Category Archives: Sacred Liturgy & Sacraments

Dedication of the Laterna Basilica

Lateran BasilicaSome may wonder why the Catholic Church honors the dedication of a church in Rome today and not follow the regular course of the liturgical year.  The Lateran Basilica is not your ordinary church building. It is the seat of the bishop of Rome’s pastoral authority, it the incarnation of the ministry of St Peter whom the Lord gave the keys to the Kingdom. So, the feast is not merely about a holy temple dedicated to the Lord’s service and our sanctification but also the teaching, sanctify and pastoral authority of the papal office first given to Peter which extends in time until today. It is the place of which each and every Catholic Church and Catholic receives its identity and mission: it is the place when the sacraments and the Good News rings out to the entire world because they are true.

Hence, the Church re-proposes what she professes as the abiding and objective presence of God revealed in history in the new and indestructible Temple, which is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior and the ministry through the ages in the Church.

Saint Augustine teaches:

“What was done here, as these walls were rising, is reproduced when we bring together those who believe in Christ. For, by believing they are hewn out, as it were, from mountains and forests, like stones and timber; but by catechizing, baptism and instruction they are, as it were, shaped, squared and planed by the hands of the workers and artisans. Nevertheless, they do not make a house for the Lord until they are fitted together through love” (Sermon 36.)

This basilica and not Saint Peter’s is properly the Pope’s Church.

The Basilica was dedicated on this date in 324 by Pope Sylvester and holds the title of “The Church of the Most Holy Savior” but also it bears the names of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

While not reflecting on the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome Saint Augustine does form a few a ideas to meditate on: “‘Jerusalem that is being built as a city.’ When David was uttering these words, that city had been finished, it was not being built. It is some city he speaks of, therefore, which is now being built, unto which living stones run in faith, of whom Peter says, ‘You also, as living stones, are built up into a spiritual house, that is, the holy temple of God’. What does it mean, you are built up as living stones? You live, if you believe, but if you believe, you are made a temple of God; for the Apostle Paul says, ‘For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple’.”

But as a little history may be important, Dom Prosper Guéranger offers a perspective on today’s feast:

The residence of the Popes which was named the Lateran Palace was built by Lateranus Palutius, whom Nero put to death to seize his goods. It was given in the year 313 by Constantine the Great to Saint Miltiades, Pope, and was inhabited by his successors until 1308, when they moved to Avignon. The Lateran Basilica built by Constantine near the palace of the same name, is the first Basilica of the West. Twelve councils, four of which were ecumenical, have assembled there, the first in 649, the last in 1512.

If for several centuries the Popes have no longer dwelt in the Palace, the primacy of the Basilica is not thereby altered; it remains the head of all churches. Saint Peter Damian wrote that just as the Saviour is the Head of the elect, the church which bears His name is the head of all the churches. Those of Saints Peter and Paul, to its left and its right, are the two arms by which this sovereign and universal Church embraces the entire earth, saving all who desire salvation, warming them, protecting them in its maternal womb.

The Divine Office narrates the dedication of the Church by the Pope of Peace, Saint Sylvester:

It was the Blessed Pope Sylvester who established the rites observed by the Roman Church for the consecration of churches and altars. From the time of the Apostles there had been certain places dedicated to God, which some called oratories, and others, churches. There, on the first day of the week, the assembly was held, and there the Christian people were accustomed to pray, to hear the Word of God, and to receive the Eucharist. But never had these places been consecrated so solemnly; nor had a fixed altar been placed there which, anointed with sacred chrism, was the symbol of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who for us is altar, victim and Pontiff. But when the Emperor Constantine through the sacrament of Baptism had obtained health of body and salvation of soul, a law was issued by him which for the first time permitted that everywhere in the world Christians might build churches. Not satisfied to establish this edict, the prince wanted to give an example and inaugurate the holy labors. Thus in his own Lateran palace, he dedicated a church to the Saviour, and founded the attached baptistry under the name of Saint John the Baptist, in the place where he himself, baptized by Saint Sylvester, had been cured of leprosy. It is this church which the Pontiff consecrated in the fifth of the ides of November; and we celebrate the commemoration on that day, when for the first time in Rome a church was thus publicly consecrated, and where a painting of the Saviour was visible on the wall before the eyes of the Roman people.

