December 2, 2016

Titular church symbolizes a cardinal’s ties to the clergy of Rome

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale is located in the Trifonale neighborhood immediately northeast of the Vatican. Built in 1941, it is the titular church of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin. (Submitted photo)

The church of Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale is located in the Trifonale neighborhood immediately northeast of the Vatican. Built in 1941, it is the titular church of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin. (Submitted photo)

Criterion staff report

In the first centuries of the Church, the clergy of Rome elected their bishop. That ancient tradition continues today as the cardinals of the Church are considered honorary members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome.

This reality is symbolized by each cardinal being given a title to a church in the city, serving in a sense as its honorary pastor.

On Nov. 19 at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin received a red hat, known as a biretta, from Pope Francis, symbolic of his role as a cardinal, a ring, and a scroll that was the title for his “titular church” in Rome.

That church is Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale, which is located in the Trifonale neighborhood immediately northeast of the Vatican, close to the entrance of the Vatican Museum.

Many titular churches in Rome are centuries old, adorned with works of art by the world’s greatest artists and have a long list of cardinals who have had them as their titular church.

But that is not the case with Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale, which is dedicated to Mary under her title of Our Lady of Grace. It was constructed in 1941—extremely recent by Roman standards. It replaced a previous nearby parish church that was demolished.

While it is not lavishly decorated like many churches in Rome, it does feature a Byzantine icon of Our Lady, Mother of Graces, paintings by 20th-century Italian artist Umberto Colonna, and works by Carlo Maratta, a painter of Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Some of the artwork there had been displayed in the previous demolished parish church.

The current church also has served as a titular church only since 1985, when it was assigned to Cardinal Silvio Piovanelli, then-archbishop of Florence, Italy. Cardinal Piovanelli, who retired in 2001, died earlier this year. Cardinal Tobin, then, is only the second cardinal to have Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale as a titular church.

It is also a busy parish church today, having several Masses celebrated in it each weekend and others on weekdays.

Ordinarily after a cardinal is given a title to a church in Rome, he will sometime in the following weeks or months celebrate a special liturgy at his titular church in which he in an honorary way takes possession of the church.

Cardinal Tobin has not yet celebrated that liturgy at Santa Maria delle Grazie a Via Trionfale.

A cardinal’s relationship with that church continues until his death, even after he may have retired from ministry. As a sign of that relationship, a cardinal will periodically celebrate liturgies there and contribute financially to its upkeep or ministries that it sponsors. †

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