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Stational Churches of Rome
“Brethren: Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice.”
This third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudéte Sunday, from the opening words of the Introit, and the fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætáre Sunday) are the only two days of the year when the priest wears rose colored vestments. This signifies that these two days are less penitential than the other days of Advent and Lent. Gaudéte and Lætáre can both be translated as “rejoice.”
The Church is recognizing that we have been carrying out the penitential practices of the season—today is a day to take a break from them—and tomorrow we should get back to them with renewed enthusiasm. Of course, if we have not been doing any Advent penance, tomorrow would be a good time to start. But today we rejoice with Holy Mother Church.
Traditional Catholics observe three Ember days during this coming week— Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. In keeping with the spirit of the season, these should be days of fasting, abstinence, and additional prayer. Fasting means that we eat only one full meal and two smaller meals—“collations,” they are called, or “snacks” in the modern tongue. Abstinence means that we eat no meat or poultry (although butter and eggs are okay). Any sort of prayer is suitable—Mass and Holy Communion are ideal. Please understand that the dietary restrictions are not intended to harm anyone’s health—the elderly and the infirm may take however much food they feel they need.
The Ember days are observed four times a year. They are always Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday within the same week in Advent and Lent, during the Octave of Pentecost, and during the week following the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. In the early church the Ember days were instituted to call on God to prosper the agricultural needs of the people. At first there were only three sets of days: in June for a bountiful harvest, in September for a rich vintage, and in December for the seeding. This is another example of the Church appropriating and Christianizing a custom of the Roman pagans. In the Liber Pontificalis the fasting is attributed to an order by Pope Callistus (217‑222), but Leo the Great (440‑461) thought it went back to the time of the Apostles. It is uncertain when the Lenten Ember Days were added, but they were observed at least as early as the fifth century.
The Ember Saturdays are the most common days for ordinations. All of their Masses have six Old Testament readings and an Epistle from the New Testament. Each of the four minor Orders is conferred after a reading—likewise the major Orders of subdeacon, deacon, and priest.
If you look at the church calendar, you will see that the Ember days each have a “stational church.” What that means is that the people in Rome gather in procession to attend Holy Mass at the stational church. The Mass is celebrated or presided over by the reigning Pope.
On the four Ember Wednesdays, the stational church is on the east side of the city, Saint Mary Major—also known as Our Lady of the Snows to commemorate a miraculous snowfall that fell during the hot Roman August summer day to designate the spot where the basilica was to be built. On the Ember Fridays the station is the church of the Twelve Apostles—more or less in the center of the City. The station for Ember Saturdays is Saint Peter’s Basilica in the north west corner. All of these churches are inside the walls that were built to keep the Moslems out of Rome.
Visitors to these churches on the station days may gain a partial indulgence for the visit, or a plenary indulgence if they take part in the ceremonies offered there. (Enchiridion #56) The usual conditions apply, plus the recitation of one Our Father and the Creed.
You have to make the visits in person to gain the indulgences—but if you have internet access you can see what each of these three churches look like:
So “Rejoice” and enjoy this third Sunday of Advent. Get back to a more penitential attitude tomorrow. Keep the fasting and abstinence of the Ember days if you can—and come for Holy Mass if at all possible. And if you have Internet access, have a look at the stational churches.
 Epistle: Philippians iv: 4-7 http://www.drbo.org/x/d?b=drl&bk=57&ch=4&l=4-#x
 Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. “Ember Days” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05399b.htm
 5 August 352. http://rosarychurch.net/breviary/august.html