When the Lateran Church was partially ruined by fires, enemy invasions, and earthquakes, it was always rebuilt with great zeal by the Sovereign Pontiffs. In 1726, after one such restoration, Pope Benedict XIII consecrated it anew and assigned the commemoration of that event to the present day. The church was afterwards enlarged and beautified by Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII.

(L’Année liturgique (Mame et Fils: Tours, 1919), The Time after Pentecost, VI, Vol. 15. Translation O.D.M.)

All Souls

All SoulsThe Novus Ordo liturgy observed All Souls day yesterday; today the Extraordinary Form observed the commemoration today.

“All Souls Day focuses our attention on the process of purgation in preparation for the soul’s entrance into the presence of God. Not many experience a perfectly prepared entrance into heaven. The journey of life can be messy. A period of cleansing is not be be unexpected. The Church has called this process Purgatory. Since there is no time in eternity the period of purgation is a mystery. This image shows the loving mercy of God being ministered to the souls in Purgatory by an angel. We pray for all those who have died especially in the past year that they may soon see the Face of God.” (Dom J. King, OSB)

Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord…

The Lord plants the vineyard

“Throughout the Scriptures the Lord continually likens human souls to vines. He says for instance: ‘My beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hillside’, and again: ‘I planted a vineyard and put a hedge around it’. Clearly it is human souls that he calls his vineyard, and the hedge he has put around them is the security of his commandments and the protection of the angels, for ‘the angels of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him’. Moreover, by establishing in the church apostles in the first place, prophets in the second, and teachers in the third, he has surrounded us as though by a firmly planted palisade. In addition, the Lord has raised our thoughts to heaven by the examples of saints of past ages. He has kept them from sinking to the earth where they would deserve to be trampled on, and he wills that the bonds of love, like the tendrils of a vine, should attach us to our neighbors and make us rest on them, so that always climbing upward like vines growing on trees, we may reach the loftiest heights.”

A reflection from St. Basil for the 27th Sunday through the year
Mt 21:33-43

Christ’s victory in the Cross

Crucifixion Georges RouaultIn the Syriac Christian tradition the Cross of Jesus is known as a bridge that connects us to new life and the promise, the glory of the kingdom. The Lord Himself is the gate that let’s us into our eternal home. The gate is also the saving wood of his cross. This is part of His I AM –the personal mission given to Him by God the Father. Those who live and pray in the Syriac theological tradition (the Syriac Church or the Maronite Church) know that after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross the Church’s Liturgy counts the Sundays in this manner: “3rd Sunday after the Holy Cross.” It is an acknowledgement of this pivotal feast of the Paschal Mystery. The Church keeps us focussed on the beauty and victory of the Cross of Jesus. What does divine revelation and the teaching of the Fathers reveal to us? The Victorious and Life-giving sacrifice of the Cross “is the sign of all that is good, coming from Christ the Lord: the gospel, the sacraments, new life, his shield of protection, as well as the sign of his final victory.”

The sainted deacon and hymn-writer Saint Ephrem (fourth century) speaks of “the Cross as the new Tree of Life, mystically describes the branches of the Tree of the Cross as the arms of a mother who picks-up her children to nourish them with the fruits – the sacraments – from the bosom of her branches. Christ himself, through his saving cross has become for us this Tree of Life; the Luminous Sign of our victory over death through the life-giving graces of the Father’s nurturing Spirit.”

Questioning God?

The Gospel for the 25th Sunday through the Church Year has us meditating on Matthew 20:1-16. You know the Gospel narrative where the last worker gets the same wage as those who toiled all day; some are angry at the landowner –the analogy is that we are really angry at God’s generosity.  The logic of God is not the logic of man. Too often we say that we want to be like God, to act like Jesus, be as merciful as our Heavenly Father. I don’t doubt this is a true desire of our heart but haven’t really seen sustained examples of putting words into action. I do believe, however, many strive and honestly wrestle with the idea we need and desire God’s uncompromising and generosity and look for ways to employ Divine Revelation: this is the journey of faith: we in process of becoming what we are meant to be by the Blessed Trinity.

A patristic reflection from St. Gregory the Great: “The householder said to them, ‘I wish to give to this last one as I give even to you.’ And since the obtaining of his kingdom comes from his goodwill, he properly adds, ‘Or am I not allowed to do what I wish?’ It is always foolish to question the goodness of God. There might have been reason for loud complaint if he did not give what he owed but not if he gives what he does not owe.”

One of the monks at St Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer, MA) wrote the following of the Gospel:

It is that in the final scene of today’s Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.

How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.

Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have received? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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