Pope Francis to Lead Centuries Old Tradition for Ash Wednesday

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By Melissa Butz

On Ash Wednesday, the streets will be full of faithful processing from the church of St. Anselm to the Basilica of St. Sabina, and they will all be led by Pope Francis.

For centuries, beginning with Gregory the Great, popes have participated in the penitential procession to St. Sabina. It’s the basilica traditionally marked as the first station church to visit in Rome for Lent.

The rector of St. Sabina, Father Philipp Wagner, said walking to the basilica on Ash Wednesday is a time to recall the way to Calvary.

“It could be a kind of remembrance of the heavy way we have to go for Lent,” he explained. 

The Holy Father then not only participates in the procession, but is the first one to receive ashes inside the basilica, before they are given to all the faithful.

“The imposing of ashes is also a symbol of the confession of our own sins,” said Fr. Wagner. “The pope is the first one to get it, also He takes part, like every man, as a sinner.”

Fr. Wagner said the Eucharistic celebration is not only for the people of Rome, but attracts a diverse, global crowd.

“You will have people here from every continent, from every generation, and you can see them all in one spot,” he said.

Dating back to the 400s AD, the basilica was home to St. Dominic and St. Thomas Aquinas for a period. Since 1222, it has been run by Dominican friars, who eagerly await the papal Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Located on one of Rome’s seven hills, simplicity and centuries old history contained inside the Basilica of St. Sabina makes it the perfect place to kick off the liturgical season of Lent.