American Seminarians Pack Stational Liturgy in Rome

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reports on it here.


  1. Rigorous indeed to have to walk to a church some minutes away! Most of the clergy live in a “tied cottage” and many do not even have to step out of doors to “go to church.”

    One has to pity them in their pampered and isolated existence. Such a lifestyle doesn’t help anyone to become a “man’s man.”

  2. Dolan said Thursday from New York. “It’s an act of penance. Is there anything colder, damper than taking off on a dark Roman morning … to walk a half hour to a church? That’s what Lent is all about.”

    Yes, Your Excellency, there’s lots of things colder and damper – homelessness, for instance, bereavement, and poverty for starters.

    “What Lent’s all about?” Not almsgiving, not conversion, not “when you pray, go to your private room,” not baptism, not the catechumenate?

    I have the most wonderful memories of vibrant celebrations in Roman stational churches on the weekdays of Lent, and look forward to doing it again some year, and I am no enemy of Archbishop Dolan, but I’m afraid “Hardy Har Har” (one of his kinder nicknames) got it very wrong as reported in this interview.

    1. Good Grief, Grady! You can’t resist nit-picking at anyone from the church’s hierarchy. The Archbishop was commenting relative to the story the reporter was working on, not the whole broad scope of Lent. Lent is indeed, at least in part, about self-sacrifice. Witness the quintupling of 6:30 am Mass attendees at my parish from 30 to 150 or so during Lent. So getting up early and walking through the damp streets of Rome certainly is a bit penitential. And if you are “no enemy” of Abp. Dolan, what’s with the “hardy har har” crack? Would you rather the Abp of NY and head of the USCCB be a dour old grump?

      1. John Drake:

        I can (to quote you) “resist nitpicking at anyone from the Church’s hierarchy” and frequently do resist (imagine if one nitpicked EVERY TIME a hierarch got it wrong!!!), but on this occasion, I couldn’t resist, and, quite frankly, you’ve done nothing to defend the points on which I believe he was wrong, nor have your shots at me proven me wrong in the comments I made about his interview as reported.

        They have, however, said a whole lot about you.

        As should be obvious from everything I wrote, I am fully aware of the shortcomings of a brief quote, which is why I wrote it the way I wrote it: “as reported in this interview.” My comments were clearly about what Archbishop Dolan is reported to have said, not an attack on the man himself – a lot more than I can say for your offering.

        I answered a question he asked, and pointed out where I believe he was wrong on “what Lent’s about.”

        Seeing as you asked, I would NOT “rather the Abp of NY and head of the USCCB be a dour old grump” – but I would rather than he got it right. As reported, he didn’t get it right.

        The “Hardy Har Har” thing is self-explanatory. Anyone who’s ever been man-handled by Archbishop Dolan (for that’s what he does when you meet him) understands why it’s an endearing nickname. Even you should understand that.

        Oh and you may, despite everything, if you promise to behave, call me Mr Grady.

        (Oh and, incidentally, I WAS originally going to list “being a victim of clerical sexual abuse” as one of the things “colder and damper” in answer to the Archbishop’s question, but then I remembered that one of the Lenten Stational Churches, more than once, from memory, is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and, well, if I keep going I’ll have you accusing me of nitpicking another American hierarch . . . )

    2. I think Chris has a point. Lent is indeed about almsgiving, conversion, “when you pray, go to your private room,” baptism, and the catechumenate. I think Mary has a point. Walking to a damp church early in the morning is not a penance unless you are particularly pampered. And walking to an historic church in Rome! There are people who pay good money for the privilege! If we keep an appropriate awareness of real pain, suffering, and deprivation before us, we won’t count these things as a sacrifice.

  3. I have never understood how people could consider going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, a penance. It is a gift.

    1. I agree that Archbishop Dolan’s words as reported are unfortunate and overbroad (he seems generally very badly advised in dealing with the media).

      But, Rita and Mike, I’m afraid you’re limiting the term “penance” in a way the Church doesn’t. We can count things a penance even if they’re not a sacrifice. Indeed this is a question specifically considered in regard to prayer as a penance in the Supplement to the Summa.

    2. With some of the aweful homilies I have endured over the years, Yes Indeed, it can be a penance.

    3. Sam, thanks, you are right about the classical breadth of that term. But I think the way Archbishop Dolan was using the word penance was in fact more along the lines that I and Mike took it to be: a painful sacrifice in satisfaction for sin. I think that is why he accentuated the motif of physical discomfort. Many of the penances we receive in auricular confession are not physically arduous at all, but often in common parlance (as you know) the expression “it’s a penance” points to a hardship voluntarily undertaken to expiate sin.

      1. Well, uh, he said half an hour.
        I don’t know how fit or how old you are, Sam, but when I was in college I used to walk a half hour to Mass every weekday night at midnight, through a dicey neighborhood in the Bronx, in all kinds of weather, and then coming home ran up five flights to my apartment, all without turning a hair. Today I’d find that taxing, but at the time it was worth it to me, and I never felt I was doing a penance. These are young people. Enough said.

