Tag Archives: Dedication of St John Lateran

Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, and not Saint Peter’s Basilica as many would think. The Liturgy given to us is the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica because it is the oldest and highest ranking of the four major basilicas in Rome. The Lateran is the oldest church in the West, constructed in the era of the Emperor Constantine and consecrated by Pope Sylvester in AD 324.

What do we celebrate with this feast? We don’t celebrate a building as magnificent as it is; we don’t honor the craftsmanship of the building as important and relevant as this idea is because of beauty and harmony in themselves. But, we do recognize as Pope Benedict XVI said on this feast in 2008: “The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.” Hence, we honor the fact that Jesus Christ through his Apostles and disciples founded a church for our salvation and the proper teaching of the Christian Gospel.

Again Benedict said: “God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love” (November 9, 2008).

A feast with a universal observance, the Church tells us that the archbasilica, the ecclesiastical mother church, called “the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world” (omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput).

Saint Bernard, Sermon for the Dedication of a Church gives a particular insight into what we do liturgically:

Today’s feast, brothers, ought to be all the more devout as it is more personal. For other celebrations we have in common with other ecclesiastical communities, but this one is proper to us, so that if we do not celebrate it nobody will. It is ours because it concerns our church; ours because we ourselves are its theme. You are surprised and even embarrassed, perhaps, at celebrating a feast for yourselves. But do not be like horses and mules that have no understanding. Your souls are holy because of the Spirit of God dwelling in you; your bodies are holy because of your souls and this building is holy because of your bodies. 

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Lateran BasilicaWe liturgically recall the dedication of the The Church of the Most Holy Saviour, Rome, is the cathedral church of Western Christianity. It is the Pope’s proper church. Dom Prosper Granger’s word remind us of the importance of this center, this home for all Christians. Honoring this church reminds us that we are an incarnational religion, that Christ Jesus has entered into our history, established a holy city –the Church– and has left us the sacraments mediated through the proclamation of the Gospel, the priesthood and ecclesial life. The church is not merely a building but a vital community of faith, truth and peace. It is the enfleshment of Beauty on earth.

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, by Dom Prosper Guéranger (Mame et Fils: Tours, 1919), The Time after Pentecost, VI, Vol. 15. Translation O.D.M.

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.)

Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran

Lateran Basilica.JPGJerusalem, city of God, you will shine with the light of God’s splendor; all people on earth will pay you homage. Nations will come from afar, bearing gifts for the King of Heaven; in you they will worship the Lord. (the lamp-lighting antiphon from the Dedication of a Church)

At first blush some people will ask, why is the Church celebrating the dedication of a church building. The answer is, she’s not. Some history is crucial in understanding today’s liturgical observance.

The cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is Saint John Lateran, not Saint Peter’s Basilica. And by extension, the Lateran basilica is the head of all churches in the world. The confusion between the Lateran and Vatican basilicas is a common and understandable mistake since Saint Peter’s is the place where the bones of Saint Peter are buried and it’s the place where the Pope most often celebrates ecclesial events. The Lateran was a church built by the Emperor Constantine and consecrated in AD 324 by Pope Sylvester. Notice that the church was consecrated 12 short years following the Edict of Milan.
The feast honoring the role of the basilica church in Christendom, indeed, the entire world at one time, is understood in the aphorism: omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput (the mother and head of all churches of Rome and the world). The Lateran is the place that symbolizes the ministry of bishop as teacher, servant and sanctifier; it’s the place where charity is most identifiable.
Visitatio jpgPope Benedict said it well in his 2008 Angelus Address for this feast: “Dear Friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-4). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the ‘house of God,’ living temple of love.”

Dedication of the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

Lateran Basiclica with St Francis.jpgO God, who out of living and chosen stones builds up an everlasting dwelling-place for Thy majesty: help Thy people, who humbly pray to Thee, and whatever material room Thy Church may set apart for Thy worship, let it bring also spiritual increase.

(Post-Communion prayer)
We celebrate the dedication of this Church as the seat of the Bishop of Rome from which all other pastoral authority is derived. We honor the anniversary of a church’s dedication because a church gives full voice to the sacred Liturgy. The feast of the dedication gives full acceptance and capacity to live the ancient theological principle, legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (the law of belief given through the law of prayer, or even more of short-hand, the law of prayer is the law of belief).

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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