As promised, here is my final post from the Eternal City. Today was, by all accounts, a fantastic day. This morning was a low key affair due to my alarm not going off, but the afternoon was wonderful. We spent our last meal with Dan at a restaurant right near our apartment. We sat outside to enjoy the fine weather and sunshine and enjoyed some excellent pasta. We were all in a very silly mood for whatever reason (no there wasn’t any wine involved) so there was much laughter, a fitting end to our time with Dan, I will really miss him. Holy Cross isn’t the same without him, so it was really great to get to spend time with him. We also got to spend our last bit of time with Caroline, who is here studying abroad.
I had been setting my hopes on getting out to Santa Trinita dei Pelligrini, the FSSP church here in Rome. The FSSP is a Roman Catholic priestly fraternity that exclusively celebrates the older form of Roman Catholic services. Unlike the SSPX, they are in full communion in Rome and thus enjoy greater liberties, including being given a very fine church by Pope Benedict last year to base their mission out of here in Rome. As you can imagine, being the organist and seminarian assigned to a Western Rite Orthodox parish leaves me with an affinity for them, since both of us celebrate the more ancient forms of one of the Western liturgies. St. Stephen’s is a “Gregorian Rite” parish, and that is precisely what Sancta Trinita is as well, only they’re in communion with Rome, while we are not.
Anyway, I thought that Vespers was at 5 p.m. so I left the restaurant a bit early to try and catch a bus. Unfortunately, because it is Sunday the buses have a less frequent schedule so I was stuck waiting for the bus for a half hour. I almost gave up hope around 4:45 to start walking back to the apartment, but it was then that the bus I needed turned around the corner and headed towards the stop. I figured I’d be about 10 minutes late, which is all right. When I got there, however, there was hardly anyone there and no service going on. I approached a priest who was folding Vespers handouts at the front and discovered that the service wasn’t till 5:30, so I was early! Father William (who was an Englishman) and I started talking, I explained I was visiting Rome for the last 10 days and I had been really looking forward to coming every since we started planning the trip back in January. He said he was glad I had decided to visit but that I probably wouldn’t have quite so amazing a musical experience as their organist wasn’t going to be there that day…
God is good. So, as you might imagine, I told him I was an organist by profession and familiar with Gregorian chant and he asked me to accompany the service. I acquiesced. So there I was, with about 15 minutes to prepare to accompany chants I’d never seen before, sitting on a stool in front of a continuo organ, together with Father William and off we went. It was, let me tell you, a truly wonderful experience. Vespers went smoothly, the organist actually showed up about 3/4 through the service and I gave him the stool and he finished out Vespers from the hymn onward. Then I joined Fr. William and one of the servers (another American whose name I didn’t catch unfortunately) in the schola cantorum for the responsory which included the Trisagion Hymn (in Latin, of course) and the Magnificat, closing hymn, and various prayers and responses.
The acoustics in the church were spectacular, probably a 7 second reverberation time and is perfectly suited for Gregorian chant. Fr. William, the other server, and I meshed very well and resulted in nuanced and beautiful chant (for the most part unaccompanied).
After Vespers, Fr. William invited me back to the sacristy to meet the parish priest, Fr. Joseph who turned out to be Australian and was friendly with the Greek Orthodox back in Melbourne. When I first mentioned I was an Orthodox seminarian he asked if I was Melkite or “real Orthodox”, I told him I was “real Orthodox.” He was quite pleased. We chatted for a while about a number of things as Fr. William got ready to serve the evening Low Mass. Both of them said I was very welcome to come back whenever I wished, and that they were disappointed I wasn’t staying longer since they can always use good voices and a spare organist. I thanked them both for their kindness and hospitality, got a photo, and headed out into the church.
I stayed for a bit of Mass, sitting in the very back and enjoying the “noble simplicity” of the ancient Roman Rite. Before I left I stopped at one of the side altars with a myriad of candles burning in front of an icon of the Mother of God and prayed for unity between our two Churches, thinking of our Lord’s words, “That they might be one.” It was a very fitting end to my time in Rome.
I thank God for my trip, for the experiences I had, for the people I met and the people I traveled with. I thank Him for my parents, as well as my benefactors who made this trip possible. While I am looking forward to going home, I look forward to my return to this holy city. I made a conscious decision a few days ago not to go to certain places, hoping that God will bring me back to see them some day soon. That is why you will notice there are no pictures of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I didn’t go. Nor did I go to the Sancta Scala, or San Clemente, or Santa Sebina, nor the church of St. Cecilia (where she is buried), the patroness of organists and musicians. But, perhaps these will push me to come back.
It’s almost like I don’t want to ruin my time here by going everywhere I wanted to. It is like I don’t want my visit to end, and it’s true, I don’t want it to end, or be over. The city of Rome has stolen my heart.
Glory be to God for all things. See you Stateside.