Stational Church

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Those churches, particularly in Rome, that have been designated for the celebration on set days of the "liturgical station," that is, the pontifical service of the local bishop. This article treats etymology, ancient stational churches outside Rome, Roman stational origins, Roman stational churches, earlier Roman stational rites, and liturgical stations since the fourteenth century.

Etymology. The term station (Gr. στατίων; Lat. statio ) was used by the early Christians in two senses, both of obscure origin. Fundamentally the Latin statio derives from stare (to stand, halt, take up a position), and it came to mean a gathering at a fixed place for any fixed purpose. Statio was certainly used to describe a strictly liturgical assemblage in the Luciferian Libellus precum of 384 (Patrologia Latina 13:83). Whether the convocations of clergy and laity called stationes by Cyprian and Cornelius were liturgical gatherings is not so clear [Cyprian, Epist. 44.2; 49.3 (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum 3.2:598, 612)].

Statio in the secondary sense meant a partial fast or day of partial fast, as distinguished from a day of full fast (jejunium ). The statio normally ceased at the ninth hour, while the jejunium was prolonged to vespertide. Wednesdays and Fridays were days of customary if not obligatory Christian fast by the beginning of the second century (Didache 8). Fifty years later the expressions "to maintain a station" and "to maintain a fast" were interchangeable (Pastor Hermae, Similitudo 5.1.2). And by the beginning of the third century statio was the accepted synonym for a day of partial fast (Tertullian, De oratione 19; Patrologia Latina 1:118183). Several theories have been advanced to explain how statio acquired this penitential connotation. Most plausible, perhaps, is the conjecture that since the days of semifast were also in many places days of liturgical observance, the term station came to be popularly applied to the day's fast as well as the day's rite.

Statio also had the meaning, in military language, of an outpost and the sentinels assigned to it. Ambrose, in the fourth century, seemed quite sure that the Church had deliberately applied the military term to liturgical assemblies because Christians were the "militia of Christ" who gathered for prayerful vigil (Sermo 21 de sancta Quadragesima 5; Patrologia Latina 17:644). But Tertullian, writing about the year 200, accepted this derivation with less conviction (De oratione 19; Patrologia Latina 1:118183).

Ancient Stational Churches outside Rome. As residential bishops witnessed the increase in the number of church buildings under their jurisdiction, they naturally found reasons for celebrating the solemn liturgy now at one, now at another of these churches. The Spanish nun Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land around 386, has left an account of the current stational practice there, although she does not use the word statio. A similar procedure was followed in Antioch, in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, and doubtless in other dioceses of the Near East and Egypt. Many of the larger Christian dioceses in the West had stational liturgies: for example, Carthage, Milan, Vercelli, Ravenna, Lìege, Paris, Tours, Cologne, Mainz, Metz, and Strasbourg. Tours had its stational rites by 460 (Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum 10; Patrologia Latina 71:566567). The stational cycle observed in Metz by 766 was patterned on that of Rome (Chrodegang, Regula canonicorum 33; Patrologia Latina 89: 1117).

Roman Stational Origins. In addition to suburban cemeterial basilicas, Rome had an early multiplicity of city churches. The primitive domus Dei churches in private homesbecame, after the persecutions had ended, the tituli, or parish churches, which numbered 25 by the fifth century. To these were added, under the Christian emperors, the major basilicas and a number of lesser church edifices. In establishing a cycle of stational visits, the bishops of Rome, like other bishops who followed this policy, saw in it an apt symbol of the unity of the shepherd with his flock. For although the whole diocesan community could not attend the stational Mass, this Mass would still be the official diocesan liturgy, and delegations would be on hand to represent the various city districts, with their own clergy to minister to them. If the priest in charge of a titulus was absent, the celebrant would send to him, as a sign of Eucharistic union, the fermentum, a portion of his own consecrated Host.

It is not known which were the original Roman stational churches, but the popes may have started the practice as early as the third century. Gregory the Great reorganized the existing schedule at the beginning of the seventh century (Joannes Diaconus, Vita 2.18.19; Patrologia Latina 75:94). The oldest known lectionary, the ninth-century Würzburg Comes, gives the stational calendar as it stood in Gregory's time. During the reign of Gregory II (d. 731) other churches were added to fill out the cycle of Lenten stations. The Tridentine Missal (1570) retained this eighth-century schedule substantially unchanged, indicating the station at the head of each stational Mass.

Lent and Easter Week had the most complete series of station days. Less complete series were assigned to Advent and Christmastide, and to the Ascension and Whitsuntide. Ember and Rogation Days also had stational services. The eventual total was 89 stational services on 87 stational days, at 42 station churches.

