Third Sunday of Advent: Roman Station Church

We are preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, that moment when that Infant of Mary lays His Sacred Heart upon the wood of the manger. And not only this coming, but His coming to our hearts each day. 

But, the Apostle Paul speaks of joy today to tell us to prepare for the second coming of Christ. The Apostle does not speak of the first coming when he says “The Lord is near”, but about the second coming; by this, he invites us to spiritual joy, through which we steadfastly await the joys of His second coming. For this reason he says “Rejoice ye always in the Lord”, that is, in awaiting the second coming, and “Rejoice” is repeated, because spiritual joy causes us to sweetly bear with all the troubles of the world, so that nothing may tear us away from the hope of those things which are eternal.

The choice of station for Gaudete Sunday seem rather counterintuitive; on the only Sunday whose Introit is taken from the epistles of St Paul, we might expect it to be kept at the church which guards his tomb, St Paul’s outside-the-Walls.

Instead, the station is kept at St Peter’s, formerly the station for the principal Mass of Christmas Day; as the church of Rome proclaims:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice. Let your modesty be known to all men, for the Lord is nigh”,

it anticipates the joy of the Savior’s birth in the place where it will be most solemnly celebrated in less than two weeks’ time.

St. Paul is not forgotten, however, in the choice of Station Church. In a certain sense St. Peter’s is dedicated to both of the two Prince Apostles: St. Peter and St. Paul. The liturgy of Rome always remembers the two Apostles together, not only in their joint feast on June 29th, but also by adding to feasts such as that of Peter’s Chains or the Conversion of Paul a commemoration of the other Apostolic founder of the church in the Eternal City.

This tradition was reflected in the art of the old St Peter’s Basilica, in which nearly every image of St Peter was accompanied by one of St Paul. In the modern basilica, on the other hand, there are many images of its titular Saint, but hardly any of St Paul; its decorative program, conceived in the Counter-Reformation, answers the Protestant rejection of the Pope’s authority by laying much greater emphasis on Peter alone.

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