  4. “College kids on their junior year abroad, seminarians, nuns and priests and a handful of English-speaking expats and visitors filled the pews — in all well over 200 people plus the 50-odd priests who concelebrated with American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican’s supreme court.”

    On my one trip to Rome, I went to major basilicas, not stational churches, so I ask, “Would 250 people ‘fill the pews’, or are we talking about some filled pews in a much larger church?” In other words, what is the seating capacity in the stational churches?

    Also, do these churches actually have pews? They did not seem to me to be the normal practice in Europe.

    1. Tom, you raise an excellent question. I do not have on hand a list of the churches, but many of the churches in Rome are indeed quite large. Are we being treated to journalistic hyperbole here to dramatize the story? As for pews, the basilicas don’t have them, but pews were installed in many churches during the baroque period, so maybe these churches do. Perhaps Chris, who has been on this tour, could enlighten us as to whether the AP journalist made up the “pew” feature of the story thinking it would sound better!

      I remember once reading in the NYT a story about Rome in which the writer gushed about the spires of “the many cathedrals” of the city… My husband wrote a letter to the editor pointing out dryly that there is only one cathedral in Rome. It was never printed. But shortly thereafter, the journalist who wrote the original piece went from covering the Vatican to writing about food and wine. It was, frankly, a better fit. 🙂

      1. I seem to recall pews in St. Peters in the apse, facing the altar of the Chair. Am I mistaken?

  5. This is, perhaps, the most unedifying comment thread I have ever seen on PrayTell. And as a reader (though more and more infrequently so) from the beginning, that’s saying a lot.

    A story (largely sympathetic) is published in the MSM about young, enthusiastic faith-filled people observing a venerable and holy tradition of the Church, seeking to deepen their faith.

    And all many of you can do is find fault and bitch.

    You remind me of Matthew 26:9.

    I will remember this thread the next time I see posters here commenting on the “bitterness” and “anger” of conservatives and traditionalists. It seems to me that there is plenty of both to go around.

    1. Oh we’ve done more than find fault and bitch, Father. We’ve discovered what the Archbishop of New York apparently said he thinks Lent’s “all about” and the tragedy is it’s not what “the Church” thinks Lent’s all about.

      If you or the archbishop don’t want us to “find fault” you should get him to keep to the same script as the Church.

      Your Matt 26:9 reference is bewildreing – no one’s suggesting the perfume money should be given to the poor; just that the archbishop should get on the same page as the Church.

      And as for bitterness and anger, well, if there is any in the earlier posts, I couldn’t see it, but you’ve managed to eclipse it, and we’ve just discovered a whole lot about you, too.

    2. When the story had the keywords “Rome,” “Seminarians,” “Dolan,” and especially “Burke” you had to know people would have to look for something to complain about.

    3. Well, Fr. Rob, thanks for sharing, but you haven’t exactly been very jolly either. If you have something delightful and edifying to say in response to the story, you are free to do so at any time. Perhaps you will add some upbeat comments later.

      1. Rita

        Father Rob, to quote Father Zuhlsdorf, celebrated the issuing of “Summorum Pontificum” some years back thus: “Fr. J opted not for The Widow, but rather for 16 year Lagavulin and 1989 Barros Colheita Port” . . . I know there are things that can only be cast out by prayer and fasting, but I suspect we’re going for a prayer-only diet here!

    4. Ask yourself this: how many mothers around the world get up at dawn and walk for half an hour in all sorts of weather every day to bring clean water to their children? Here we have a group of seminarians presumably on the fast track to being our next generation of bishops. Apparently, instead of being taught to heal the sick, feed the hungry, bring comfort to those who mourn, etc, they are being lauded for an “act of penance” that is laughable in when compared to what those mothers do for their children every day. How many of those men went home to a meal cooked by someone else, to a home cleaned by someone else, to having their every physical needs provided by someone else? How many of the people working at the seminary get up early every day to care for those seminarians?

      How can our shepherds serve us when they live in a fantasy world?

      1. Perhaps you can tell us about your Lenten penances so we can set ourselves up as judge over whether they are really penitential or not as folks would like to do with the Lenten penances of these seminarians. Perhaps you’d prefer that they take the discipline in public?

        This line of argument is an embarassment. It would be perhaps the most embarassing thing I’ve seen on PrayTell, but the bar was set high.

      2. Well said, Brigid. I agree completely with you.

        I am more embarrassed by the intemperate, personalised and mean-spirited attack on you and at the same time the failure to deal with the substance of your posting.

      3. Edited to add –

        In response to the question regarding taking the discipline in public – I don’t think that self flagellation has anything to do with Christianity whether taken in public or private.

