Station churches are those churches in Rome that are appointed for special morning and evening liturgical celebrations during Lent (primarily), Easter (subsequently) and some other important days (formerly).
Meaning of "station"
The word "station" comes from the Latin statio, meaning "standing". In the context here, it originally referred to days of penance when the custom was for the faithful to refrain from ("stay from") eating from sunset until three-quarters of the way through daylight on the next day (the "ninth hour", in the ancient Roman way of telling time).
On these days, the tradition grew up that the Holy Father the Pope would visit a church in each part of the city and celebrate Mass with the congregation, in order to strengthen the sense of community within the Church at Rome. The Easter celebrations were a sort of overflow of this tradition, as obviously penance at Easter is inappropriate.
A statio was not the same as a ieunium or "fast", which was until sunset or after Vespers. Most of the station days occur during Lent, however, which was traditionally marked by a daily ieunium anyway in the early Church. (In the Roman rite this never included Sundays in Lent. For this reason the Roman Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, so as to give a full forty days of penitence before Easter Day. (This is not done in the Eastern churches, because they count Sundays as part of Lent.)
Other days of station
Stational celebrations were also established during the Advent and Nativity cycles, on the three Sundays preceding Lent (Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima), the Rogation Days, Ascension, Pentecost week and the Ember Days in September.
The Rogation Days used to be mandatory in the Roman rite, but are now celebrated at the direction of local hierarchies. They were four days of penitence in preparation for the Ascension. Rather oddly the Major Rogation is on a fixed date, being 25 April, while the Minor Rogations are on the three days before Ascension Thursday. This hints that the former had its origin in a wish to supplant a rather nasty pagan festival called the Robigalia.
The existence of a penitential liturgical celebration within the season of Easter had been criticized for centuries, especially by polemicists in the Eastern churches. Although these days can still be celebrated, the Roman Catholic Church now disapproves of overtly penitential practices such as fasting between Easter Day and Pentecost.
The Ember Days, in Latin Quattuor Tempora Anni, are four sets of the three days Wednesday, Thursday and Friday set roughly equidistant throughout the year and reserved for a special ecclesiastical demonstration of penitence. They were formerly specially favoured for the ordination of clergy. They only exist in the Roman rite, and are no longer mandatory but are under the direction of local hierarchies.
The weeks concerned are: Third week of Advent, first week of Lent, Pentecost week and the week after the Sunday following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on 14 September.
Form of liturgy
In addition to Mass, the traditional station liturgy consists of an initial procession, the Litany of Saints, and a veneration of relics.
Originally the congregation gathered at an ecclesia collecta ("collect church") nearby, where the procession was "collected" or assembled. This would then process through the streets for a short distance, to the actual station church. There was no collect church for Sunday stations.
These collect churches are no longer used, and some of the ancient ones have even been destroyed, but they are nevertheless listed below (from "The Sacramentary" by Bl. Ildephonso Schuster).
The length of the procession was probably dictated in part by the old custom of going barefoot as a penitential exercise during it. This was prescribed for Jews on Yom Kippur in Christ's time, but among Latin Christians it has never been more than a voluntary devotion.
On some days, the list has more than one station church. The original reason was simply that the crowds would have been too large to handle if only one church was used, so an alternative was also designated. In such cases, the most important (i.e. the original traditional station) is listed first, but the indulgences can still be gained by attending the "alternative church". Some of these alternatives listed are no longer regularly used.
In a few cases the original station has been destroyed (for example, when the station at San Trifone was transferred to Sant'Agostino when the old church was demolished for the latter's convent).
Also, in the 1930's, two churches were raised to stational status by the Pope as "alternatives," by reason of their importance.
Each year since the 1960's, the Pontifical North American College (the American seminary in Rome) has celebrated a Stational Mass in English at all the original Station Churches (Monday thru Saturday). Nowadays, Masses begin promptly at 7:00 a.m., and all are welcome to attend. More information can be found at the NAC's Station Church website.
The scheduled times for each church change from one year to the next, and are posted by the entrance of the preceding day's church. Try to get there early, as these services can attract large crowds.
Because of restoration works and other practical problems, stations are sometimes changed. The list below is the traditional list, and the only way to be absolutely certain if it's correct in a given year is to check the schedules when you're there. Changes may occur at quite short notice.
In addition to the Station Churches, a long-standing Roman custom is to visit the four Major Basilicas, as well as the three more important minor basilicas, in what is commonly called the Seven-Church Walk. This is traditionally done on the Wednesday of Holy Week.
A plenary indulgence, under the usual conditions, still attaches to a devotional visit to one of the seven basilicas. This is obtainable once a year. Formerly, it required visiting all seven churches on foot in one day -not something to be lightly attempted, even nowadays.
List for Lent
Please note that the Collect Churches are not nowadays part of the Stations.
Ash Wednesday and following days
- Collect: Sanctae Luciae in Septizonio (demolished). This church stood under the slope of the Palatine, just north of the junction between Via di San Gregorio and Via dei Cerci. It was titular, but fell into ruins and vanished at the end of the 16th century. Also known as Septisolio in the sources.
- Station: Santi Giovanni e Paolo, San Gregorio Magno al Celio
- Collect: San Lorenzo in Lucina
- Station: Sant'Agostino (replaced San Trifone when that was demolished)
First Sunday and following week
- Station: San Giovanni in Laterano
- Collect: Sant'Agata de' Goti
- Station: San Lorenzo in Panisperna (a good opportunity to visit the church, which is otherwise not often found open.)
