Station Days.—Days on which in the early Church fast was observed until the Hour of None (between twelve and three o’clock), later of Sext (nine to twelve), as distinct from the strict observance of the fast day proper until Vespers (three to six). The ancient liturgical writers commonly apply the word statio to fast days, but a distinction must be made between jejunium and statio. Pamelius will not admit this distinction, but Cardinal Bona is less uncompromising and admits that though statio is sometimes identical with jejunium this is not an absolute rule. The statio came to an end at the Hour of None, but the jejunum was not broken till the Hour of Vespers, which is a notable difference. However, Tertullian speaks of a less rigorous fast which was broken sooner and which he calls semi jejunum. In this case the faithful did as on a day of statio, and the fast did not differ from the one on that day. To Tertullian solvere stationem meant exactly the same as solvere jejunium. But St. Gregory the Great designated certain churches in Rome as stationer and recommended that on the more solemn festivals they should be made stations (stationes fieri) until the Hour of Sext, and at these same churches on the appointed days (statis diebus) the faithful should assist at the Office. The stations have long since been abandoned and have left their trace only in the Missal, but in some instances the fast lasted longer and has been preserved even to modern times. The classic text on the stationes is found in Tertullian‘s “De Oratione” (XIV): “Similiter et stationum diebus non putant plerique sacrificiorum orationibus interveniendum quod statio solvenda sit accepto corpore Domini”. (In the same way many think that on Station days we must not be present at the prayers of the sacrifices because the Station should be finished when the Lord’s Body is received.) Comparison of other phrases of the same author with this passage shows that the statio was celebrated on Wednesday and Friday, of each week, lasting until the ninth hour. The 69th Apostolic Canon enjoins the observance of a fast on these two days.
An explanation of the fast of the stationes has been found in the fact that the solemnity was fixed statis diebus, but this is a purely verbal coincidence; and it seems difficult to find in it anything else. St. Ambrose gives a reason which may have been accepted in his time: “Our fasts”, he says (Serino XXV), “are our encampments against the attacks of the devil; they are called stationes because we remain standing” (stantes). It also seems probable that these days of fasting and prayer were characterized by endless watchings, and processions either within or around the church, when the faithful were obliged to remain standing, stantes, as is said in modern French in exactly the same sense, stationner, to stand. Statio became the place before which or within which the faithful walked in procession and, tired out, but always standing, sometimes leaning on a stick, assisted, before separating, at the celebration of the Liturgy. The churches to which they repaired took the name of stationes, though incorrectly, and the route followed to reach them became statio ad…The tomb of a martyr became the object of a kind of pilgrimage to which the faithful went in a body, and thus arose another statio ad…But the martyria alone did not attract the crowds; it became the custom to go to the celebrated basilicas, and sometimes all the clergy of a large city assembled at a certain point, probably in the vicinity of the episcopal residence, to go thence with the bishop, the patriarch, or the pope himself to the place assigned for the celebration of the Eucharist. As time went on parishes or tituli were formed in the cities and their grouping gave rise to vexatious questions of precedence, which were solved as well as could be by “rotation”. Rome has preserved the most complete accounts of its stational churches, but we know that these celebrations also took place at Jerusalem and Constantinople. The going to the statio was quite a ceremony; thither were carried the sacred vessels, liturgical instruments, all that was peculiar to the service of the pope, and also, doubtless, all that would supplement the insufficient liturgical furniture of the church to which they were going. The “Liber pontificalis” states that Leo III (795) had twenty silver vessels made which were borne by acolytes in the processions to the stations. There is extant a writing called “De locis sanctis martyrum quie sunt foris civitatis Romie”, the last chapter of which contains the list of “station basilicas” of Rome. This little document, the work of a German pilgrim, dates from the pontificate of Honorius I (625-38), but seems to be based on an older compilation dating at least from Pelagius II (579-90).
The following is the list of the station churches as it was compiled in the time of St. Gregory: Patriarchal basilicas, S. Giovanni in Laterano, S. Pietro, S. Maria Maggiore, S. Paolo Fuori le Mura, S. Lorenzo Fuori le Mura; cardinalitial titles, S. Sisto, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, SS. Quattro Coronati, S. Clemente, S. Marcellino e Pietro, S. Pietro in Vincoli, S. Silvestro ai Monti, S. Prassede, S. Pudenziana, S. Eusebio, S. Vitale, S. Susanna, S. Ciriacos, S. Marcello, S. Lorenzo in Lucina, S. Lorenzo in Damaso, S. Marco, S. Anastasia, S. Nereo e Achilleo, S. Balbina, S. Sabina, S. Prisca, S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Cecilia, S. Crisogono; diaconates (those which had been stations before they were diaconates), S. Nicolo in Carcere, SS. Cosma e Damiano, S. Maria in Via Lata, S. Maria in Porticu, S. Maria in Domnica. The number of stations is eighty-six, and, that of the churches being less, some of them have the station several times in the year. S. Sabina, the station established by Ur-ban VIII for Ash Wednesday, is the most important of all because it was long customary for the popes to repair thither on that day to distribute the ashes to the people.
Persons desirous of gaining the station indulgences first repair to a church in the vicinity of the station in imitation of the ancient collect, or gathering of the clergy and the people, preparatory to the procession. In this church prayers are recited from the Station Manual, consisting of invocations to the Blessed Virgin and the Martyrs. Then begins the journey to the station accompanied by the recitation of the Miserere, 5 Paters, the Ave and Gloria, and the steps of the Passion of Christ. On arrival at the station church the Litany of the Saints is said with versicles and prayers, ending with the “De Profundis“. The pope grants dispensations to all who are unable to go in person to the stations, such as cloistered religious, prisoners, the sick, etc., who are free to visit their own church and say the prayers prescribed. Cardinals and their attendants and prelates of the papal court may gain the station indulgence by reciting certain prayers in their oratory. These prayers are printed annually and distributed to the cardinals and prelates who assist at the first Sistine chapel of Lent.