So I will take this to portend a lovely day. Am on my way out-- two days of out-going in a row!-- because Mass for Ash Wednesday is at 0800. Am taking the bus into town but will call for a cab or a Lyft to get back because otherwise, given the potential variations in the bus schedule I might not return here until after Mass at Saint-Eugène begins at 1000.
This day, which from the time of St Gregory has inaugurated at Rome the forty holy days of Lent, was also called in capite jejunii. In the 4th century it marked the beginning of the canonical penance which public penitents had to undergo in order to be absolved on Maundy Thursday. According to the rituals of the 7th century, the penitents presented themselves on the morning of this day before the appointed priests at the various titular churches and at the patriarchal basilicas. Having confessed their sins, they received-- in cases of grave and notorious transgressions-- from the hand of the penitentiary a garment of rough haircloth sprinkled with ashes. They were then ordered to withdraw to some monastery, of which there were about a hundred in the city of Rome, and there to do penance for forty days.
This is the origin of the quarantines which we find in ancient forms of indulgences. Our Missal of today still keeps, in the rite of the blessing of the ashes, a last trace of the ceremony of the imposition of canonical penance on public penitents. In early days a high conception of the special sanctity of the sacerdotal state excluded priests from this category. It was only towards the 11th century that, the disciplinary rule of public penance being done away with, instead of the penitents of former days, the Pope, the clergy, and the Roman people took part indiscriminately in this function, and began to walk barefoot, with ashes sprinkled on their heads, to the Basilica of St Sabina.
In the 9th century the imposition of the ashes was still a separate penitential ceremony, and was not in any way connected with the eucharistic station. Towards the 7th hour-- at the time, that is, when the Roman ended his day’s work and went to bathe at the Thermae, getting ready later for his coena, which was the principal meal of the day-- the people, headed by the Pope and the clergy, assembled at the Church of St Anastasia in the narrow valley between the Palatine and the Aventine, and from there went in procession, singing the Litany, to St Sabina. On arriving there the eucharistic sacrifice was offered, the Introit being omitted, as it had already been sung during the collecta at St Anastasia, and after the last blessing, at the invitation of the deacon-- ite, missa est-- the people returned to their homes and broke their fast. This rite was very much more developed in the 12th century, as we see in the Ordo Romanus of the Canon Benedict. The Pope first distributed the ashes at St Anastasia; then the procession, barefooted and in penitential garments, ascended the gentle slope of the Aventine to the Basilica of St Sabina, where Mass was celebrated. Before the Communion one of the regional subdeacons announced to the people, Crastina die veniente, statio erit in ecclesia santi Georgii Martyris ad velum aureum, tomorrow morning the station will be at the church of the martyr Saint George in Velabro, and all replied, Deo gratias. This [ritual at the stations] is the real meaning of the word collecta [assembly], which is noted regularly in the ancient Ordines Romani for each day in Lent....
More than this from Blessed Ildefonso's Liber and I'd be copying until noon; I exaggerate of course but this is a good place to stop. The Liber sacramentorum is online; this is from the second volume. It appears that no one is quite sure what ad velum aureum means.
The origin of the name Velabrum is unknown, and had already been forgotten in Classical times. Plutarch thought that it had something to do with the ferry-boats used when the river flooded the area, and mediaeval chroniclers thought that it meant 'golden marsh'. The syllable vel might have been derived from an Etruscan word for 'water'. However, doubt has been raised about this and the word might pre-date both the Etruscans and the Latins (who, in Stone Age times, were scratching their fleas in the forests of the Alban Hills). If so, it might be one of the oldest human artifacts in Rome.
Velum is wing or sail or, and velabrum means this too, the awning raised above a theatre to protect the audience from the sunlight.
For two or three years now, I've followed the ritual of the Station Churches in Rome during Lent via the Pontifical North American College site, here (the plague nonsense has ended their actual celebration of the collecta at the stations; the information remains on the pages, though), and via Drs Elizabeth Lev and George Weigel's book, Roman Pilgrimage.
Am returned at last, with more or less an half an hour to spare before the streamed Mass. I felt, surprisingly enough, quite light-hearted after Mass, in spite of the vernacular nonsense of the Pauline Rite, so experimented with Lyft. I can't see abandoning Oregon Taxi altogether but today's ride was acceptably quick and trouble free. I imagine my cheerfulness had to do with Mass in the morning-- am never going really to like Mass-going on Saturday evenings (or on any evening).