Roman Churches: April 2007 Archives

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

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Today, being the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, the destination of our weekly passeggiata was the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where the body of the saint is enshrined beneath the altar. Folks of all sorts were queued up to pray at the tomb from behind the altar. We took our places and each of us had a moment of prayer resting our heads on the effigy of Saint Catherine. I remembered all my Dominican friends there and even placed my rosary on the tomb while I prayed.

I cannot think of Saint Catherine without recalling her burning love for the Precious Blood of Christ. One’s dying words are not improvised. They are the expression of a lifetime. Saint Catherine, having lived immersed in Blood of Christ, died with the Blood of Christ on her lips. On the January 30th before her death, she prayed for the Church, the Bride of Christ: “O Eternal God, accept the sacrifice of my life within this Mystic Body of holy Church. I have nothing to give but what you have given me. Take my heart, then, and squeeze it out over this Bride’s face.” For the Blood of Jesus' Heart, Catherine gave her own heart’s blood and, like her Bridegroom and Lord, she gave it for the Church. Her last recorded prayer, uttered three months later, is this:


you are calling me to come to you,
and I am coming to you —
not with any merits of my own
but only with your mercy.
I am begging you for this mercy
in virtue of your Son’s most sweet Blood.
into your hands I surrender my soul
and my spirit.

It was April 29th, 1380. Catherine was thirty-three years old. Her identification with the Blood of the Paschal Lamb was complete. Today, with my forehead resting against Saint Catherine's tomb, I prayed through her intercession: "Blood of Christ, purify my mind, flood my soul, inflame my heart."

Also in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is Michelangelo's breathtakingly beautiful "Christ the Redeemer." See it above. The sacristy contains wonderful frescoes by Fra Angelico. The side chapel dedicated to Saint Dominic is dark and recollected. There too I offered a prayer for Father Jacob and my other Dominican friends.

Our Lady of Good Help

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Father Abbot sent me to offer Holy Mass this morning in our lovely little chapel of La Madonna di Bon Aiuto (Our Lady of Good Help). There were about fifty faithful present.

The chapel was built in 1476 by order of Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) into the ancient Roman Castrense amphitheatre that forms the wall surrounding the monastery gardens. The chapel enshrines an ancient fresco of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

At one time the image was in a kind of wayside shrine with no more than a roof to protect it. A written account in the archives of our monastery relates that one day when Pope Sixtus IV was taking a walk from Saint John Lateran, he chanced upon a group of monks from Santa Croce and stopped to chat with them. All of a sudden a terrible thunderstorm with flashes of lightning came crashing down upon them. The little group sought refuge beneath the roof constructed over the image of the Madonna. The Pope invoked the bon aiuto (kindly help) and protection of the Mother of God.

Following this incident, the Pope gave orders that the image be removed from the wayside shrine and that a chapel be built on the spot in honour of the Blessed Virgin under the title of Bon Aiuto.

The Cistercian Monks of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme were charged with the care of the chapel and were also given the adjoining prairies, which property they held until the invasion of the French in 1849.


The chapel remains a place of supplication to the Mother of God to the present day. It is opened during the month of May for daily Mass. The postulants and novices of Santa Croce also gather there daily during the month of May for the recitation of the Holy Rosary in common. The feast of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto is celebrated on the last Sunday of May with a Solemn Mass and a procession with the sacred image through the streets of the neighbourhood.

There is a beautiful reproduction of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto in the Basilica of Santa Croce. People often linger before the image in prayer, light candles, and bring flowers to the Mother of God. Apart from the Rosary, the prayer most commonly associated with the image of the Madonna di Buon Aiuto is the Memorare, attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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