Second Sunday and following week
- No collect church
- Station: Santa Balbina Vergine (after a restoration was finished in 2013, this church should be available again.)
Third Sunday and following week
- Collect: Santi Sergio e Bacco al Foro Romano (demolished; not to be confused with Santi Sergio e Bacco, the Ukrainian church.)
- Station: Santa Pudenziana, Sant'Agata dei Goti
- Collect: Santa Balbina Vergine
- Station: San Sisto Vecchio, Santi Nereo e Achilleo, Santa Maria in Vallicella, San Girolamo della Carità (AS AT 2013, SAN SISTO IS CLOSED FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS.) (The Chiesa Nuova is a modern addition, because of its importance and because Santi Nereo e Achilleo is a detached portion of its parish despite being nowhere near. The Oratorians have run both churches since their foundation.)
- Collect: San Vitale
- Station: Santa Susanna (AS AT 2014, SANTA SUSANNA IS CLOSED FOR EMERGENCY REPAIRS), Santa Maria degli Angeli (Also formerly San Caio in Via Porta Pia, until it was demolished in 1873.)
Fourth Sunday and following week
- Collect: S. Mariæ Dominæ Rosæ (monastic church which no longer exists, but was replaced by the nearby Santa Caterina dei Funari)
- Station: San Lorenzo in Damaso, Sant' Andrea della Valle
- Collect: Sancti Mennae (demolished). This church was located "outside the Porta San Paolo". However, it cannot have been just outside (about where the Piramide metro station is) because the distance covered by the stational procession would have been too long. A location down the Via Ostiense, around the later chapel of Santissimo Crocifisso alla Via Ostiense stood, is likely. The church vanished by the 13th century.
- Station: San Paolo fuori le Mura
Fifth Sunday and following week
- Collect: San Giorgio in Velabro (This made for a procession of some distance, but the Pons Palatinus had not yet become the Ponte Rotto or "broken bridge".)
- Station: San Crisogono
- No collect church
- Station: Santa Maria in Via Lata, Santi Quirico e Giulitta (The principal station used to be the convent church of San Cyriaco de Camiliano occupying the present east end of the Piazza del Collegio Romano. The nunnery was suppressed as a disgrace and the church closed by papal decree in 1435. The name is also given as Quiriaco or Ciriaco. This explains the alternative church, although Quiricus and Quiriacus were different martyrs.)
- Collect: Santa Maria in Via Lata
- Station: Sant'Apollinare alle Terme, Santa Francesca Romana (Latter is a modern addition.)
- Collect: Santi Giovanni e Paolo
- Station: Santo Stefano Rotondo al Celio, Santa Croce a Via Flaminia (Santo Stefano is now open again after repairs, but continued work on the interior might prohibit its use in 2014.) (Latter is a modern addition. It is the only modern church in the list.)
- Collect: San Pietro in Vaticano (A procession did not collect here, rather the Pope distributed alms on this day)
- Station: San Giovanni a Porta Latina, San Cesareo
Palm Sunday and Holy Week
- Collect: Sancto Silvestro in Laterano (This was an oratory which was part of the mediaeval palace of the Lateran. The palms were blessed here. In the late 16th century, the chapel was destroyed when the palace was rebuilt. When Palm Sunday was celebrated in St. Peter's as often in the middle ages, the palms were blessed in the chapel called Santa Maria in Turri in the first storey of the bell-tower of old St. Peter's, also now destroyed.)
- Station: San Giovanni in Laterano
- Collect: Santa Maria in Campitelli
- Station: Santa Prisca, Santa Maria in Campitelli, San Saba, Santa Maria del Popolo
- Collect: San Pietro in Vincoli (the Pope also anciently gave a homily about the Triduum in San Giovanni in Laterano on this day).
- Station: Santa Maria Maggiore
List for Triduum and Easter
Easter Octave Sunday
List of Other Stations
Other station Churches during the year are:
Sundays of Advent:
- First: Santa Maria Maggiore
- Second: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
- Third: San Pietro in Vaticano
- Fourth: Santi Apostoli
Ember Days of Advent (the only ecclesiae collectae that Schuster notes existing outside of Lent are the Ember Wednesday and Friday of Advent, which are simply the same as those for the Ember Wednesday and Friday of Lent):
- at night: Santa Maria Maggiore, at the manger
- at dawn: Sant'Anastasia
- on the day: Santa Maria Maggiore
St. John Evangelist:
Octave of Christmas -Circumcision (now the Most Blessed Virgin, Mother of God):
Major Rogation (25 April):
- Monday: Santa Maria Maggiore
- Tuesday: San Giovanni in Laterano
- Wednesday: San Pietro in Vaticano
- Monday: San Pietro in Vincoli
- Tuesday: Sant'Anastasia
- Wednesday: Santa Maria Maggiore
- Thursday: San Lorenzo fuori le Mura
- Friday: Santi Apostoli
- Saturday: San Pietro in Vaticano
Ember Days of September:
Notizie Compendiose delle Sagre Stazione e Chiese Stazionale di Roma. Published by Francesco Bourlie in 1833, copy at Harvard Library, Cambridge MA, USA.
The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum): Historical and Liturgical Notes on the Roman Missal by Bl Ildephonsus Schuster, trans. Cholmeley and Marke, Burns & Oates 1924.
Pontifical North American College web-page (should give up-to-date list when available.)