Rome’s Traditionalist Personal Parish: Santa Trinita dei Pellegrini

For most of my stay here in Rome, I have been worshipping at a church that the Holy Father gave to The Fraternity of Saint Peter as a “personal parish,” i.e., a church with all the privileges and duties of a parish, but with no territorial boundaries. In granting this church to the Fraternity, the Holy Father set an example for his brother bishops, to whom he had suggested personal parishes as a way of assisting traditionalists. This is in Summorum Pontificum, Article 10: “The ordinary of a particular place, if he feels it appropriate, may erect a personal parish in accordance with can. 518 for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite, or appoint a chaplain, while observing all the norms of law.”

True to the somewhat rambling nature of these entries, let me take you into another Church before we go to Santa Trinita dei Pellegrini. It’s a church right next door, one with deep meaning to me. Years ago, before I joined the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I spent some time in a Congregation known as the Pallottines. Their proper name is “The Society for the Catholic Apostolate”; their common derives from their founder, Saint Vincent Pallotti, whose life I wrote for an old issue of From the Housetops. Although I left his congregation before taking vows to pursue my vocation here, I still love Don Vincenzo, and have a medal of him on the Rosary I wear on my habit.

It was very gratifying, therefore, to hear that the Church of Santa Trinita dei Pellegrini is on a street right off the Ponte Sisto – one of the many bridges over the Tiber – and immediately off the “Piazza San Vincenzo Pallotti.”

I went to this Church for All Souls Day. That was this past Monday in the traditional rite (November third this year, transferred because, unlike the current Novus Ordo observance, we never celebrate that day on a Sunday). Happily, I was able to assist at two Low Masses in the morning, celebrated by Father Mark Withoos, an Australian priest I once met in Still River, Massachusetts (small world!). While doing some research in New England, Father Withoos was offering Mass for the good sisters at Saint Ann’s House. He now works in Rome, in the Congregation for Divine Worship. It is a noteworthy part of the Holy Father’s liturgical program that there is a new guard of very conservative clerics now running that office. That Father Withoos is there, who offers the traditional rite with reverence and attention to the rubrics, is a great consolation.

Later that evening, there was a Solemn Mass scheduled at 6:30. I arrived early, and, as I passed the Church of San Salvatore in Onda, I saw that its doors were opened. It seems that what I had been told is true: this Church is not opened very much, only around Mass times. As I entered, an old Pallottine priest was leading a group of ladies in the Rosary. Father and I looked at each other, and he figured out I was interested in going closer to the main altar, where the body of Saint Vincent is. He gave me a nod as if to say I could get as close as I wanted. There I knelt, with the crystal sarcophagus, which gracefully enshrines the earthly remains of “the Second Apostle of Rome” right before me. It was a moving experience for one who has read a lot on this saint, and has even written a little something on him, finally to see the church where he founded his Society and to reverence his relics. These relics, by the way, are not the only boast of this little Church, which also enshrines the famous Bambino that he used to bless crowds with on special occasions. That Holy Infant, displayed (one would guess) for safe-keeping in an illumined case with a grill, has a silver right foot protruding out of the grill. The faithful can still kiss this foot of the Christ Child, just as their forebears used to when Don Vincenzo himself held it for them. Knowing the significance of this Bambino, I was thrilled to kiss his little foot.

And speaking of this statue… Because of his devotion to the Holy Infant, some Pallottines tried to have Saint Vincent made into a patron for the pro-life movement. The fact that his feast day is January 22, the day notoriously marked by the Roe-v-Wade decision decriminalizing abortion, lends a special aptness to this. I don’t believe the effort got anywhere.

After reverencing Don Vincenzo and the Holy Infant, it was time for the traditional rite a few yards away. As I said, it was a Solemn Mass. It was offered by Father Almir De Andrade, a Brazilian Fraternity priest (and Assistant to the Superior General of the FSSP), who works in the Ecclesia Dei office and who is the Master of Ceremonies for Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos. As one would expect from a traditional priest who also happens to be a Cardinal’s MC, the Mass he offered was quite beautiful. As this was All Souls Day, there were many special ritual observances and sanctuary appointments. Too, there was a catafalque set up before the sanctuary, in the nave of the church. The absolutions, as at a solemn funeral rite, were carried out around the catafalque, which had the appointed six candles around it, as well as a stunning baroque black pall draped over it, and on top, a black pillow bearing a skull and bones. There were many priests and seminarians in choir in the sanctuary, including a few I later discovered to be students at the North American College. I am certain that there are those opposed to the traditional rites who would say that this way of praying is alternately macabre and triumphalistic. So be it; for me and other traditionalists – and many seminarians studying for various American dioceses – all this bespeaks reverence and solemnity. It’s also the way Don Vincenzo, the saint down the street, would have worshipped. Behold how tradition unites us in the communion of the saints!

As I write this, I am no longer Rome, but in a four hundred year old palace in the villa of Gricigliano, near Florence. But my travels will take me back to Rome in a couple of days, where I have every intention of going back to Santi Trinita dei Pellegrini for daily Mass. Maybe I’ll get to reverence the body of Saint Vincent Pallotti again.