Monday, 2 June: This morning we attended Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, followed by a tour of the basilica and the Vatican necropolis. We also had time to pray individually in the basilica, and I chose to do so in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. As I knelt before the tabernacle to pray Lauds, the opening verse for the first psalm (Psalm 84) gave perfect expression to my thoughts: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, God of hosts. My soul is longing and yearning, is yearning for the courts of the Lord.” Visiting the great churches and basilicas of Rome, one can easily fall into the role of the tourist, forgetting the spiritual significance of a site of pilgrimage. Here, in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord, surrounded by art and architecture by some of the greatest artists, such as Bernini, Borromini, and da Cortona, I was reminded before all else that this is the dwelling place of the Lord: Hic Domus Dei est et porta caeli (this is the House of God and gate of heaven). The magnificence and beauty of the art and architecture there serves this purpose: it is a noble space for the Sacred Liturgy and dwelling of the Lord, a fitting shrine for his saints (first and foremost in this great basilica, St. Peter the Apostle), and a testimony to our faith. This experience in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel shaped my travels to the numerous other basilicas and churches this week, reminding me of the primary spiritual purpose of these visits.
Tuesday, 3 June: Our schedule today included trips to the Catacombs of St. Callistus and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The highlight for me was a short visit that I made to the Basilica of St. Sebastian, about a ten minute walk from the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Since we were given some time to walk around, I decided to take an old road surrounded by the Roman countryside that lead to the Basilica of St. Sebastian. I thought to myself that the view from that road of the quiet country was a view shared by the early Christians as well as countless pilgrims to Rome throughout the centuries before the great urban sprawl of the twentieth century swallowed up the majority of the open land surrounding the old city walls. The peaceful silence of that walk served as a prayerful preparation for my pilgrimage to the Basilica and shrine of St. Sebastian. As the bodies of the martyrs had been removed from the catacombs and placed in the churches of Rome, it was good to be able to pray before the tomb of one of those great martyrs that had once rested in ancient catacombs.
Wednesday, 4 June: For some time now, I have had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under Her title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and so among the basilicas and churches in which we prayed today, that of St. Alphonsus on the Via Merulana was for me the most significant. This 19th century church is unremarkable in its age, as well as architectural and artistic merit, by Roman standards, but inside, above the high altar, it contains the historic and greatly significant icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, an icon that is thought to have been painted in the 13th century and brought to Rome towards the end of the 15th century. Many miracles and healings have been attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the icon is beloved by Romans and the faithful throughout the world. Several popes have promoted this devotion; Blessed Pius IX asked the Redemptorists, to whom the icon was entrusted, to “Make Her known!” It is now one of the most well-known and beloved Marian images. It was a great blessing to pray before this beautiful icon of the Blessed Virgin, to ask Her help for us seminarians on our path to the priesthood, as well as the needs of the Church, our family, friends, and all of our other intentions. I hope to return many times to visit this image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, especially on Her feast day, the 27th of this month.
Thursday, 5 June: Our schedule today included pilgrimages to the Basilica of San Clemente, the Scala Sancta, the Lateran Archbasilica, and the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. It was a full day, with many holy sites at which to pray, and with a great deal of fascinating history, art, and architecture to consider. My favorite of these sites was the Lateran Archbasilica, the cathedral of the Holy Father as Bishop of Rome. Much can be written about this magnificent building, and the significant relics and treasures contained therein, but one aspect that struck me in particular was the eclecticism of the building. Here one encounters architectural aspects and art from what appears to be almost every artistic period. The building has had a troubled history: it was sacked twice by barbarians in the 5th century, damaged by an earthquake in 896, and ravaged by two separate fires in the 14th century, but the various restorations have persevered at large the treasures of the previous centuries. The present basilica serves for me as a testimony to the permanence and resilience of the Church; it reminds me of the Church firmly founded on Christ, the cornerstone, which, although She suffers from sin and adversity, will always find stability, renewal, and healing in Christ. The carefully preserved elements in the Lateran from the various ages attest to this permanence, continuity with our past, as well as renewal.
Friday, 6 June: This was our last day of our week of pilgrimages to some of the greatest basilicas and churches of Rome. Out of the many churches that we visited, I was happy to be able to spend some time before the famous painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Pompeo Batoni, the renowned painter of the late Baroque period. Here, in this small chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, one encounters the painting above the altar of Our Lord holding forth to us His Sacred Heart. After visiting the actual site of the apparition of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque a couple weeks earlier during our time in France (at Paray-le-Monial), and present before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the painting of the Sacred Heart seemed all the more expressive to me. As we approach the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, may we draw closer to the “…abundance of healing waters, that is, heavenly gifts of divine love, issuing from the Sacred Heart of our Redeemer” (Ven. Pius XII, Haurietis Aquas,§18).
REFLECTION: I could not imagine a better way to begin this first full week in the Eternal City than the Mass that I attended last Sunday in a beautiful parish church in the Centro Storico (the historic center of the city). I was blessed to hear a choir sing a Mass setting composed by Palestrina, the great master of polyphonic music in Renaissance Rome, in this remarkable Roman Baroque church; the music and the architecture each augmented the other, and, in effect, showed forth the splendor of God and created an environment in which I was drawn into the Sacred Liturgy in a new way. In the Post-Synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Benedict XVI stated that “The beauty of the liturgy… is a sublime expression of God’s glory and, in a certain sense, a glimpse of heaven on earth” (§35). The awesome majesty of the baroque art and architecture of this church, and the inspiring music of the choir, worked together to form a setting which showed forth the glory of God, and in which can truly be described as “a glimpse of heaven.” It was both an aid to pray and a testimony to human cultural achievement at its greatest: in the service of the Lord.
Seminarian for the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California
Rome Experience Class of 2014