[If you want to follow today's travelogue in chronological order, scroll down to the post, "Monday of the First Week of Lent" below ... ]
On the way to Piazza del Popolo we ducked into S. Carlo e Ambrogiano al Corso, where the heart of St. Charles Borromeo is preserved in a reliquary behind the high altar. Prayed there, especially for holiness among the clergy. The dome is stunning, and the interior is the Baroque on Steroids.
We really had very little time before the stational Mass, so we ducked into S. Maria del Popolo only to see the two Caravaggios -- the Crucifixion of St. Peter and, my favorite, the Conversion of St. Paul.
There's just some special about the play of light, the absolutley helpless and stunned form of the young Paul on the ground ... it's always moving. There was a small line of visitors waiting for the sacristan to open up, and we made a dash to the side altar to get to the Caravaggios. One doddering old fellow completely ignored the sign in front of the paintings, and snapped away with his flash several times! Really now. Seriously though, I have never encountered so many tourists in Rome! I have a feeling that the events of last Spring (and just maybe, Dan Brown) have helped increase tourist traffic.
It was now about 410 pm, and we wanted to get to the Lenten Stational Mass at S. Pietro in Vincoli, on the other side of the Esquiline, by 5 pm. A Mass is said at a titular church (one associated with the historical tituli that were the important churches of ancient Rome. Nowadays, each titular church has a Cardinal patron). We dashed to the Metro, and boarded a train towards Termini. At Repubblica, one stop before Termini, the train stopped. The doors opened and closed several times, and it was announced that there was a malfunction. Boy, talk about a lot of fumin' Italians! I'm sure I recognized several rather colorful phrases as we ran up the stairs and took a taxi to the church, arriving with at least 15 minutes to spare.
Inside, the sanctuary had been roped off -- with horedes of tour groups maing their way to see Michelangelo's famous Moses (picture below). A small crowd, gathered for the special liturgy, presided over by a Bishop (whom I couldn't get to identify. One presumes that the titular Cardinal of S. Pietro, Pio Laghi, at 84, is too old to preside.) and the canons regular of the Lateran basilica. Mass was in Italian. We started outside in the portico. Somehow, the lowering sun filtering through the wrought iron gate cast shadows on the congregation which reminded me of the chains of sin that we are called to break free from, especially during this holy season.
We processed in to the Litany of Saints. The Mass was simple and beautiful. The Bishop's homily was, very simply, "we will be judged on the quality and nature of our love." After communion, the relics (of the chains binding the Apostle -- picture below from yesterday, and of a bit of the Holy Cross) were venerated as we sang the Vexilla Regis. Mass ended with the congregation being blessed by the Relic of the Holy Cross.
The chains of St. Peter.
The evening twilight. Clouds of incense. The chanting. Drawing close the saints and martyrs, our forebears in faith. This liturgy has been celebrated here during the first week of Lent since at least the 6th century. This is what is so powerful about Rome. The Church is so human, so frail, so sinful, at one level. Yet Christ's promise to her, that the gates of hell will not prevail, seems so much more real in this holy city.
[I have to write at some point about our dinner at L'Eau Vive, a restaurant run by a missionary order of nuns. However, it's close to midnight, and we're taking an early train to Assisi tomorrow. Magari domani ... maybe tomorrow ... ]