Absolve, Domine, nostrorum Vincula peccatorum
This is one of the oldest basilicas in Rome and one of the City's first parish churches. It was built by the Empress Eudoxia (possibly the wife of Valentinian III) over the ruins of an imperial villa around AD 442 to house the relics of the chains that bound St Peter in prison in Jerusalem (cf Acts 5, 12). The interior of the church is now decidedly baroque and it houses the tomb of Pope Julius II with the magnificent statue of Moses carved by Michelangelo.
It is fascinating how the readings in today's Liturgy are so intrinsically linked to this Stational church: the first reading focuses on Moses the Law-giver who is present in St Peter ad Vincula and the Gospel has Jesus the Good Shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. Apparently the apse of the basilica used to have a mosaic of the Good Shepherd in the midst of His sheep. In the Tridentine Missal, there was also a Prayer over the People which was said after the Post-Communion prayer that in today's liturgy asked the Lord to "absolve us from the chains of sin that bind us", a clear reference to the physical chains that bound St Peter.
In Lent 1983, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger preached the Lenten Retreat to the Roman Curia and he comments on today's stational church. The following quotation is taken from that retreat which has been published as 'Journey to Easter':
"The statio of today is at St Peter's ad Vincula. Three points are important for today's liturgy:
First, the church was built near a Roman tribunal. The idea of the tribunal, of justice, is thus present in this church: men are not left free in a void, as Sartre thinks, as so many think today. Men are in the image of God, having their origin in a divine idea, and their freedom corresponds to this idea. God's central idea for men is love, and for this reason they will be judged according to the measure of their love. The tribunal expresses the eschatological aspect of the command 'Repent; be converted'. In it the message of the first reading and of the Gospel for today becomes as it were visible. This church is a visible sermon: earthly justice becomes open to eternal justice, to the Last Judgement.
Second, on the other hand we know that this church was constructed by the Empress Eudoxia to contain St Peter's chains rediscovered in Jerusalem. The church is, as it were, the noble storehouse of those chains and a custodian of a part of Jerusalem. The chains represent not only the passion of St Peter and the might of God, stronger than human power. They demonstrate also the temptation of power, the limits of human justice. They speak to us of all the prisoners of the world, suffering in the cause of truth. They correspond to the words of the Gospel, 'I was in prison and you came to visit me.' The chains call forth the demand 'Did you come, do you come, to visit me in those who are imprisoned today for justice and faith? Have you been ready to bear human injustice for the sake of divine justice?' Today's stational church suggests prayer for the persecuted Church, for all those persecuted in the cause of justice.
Third, the grandiose figure of Moses in this church emphasizes these aspects for us, emphasizes the harmony between the two testaments, the harmony between Law and Gospel, between Moses and Jesus."
May the holy patriarch Moses and the prince of the apostles, St Peter pray for us and especially for all those Christians and men of good will who are perseucted for the cause of right.