Impressions of Rome: Catholic Culture

I try to stop on a regular basis at the information table of our local parish church, Santa Maria in Portico in Campitelli (see my previous online posting “Church of Santa Maria in Portico”), to find out about Catholic cultural events occurring at the parish church or other places in Rome. Santa Maria in Portico is a very active parish, under the care of the priests of the Order of Mater Dei, with many opportunities, in addition to Holy Mass each day, to experience the beauty of our Catholic faith and culture.

For example, each Sunday during Lent the parish offered a Sunday organ concert at noon, interwoven with a reflection given by the pastor, Father David Carbonara, O.M.D., based on the Sunday Gospel text. Father David is a fine speaker and biblical scholar. More than a homily, which he had given early in the morning at one or more of the Sunday Masses, his reflections at the Sunday concerts in Lent were more meditative and connected in some way with the music selected and played by various excellent organists, a different one each Sunday, from Rome and elsewhere.

The Lenten Sunday concerts and reflections at the parish lasted about forty minutes, providing an additional opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s Day during Lent this year. There seemed to be usually forty or fifty people in attendance, presumably parishioners and others who may have read the posted announcement about the concerts at the entrance of the church, as I had.

It was quite easy for me to participate, living just a couple of blocks from the church, as the concerts ended just before our community prayer of Sext at 12:45 pm, followed by the Office of None. Our midday meal (pranzo) is just after, at 1:00 pm (13.00).

Along these lines of “Catholic culture in the city,” a few days before the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension (observed this year on Sunday, May 28th), I picked up a brochure at the parish with the interesting title: “Notte Sacra” (Sacred Night). Described as “Un Percorso Tra Musica, Arte e Meditazione” (that is, “A Passage Through Music, Art and Meditation”), the brochure outlined ten events of various formats, beginning with Solemn Vespers Saturday night of May 26th, at 6:30 pm and concluding with Lauds and Mass Sunday on morning  at 8:00 am.

In between, and all through the night, meditative concerts, lectures and spoken presentations and readings of texts by Saint Catherine of Siena were to take place. Below I will describe the ten presentations in greater detail. All of the events were open to the public and free of charge.

The events were held in several large churches here in the historic center of Rome, all within a mile or less of each other. The ten presentations were spaced throughout the night, making it easy to attend one or all, as people might choose. Cafes (usually called “bars” here) would be open for people to get refreshments throughout the evening, night and morning of May 27th and 28th.

At the same time as the music and recital events, from 8:00 pm Saturday evening until 4:00 am Sunday morning, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was held in the Franciscan church of the Stigmata of Saint Francis and the possibility of receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) offered in another church, Santa Maria in Vallicella, popularly called “Chiesa Nuova,” (the “New Church”—though actually quite old!) from 8:00 pm Saturday until midnight.

How else to describe this night before the Ascension than as a “Sacred Marathon”? The concept certainly captured my imagination and the impressive brochure made me wish I had the stamina to partake in all or even some of the events.

However, our regular life of daily praying the full round of the Divine Office and Mass at Sant’Ambrogio “kept me home” this year, and that is fine, and I am sure that many people benefitted greatly from the “Notte Sacra” event this year in Rome. Hopefully it will be repeated again next year.

In the Christian Orthodox tradition, especially at places like the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece, there is a strong practice of the “All-Night Vigil.” This is a liturgical prayer in church that begins around sunset and is completed the next morning with Holy Mass, which ends around 8 or 9 am.

The monastic (and presumably some parish) all-night vigils are held on numerous occasions in the Eastern Christian Liturgical Year, commemorating major feasts of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints, such as the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

This concept of twelve hours or more of uninterrupted prayer in church may sound wildly extremist to western ears, but it is a style of prayer that still exists, albeit in a shorter form, in the Roman or Latin-rite Paschal Vigil of Easter night and morning, usually lasting between two and three hours. That is the nearest equivalent I can think of to compare with the Orthodox all-night vigil. We monks had a two hour Easter Vigil Mass with the Benedictine oblate sisters at Tor de’Spechhi near Sant’Ambrogio, lasting from 10:00 pm until midnight.

That being said, the first-ever “Notte Sacra” in the city of Rome this year is reminiscent of an Orthodox “All-Night Vigil.” The creativity of those involved in the Notte Sacra program, organized by the Diocese of Rome, with the assistance of the department for Cultural Growth of  Rome and main sponsorship by EUROMA2 (a huge Roman shopping center) are to be highly commended.

One can read more about the event at

One of the descriptions I read said the objective of “Notte Sacra” was to draw people, especially the young, into the heart of Roman life, but not its secular realm, but the sacred, showing all that the night can also be for watching life, beauty, art and music, enriching one through meditation and prayer, adoration and reconciliation in a world, and even a city, fragmented by so many conflicting interests.

The ten events of the “Sacred Night” of May 27th were these:

6:30 pm: “Solemn Vespers of the Vigil of the Lord’s Ascension,” sung by the Choir of Santa Maria in Campitelli (our fine parish choir!), prayed in the large church of Saint John the Baptist of the Florentines, not far from the Vatican.

8:00 pm, in the same church, “Angelo Branduardi in Concert.” Sacred music by the well-known Italian composer and musician of sacred music.

9:45 pm, “Meeting with Father Maurizio Botta,” priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, “Catechesis with Saint Philip Neri,” in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle. (Recall this is the church where the famous opera, “Tosca,” by Giacoma Puccini begins!).

10:30 pm, in the same church, “Sacred Oratory in Honor of Saint Philip Neri,” written and directed by Monsignor Marco Frisina, sung by the choir of Diocese of Rome, accompanied by the orchestra “Fidelis et Amati.”

Take note that the feast of Saint Philip Neri is on May 26th, the day before “Notte Sacra” took place, hence a certain emphasis on Saint Philip Neri. Saint Philip Neri is a special and much loved patron of the city of Rome

1:00 am, Sunday morning, concert of sacred music, old and new, popular and jazz, titled “Altissima Luce” (Most High Light), in the church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Campo Marzio. Presented by artists Paolo Fresu and Daniele di Bonaventurua and the Chamber Orchestra of Perugia.

2:30 am Sunday, “Soul Singers in Concert: Jazz, Spirituals and Gospel,” at the Palazzo del Vicariato Vecchio, directed by Paola Laudano, with original arrangements by Di Franco Riva. Afterwards, texts of “Evangelii Gaudium” of Pope Francis, recited and sung by a polyphonic choir of six voices, accompanied by a band and a well-known actor of Italian theater, Sebastiano Somma.

4:00 am Sunday, “Meeting with Father Fabio Rosini,” in the church of the Stigmata of San Francisco. Presentation of music and a teaching on sacred music as an accompaniment to prayer.

5:30 am Sunday, “Sacred Music,” in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, presented by Dodo Versina and his a cappella choir, singing music from the Renaissance to the present.

6:30 am Sunday, in the same church, “Texts of Saint Catherine of Siena,” recited by Italian stage actress Maddalena Crippa, accompanied with harpsichord played by Osvaldo Guidotti.

8:00 am Sunday, “Lauds and Mass of the Lord’s Ascension,” in the huge Jesuit church of the Gesu, directed by Osvaldo Guidotti.

I was happy learn that the event was considered a success and all went well, without mishap or misfortune. Rendiamo grazie a Dio, that is, “Thanks be to God.”