Day I - Ash Wednesday
Remember, O man, you are dust and unto dust you shall return (Prayer for the Deposition of Ashes).
From as early as the third century, the Church of Rome observed the season of Lent by journey each day to a "Station Church" or one of the ancient and prominent churches of Rome. Here the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father, would lead the people in prayer. It is a symbol of unity as well as a pilgrimage of faith. Unfortunately, the custom ceased during the Avignon papacy in 1305 but interest was revived by Saint Leo XIII at the turn of the 20th century. Blessed John XXIII fully was restored the custom in 1959.
Today, from the earliest times, the Mass is celebrated in the Church of Santa Sabina, "The gem of the Aventine", and home of the Dominicans. Santa Sabina was one of a group of martyrs who shed her blood for our faith during the Vesparian persecutions (69-79). At 5:00 in the evening on Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father will come here to participate at an Ecumenical penance service where he will receive ashes.
Remember man that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.
If there is any place in Rome where Lent, with its atmosphere of penitential solitude mixes with the reawakening of spring, then it must be along this path which climbs up from the Circus Maximus towards the Aventine, on the top of which stands the Church of St. Sabina.
In God's name then let us go up to the holy mount. Is it not significant that the first Lenten mystery is celebrated on a mount, the Aventine? Already in pre-Christian days this hill was an asylum for refugees, a post of security. To St. Sabinaa martyr, converted to the faith by the prayers, fasts and example of her Christian servantwe entrust ourselves today. To her we have recourse in our sinfulness. She will present her martyrdom and her prayers to God on our behalf and obtain His blessing upon our Christian warfare, so that "we may be converted to God with our whole heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning, and rend our hearts and not our garments, and turn to the Lord, our God."
Let us pray: Grant, O Lord, to Thy faithful people that they may begin the venerable solemnities of fasting with becoming piety, and may persevere to the end with steadfast devotion. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.