Tradition in the Heart of Rome: Chiesa di Gesu e Maria

This past Sunday, I went to Mass at the Church of Jesus and Mary: Chiesa di Gesu e Maria. This Church, built by a rich cardinal in the 1600’s, is on the Via Del Corso, a main street in Rome, and one that has quick access to many historical landmarks, both pagan and Christian. Walking into the church, I was struck with the impression that it was obviously Augustinian, because of the saints commemorated in its iconography (Saints Rita of Cascia, Nicholas of Tolentino, Thomas of Villanova, and Saint Augustine himself). This is meaningful to me, and my community as we wear the Augustinian habit and profess the Augustinian Rule. I came to find out that the church was built for, and is still staffed by, the Augustinian Recollects, a Spanish Reform branch from the Siglo de Oro (Spain’s Golden Age), which gave the Church such notables as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa Avila, and Saint Peter of Alcantara. I saw an Augustinian Recollect Friar there, in his habit much like mine, only with a smaller capuche and sans the IHM blazon of our Congregation, the long belt, and the Rosary.

This is an aside, but hopefully an interesting one: The Augustinians — the main  OSA branch — staff the official parish of Vatican city, Saint Ann’s. This parish is located at the Saint Ann’s gate, where the Swiss Guards are dressed in blue, and don’t let anyone into that part of Vatican City, unless they have official business there. Because I was in habit, they saluted me, as all the Swiss Guards do to priests and religious. Saint Peter’s Basilica is a parish too, but the parish borders extend only as far as the walls of the Basilica itself.

Back to Gesu e Maria: The Mass was something commonly celebrated by priests of the Institute of Christ the King: the Missa cum Organo, a Low Mass, but with a baroque organ accompaniment. I assisted at such a Mass before at one of their churches, and find it very reverent and meditative. It seems to be a regular occurrence at their seminary in Gricigliano, near Florence. To my thinking, this form of Mass ranks second to a High Mass. It has music like a High Mass, but not the hymns that congregations often end up ruining; and it doesn’t have the incessant noise of the dialogue Mass. Of course, it depends on the skill of the organist, and this one was quite up to the task.

(Some traditionalists are ready to go to the mat over the pluses and minuses of the dialogue Mass. I just gave my opinion, but I make no pretense of being a liturgical magisterium onto myself, and do not see this issue as a causa belli. Pax vobiscum.)

The altar boys were a vivacious little gaggle of Italian boys, some of whom came about to my knee. Their dress was notable, but familiar to any who know the ways of the Institute. Except for the littlest fellow (who had a red cassock with a white surplice), they all looked as if they were in a Saint Francis de Sales look alike contest, meaning that their cassocks were blue, with white surpluses outside, blue mantles on top of that, and large white collars. Look at an image of Saint Francis de Sales and you’ll get the picture. All these boys were missing were the beard and pectoral cross of the Doctor of Geneva.

The young priest who offered the Mass did so with great reverence. It was sublime to worship at the classical Roman Rite with a congregation that was very devout and alert to the ceremony. Whoever thinks that Pius X’s “full and active participation” requires bellowing out all those responses with the priest is, well, sorely mistaken.

The Church itself is undergoing repair, both on the exterior facade, and at the main altar. The Mass was offered on a makeshift altar, tastefully erected towards the front of the sanctuary, which was otherwise filled with scaffolding draped in drop cloths and tarps. Looking above this odd iconostasis, I beheld a lovely image of the Crowning Our Lady. (God is good! I happened to glance at it right as I reached the fifth glorious mystery. I had been saying my beads walking to the church.) Above the Coronation was something carved in stone or dark marble. It was a globe, upheld by angels, with stylized lettering on it. On the globe was an IHS, with an AM superimposed over the H. It took me a little staring to comprehend this, as the superimposed lettering was a bit confusing at first. It is the Greek name of Jesus (IHS is the shorthand for the Holy Name in Greek), with the H being at the same time an A and an M (for Ave Maria). Remember, the Church is dedicated to the holy names of Jesus and Mary. Underneath the two holy names was a heart, which I took to be the Heart of Mary, transfixed by an arrow. On hindsight, the heart is probably that of Saint Augustine, as this is an Augustinian church and the heart with the arrow through it is standard in Augustinian heraldry. Note this Augustinian heart, with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in our Seal for the Saint Augustine Institute of Catholic Studies.

It was a beautiful morning of traditional liturgical prayer at the Church of Jesus and Mary. Thank you, Father Luzy!

I said these entries would be “notes and impressions.” Readers will please forgive me if these thoughts lack form and systematization. When next I have a chance, I hope to write about another center for the traditional Mass in Rome: The Chiesa di Santa Trinita dei Pellegrini (the Church of the Holy Trinity of the Pilgrims). Since this past Sunday, I’ve been worshipping at this Church on a daily basis.