        In regards to my own penances – penance should be a private undertaking.

  6. Um, someone seems to have missed the big point: that this practice was a fruit of the mid-1970s, that diabolically-besmoked, dark, benighted era before JP2 & B16 Made The World Safe For Catholicism Again. I think Apb Dolan’s characterization of it appears more of a mythifying quality and should be given the attention it does not deserve, as it were.

    1. What? Ignore the Archbishop of New York, President of the American Bishops’ Conference and Cardinal-in-Waiting? Ignore the “American Pope”?!!!

      (Even if he is reported as saying Lent is about a bus ride across Rome, paid for by someone else?!)

  7. Chris:

    This thread marks at least the third or fourth time you have referred to that post of mine from back in 2007 about my celebration of Summorum Pontificum, with barely veiled indignation. I’m not sure if your indignation is directed at Summorum Pontificum itself (though I might guess), or if it is directed at the idea that someone might celebrate some good thing given to him (and to the whole church), or if it is directed at the fact that I took the occasion to enjoy some good things that are the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. Perhaps it is all of them rolled up into one unpleasant and bilious ball. This thread also is not the first time you have alluded to my size in what would be considered by most decent people at least a breach of good manners, if not an outright ad hominem attack.

    I’m not sure what accounts for your behavior, but it seems to me that your repeated harping upon the idee fixe of my size and tastes in alcoholic beverages reveals far more about you than it might about me.

    And it strikes me as at least plausible that your indignation at my size and enjoyment of good things, and your indignation at those seminarians taking joy in observing an ancient tradition of the Church, and your indignation at Archbishop Dolan’s joyfulness (and size) are not coincidental, and indeed, are of a piece.

    1. I’m afraid I don’t follow. Was the port “given to the whole church”? And I thought the subject was Lenten penance, not “enjoying the fruit of the earth.” Well, Lent is over tomorrow so perhaps it’s a moot point.

      1. Was the port “given to the whole church”?

        I suspect it refers to Summorum Pontificum, not the port.

        [ETA: a point that I now see Fr. Johansen himself has clarified below.]

  8. Chris:

    You also seem to have missed the point of the Matthew reference. But passion clouds the intellect, and none perhaps does so quite like anger.

    The disciples’ problem (they too were “indignant”) was that they begrudged the enjoyment of the good thing (in this case, the perfume) to the other, in this case to the woman and the Lord. In other words, their problem was envy.

    Envy is that small, wizened, dessicated part of us that gets annoyed when someone else enjoys something.

    1. “Small, wizened, dessicated part”???

      It’s not me who’s fixated on size (or food, or cigars, or booze), Father!

      At any rate, the words “small”, “wizened”, and “dessicated” have NEVER been used to describe any part of me.

      Happy Easter. And a swig of 12 year Scotch on me, Monsignor!

      (Oh, and does Lent make you this jolly EVERY year?)

  9. No, the comments on Abp Dolan’s remark are indeed petty. Of course what one relishes in Lent is just such penitential exercises as getting up early to go to Mass in the cold — it chimes with the penances of the Irish at Lough Derg — just because we’ve got skilled in avoiding such discomforts does not mean we can’t cheer on brave young seminarians who gladly take them on.

    1. When I was in Rome during Lent I think I made it to exactly two of the stational Masses, so I have genuine respect for those, whether seminarians or not, who make it to all of them.

    1. No, Joe. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord’s Supper exclusive.

  10. Rita:

    No, the port wasn’t given to the whole Church. (Would that there were enough of that blessed liquid!) But Summorum Pontificum was given to the whole Church, and to me. And it was that which I was celebrating. The matter of the celebration was the motu proprio, the means was the port, scotch, and cigars. Deo Gratias, to Him who bids us both fast and take enjoyment of good things, both in their due time.

    1. The port, cigars and other gifts don’t scandalize me nearly as much as the blogger’s strenuous effort to silence any criticism of the use of torture by the American government in conversations where that topic was topical. Where Mark Shea was a shining lux at St Blog’s, other bloggers were more tenebris, shall we say.

      1. Fr Rob,

        No, not you, but I assumed the reference to cigars and port and other gifts was a reference to Fr Z, also mentioned in this thread and whose threads on his gifts of that sort has been a regular source of humor at this blog. I read too hastily with too much jet lage. My apologies for the confusion and equivocation.

  11. Gerard Flynn :
    intemperate, personalised and mean-spirited

    Don’t be alarmed, Gerard. It’s just the fruits (oh what a word!) of traditional orthodox faithful-to-the-magisterium catholicism laid bare yet again.

  12. I think it’s time to close this thread (nominated for “most unedifying” by RJ, and “most embarassing” by SH) because, having discussed all the issues, and in light of the fact that Lent is over, there really isn’t anything more to say. Peace to all, and if anyone is reading from the North American College in Rome, we wish you a happy Triduum.

Comments are closed.