Roman Stational Churches. The traditional Roman stational churches (those italicized are the ancient Roman tituli ) were S. Anastasia, S. Apollinaris, SS. Apostoli, S. Balbina, S. Caecilia, S. Cyriacus (now replaced by S. Maria in Via Lata), S. Clemens, SS. Cosmas et Damianus, S. Chrysogonus, S. Crux in Jerusalem, S. Eusebius, S. Georgius in Velabro, S. Joannes in Laterano, SS. Joannes et Paulus, S. Joannes ante Portam Latinam, S. Laurentius in Damaso, S. Laurentius extra Muros, S. Laurentius in Lucina, S. Laurentius in Paneperna, SS. Marcellinus et Petrus, S. Marcellus, S. Marcus, S. Maria in Domnica, S. Maria Maggiore, S. Maria ad Martyres, S. Maria trans Tiberim, S. Nicolaus in Carcere, S. Paulus extra Muros, S. Petrus in Vaticano, S. Petrus ad Vincula, S. Praxedes (transferred in the Middle Ages to Nereus et Achilleus ), S. Prisca, S. Pudentiana, SS. Quattuor Coronati, S. Sabina, SS. Silvester et Martinus (church now called S. Martino ai Monti), S. Xystus, S. Stephanus in Caelio monte, S. Susanna, S. Trypho (now replaced by S. Agostino), and S. Vitalis. Certain other Roman churches have been designated as station churches by apostolic privilege, apparently to facilitate the gaining of the stational indulgences by providing alternate places for the required visit.

Early Roman Stational Rites. The stational rite proper was a pontifical Mass. In order that this Mass might be celebrated at all the stations with equal splendor, Pope Hilary (d. 468) provided a special set of chalices and other utensils that were carried out to each day's station (Liber pontificalis 1:244247). For the ordinary stational Mass, the pope and his train went in state to the appointed church where the clergy and faithful from all the tituli awaited him. On penitential days when there was to be a letania or procession, the pope went first to another church that had been designated as the rendezvous for the formation of the procession and was therefore called the collecta, for example, S. Georgius in Velabro, collecta for S. Caecilia, S. Hadrianus (in the Forum Romanum), collecta for S. Maria Major. Here he initiated the day's rite with special prayers, concluding with the oratio ad collectam (prayer for the assembly). Then the procession, led by one bearing the wooden stational cross, set out for the station. Following the cross bearer were the clergy and faithful from the seven ecclesiastical districts of Rome, and the pope and his clergy in black vestments (Ordo Romanus 21; M. Andrieu, Les 'Ordines Romani' du haut moyen-âge 3:247249).

Since the Litany of the Saints chanted by the procession concluded with a triple Kyrie, the Mass at the station had no Kyrie of its own. The stational rite itself was the ceremonious papal liturgy prescribed by the Roman Ordinals of the seventh to eleventh centuries (Ordines 1, 4, 5, 6 in Andrieu's series). The clergy of the tituli originally concelebrated with the pope and administered Communion to their own parishioners in attendance. At Communion time the archdeacon announced the station church for the next station day, and the collecta if there was to be a procession. The announcement was greeted by a Deo gratias. Since the rite at the collecta usually began about 3 p.m., the day's penitential fast ended with the conclusion of the stational Mass.

The beautiful Masses composed for the stational liturgy were frequently written with the station church in mind. Thus SS. Cosmas and Damian are mentioned in Collect of the Mass celebrated in their church, and the lesson read in the stational Mass of S. Susanna is the story of Susanna and the elders, from the Book of Daniel.

After the popes took up residence in France in 1305, the stational program fell into disuse, and upon their return to Rome in 1378 it was resumed only on a much diminished scale. Sixtus V, in the constitution Egregia of Feb. 13, 1586, attempted to renew the custom more fully, but his efforts met with slight success. After the fall of Rome in 1870, the popes, as voluntary prisoners of the Vatican, could not have revived the papal stational visits even if they had desired to do so. Pius XI, freed from this "captivity" by the Lateran Pacts of 1929, did not personally undertake the stational visits; but he did encourage the revival of the general stational practice and granted indulgences to those who participated (April 12, 1932: Raccolta 780). Credit for its revival is due to Carlo Respighi (d. 1947), prefect of the apostolic ceremonies and Magister of the Collegium Cultorum Martyrum, a Roman archeological and devotional society. Successive popes from Pope John XXIII have participated in stational visits.

Bibliography: i. p. kirsch, "L'Origine des Stations liturgiques du Missel Romain," Ephemerides liturgicae 41 (1927) 137150. j. a. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, tr. f. a. brunner, 2 v. (New York 195155). d. g. morin, "Le Plus ancien Comes ou lectionnaire de l'église Romaine," Revue Bénédictine 27 (1910) 4174. j. a. gurrieri, "The Stational Liturgies of the Paschal Season," in The Cathedral: A Reader, ed. r. e. rambusch (Washington, D.C. 1979). j. f. baldovin, The Urban Character of Christian Worship: The Origins, Development, and Meaning of Stational Liturgy (Rome 1987).

[r. f. mcnamara/eds.]