings and prayer of the Sundays after Epiphany are moved to the end of the liturgical year if they cannot be said in their proper place is an invention of the Tridentine reform.

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