In typical high anxiety, I very early. Actually that had its benefits. It meant I could take my time walking up the hill. (It's all uphill and steps from the river to the classroom in the Pontificia Universita Urbaniana on the Via Urbano VIII on the Janiculum Hill. And the class is on the top floor - but at least there is an elevator inside!).
I wasn't the only early bird, however. There were already several students - all sitting quietly reading the textbook. That produced another moment of panic, until I realized that the books were piled up at the back of the aula, and that I was supposed to take one for myself. That proved to be the second benefit, because by the time the room filled up there weren't enough books for last-minute arrivals. (Were they not expecting us all to show up the first day?)
The classroom (Aula 12) seats 90. The full number of students in the class is 87 - clergy, religious, and laity, male and female, from every continent. (I've always advocated at least a semester in Rome for every seminarian - if only to acquire a real appreciation of the universality of the Church!)
Some arrived in groups. Others recognized each other. All of which, of course, highlighted my most persistent and pervasive fear - that of being alone, completely on my own. I buried my head in my book, trying not to appear as terrified (and clueless) as I felt.
Right at 3:45, we all stood as His Eminence the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints arrived with his entourage of assistants (some of whom form the faculty for the course). His Eminence gave about a 20-minute introductory talk. Then we all stood again as he and most of his entourage departed, leaving behind only the young priest who is obviously the administrator of the program and and the Dominican Prior of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (in full habit and black cape) who is one of the professors and, after a short administrative interlude, launched into the first lecture - on sanctity in general and the etymology of the word.
One new thing I learned which, on reflection makes perfect sense but which had never dawned on me before, concerned the killing of Remus by Rome's first king, Romulus. I had always been taught that Remus jumped over Romulus' wall as an act of brotherly spite, suggesting the weakness and perhaps the indefensibility of Romulus' city, and that Romulus accordingly killed his brother out of injured pride. I learned today, however, that Remus' action constituted a sacrilege, that the walls delimited the sacred space of the new city, separating the sacred from the profane. The two interpretations don't contradict each other, of course, but the religious one amplifies the event's significance in the context of a pre-modern sacral society.
It's been years since I have been a student. So I think sitting attentively for two hours will be a bit of a challenge - and attentive is the one thing I most certainly must constantly be because of the lectures being in Italian! But, based on today's talks at least, I think it's going to be a good experience in the end.