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St. Catherine of Siena and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes
Today is the feast of one of the most popular saints around here, St. Catherine of Siena. Lay woman, Dominican tertiary, ecclesial reformer and gifted with a charism that allowed her to put popes and antipopes in their proper place and get away with it, she serves as the patron saint of the caribinieri, Italy, Europe, and was the first woman named a Doctor of the Church.
It was only at the end of my class day, just before 6pm, that I was able to run over to the church where she died, and where most of her remains remain, Chiesa Santa Maria Sopra Minerve, near the Pantheon. On her feast day every year they open the small doors under the high altar to allow devotees to access her marble tomb directly. After the liturgy, we were also able to get into the chapel built from the rooms in which St. Catherine lived her last years. (I ran into a couple friends at the church, one of whom, John Paul, took the photos I used for this blog. More can be found at his, Orbis Catholicvs Secvndvs)
Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy presided at a solemn vespers and Eucharist to commemorate the saint, with about forty Dominican friars, an equal number of sisters, and a handful of tertiaries, in attendance. It was an interesting liturgical experience in the fact that we started with the procession, went into the first half of vespers, after the psalms came the Gloria and the penitential rite followed by the rest of the Eucharist, only to return to the vespers canticle and the rest of that liturgy following the final blessing of the mass.
Cardinal Hummes presents a good example of the way lines are drawn differently in Rome than it often seems in the States, and a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, or too quickly, if at all. Vested in scarlet, lace and a heavily embroidered Baroque “fiddleback” chasuble he was the very image of the popular style of the Tridentine era and the “extraordinary form” movement of today. Dual deacons with matching Baroque dalmatics and vimpere donned in vimp veils embroidered with the cardinalatial coat of arms reinforced the image of a very Roman prince of the church.
Cardinal Hummes is not his predecessor, however. Ordained a presbyter before the Council, he finished a doctorate in philosophy, in Rome, just as Vatican II was getting interesting. A Franciscan, he continued studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and has been known for his support of social justice, liberation theology, and being open about the theoretical possibility of doing away with mandatory clerical celibacy.
This is not the combination that comes easily to mind for most of my fellow North American Catholics, I think it is safe to say: “traditional” liturgical garb and “progressive” theological/ecclesiological tendencies!
The homily, I am sure, would be interesting… but I have not found a translation yet. In the mean time, blessed feast of Catherine to you!
Santa Prassede and Episcopa Theodora
First stop was a pizzeria near the Gregorian rumored to have pizza at €1 per slice, but alas, for us Anglophones they could only slice €2.40 worth of pizza. But, it was still good, and the first Roman pizza I’ve had since I got here, so I think worth it.
We then ventured to the Chiesa Santa Maria sopra Minervae (Church of St. Mary over Minerva). It is the only gothic church among Rome’s 900 places of worship, and is recognizable by the small Egyptian obelisk mounted on top of a Baroque Bernini elephant, and the fact that it is literally built over (sopra) a temple dedicated to Isis, who was later assimilated in worship to Minerva. The obelisk is one of several found buried on the site.
Two Medici popes and the artist, Blessed Fra Angelico are buried here, along with a number of other once-famous Italian nobility. One of Michelangelo’s sculptures is found inside, Christ bearing the Cross.
The church is probably better known, though, for the saint who died in a small room past the sacristy and who is entombed under the altar: St. Catherine of Siena. Catherine was a lay oblate/tertiary of the Dominicans and known for her extensive reform efforts in the church, including campaigning for the return of the papacy to Rome from Avignon. St. Catherine enjoys a particular devotion from our Eveline, and we had been talking about coming to visit for most of the last week.
As a Dominican church, it was here too that Galileo was tried for his Copernican cosmology, and where he reportedly uttered his famous exit-line, “but it does move.”
Afterwards we set out east, in the direction of Santa Maria Maggiore to find a smaller but no less important minor basilica, Santa Prassede. As we were there sometime before the 4:00pm end of lunch-break, we spent some time over at Mary Major, and then opted for gelato on the Piazza in front of the church. It was there where we were flocked by birds, goaded on by a toothless Roma who wanted coins in return for having taken pictures of the pigeons he was feeding.
On returning to the basilica, I discovered a small plaque next to the entrance of the adjacent monastery. In Slavonic and Italian, the plaque identified this humble building as the place where the saints Cyril and Methodius developed the written Cyrillic alphabet and the form of the Byzantine Liturgy used by the Slavic churches, like the Russian Orthodox, during the years 867-869. (Incidentally, Cyril was born in Thessalonica, the same city where two of my housemates are from, Dimitrios and Theodosius).
The basilica was built in 822, and is filled with Byzantine mosaics, including the Chapel of St. Zeno. In addition to the two first-century saints who inspired for whom the church is dedicated, Sts. Praxeses and Pudentia, you can see Pope Paschal and his mother Episcopa Theodora.
Theodora’s image is an intriguing one, for it figures strongly in the debate about the role of women in the church, especially regarding ordination and jurisdiction.
Given that episcopa is the feminine form of the word used for bishop from the sub-Apostolic age onward (and usually translated that way in the Bible), the simplest way to read the inscription is Bishop Theodora, providing one of a handful of first-millennium images interpreted to indicate the ordination of women in the earlier church.
Current practice in both Catholic and Orthodox churches of the Byzantine tradition is that wives of clergy are given the feminized title of their husband’s order, presbytera or deaconess, and this leads to the interpretation that Theodora is so named as the wife of a bishop (and mother of another).
A third possibility is based on the fact that many medieval abbeys held more influence and jurisdictional authority than some dioceses, and the abbess could in many places be the ordinary for several parishes, and entitled to various episcopal regalia, such as the pectoral cross, mitre, and crozier. And given the early beginning of the development of this time of an ecclesiology that saw the episcopate as a jurisdictional category rather than as a holy order in itself, it seems reasonable that a woman with the juridical office basically identical to bishop might be named episcopa.
After all that, we decided it was time to head home, so we walked Matthew to Termini, and Eveline and I hoped on a bus for home. Actually, the bus we chose turned out to be an express, and we overshot our destination and ended up in Largo Argentina, so we then switched busses to get back to Piazza Venezia, the switched again to get to the Coliseo and walk home from there. A long day, but well worth the walk!