Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran – 9 November
The Papal Archbasilica of St John in Lateran (Italian: Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano), commonly known as St John Lateran Archbasilica, St John Lateran Basilica, St John Lateran, or simply the Lateran Basilica, is the cathedral church of Rome, Italy and therefore houses the cathedra, or ecclesiastical seat, of the Roman Pontiff.
It is the oldest of and has precedence among the four papal major basilicas, all of which are in Rome, because it is the oldest church in the West and houses the cathedra of the Roman Pontiff. It has the title of ecumenical mother church of the Roman Catholic faithful.
The current archpriest is Angelo De Donatis, Cardinal Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome. The President of the French Republic, currently Emmanuel Macron, is ex officio the “first and only honorary canon” of the archbasilica, a title that the heads of state of France have possessed since King Henry IV.
The large Latin inscription on the façade reads: Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang; which is a highly abbreviated inscription which translates to: “Pope Clement XII, in the fifth year [of his Pontificate], dedicated this building to Christ the Saviour, in honour of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist”. The inscription indicates, that the archbasilica was originally dedicated to Christ the Saviour and, centuries later, co-dedicated to St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist. As the Cathedral of the Pope qua Bishop of Rome, it ranks superior to all other churches of the Roman Catholic Church, including St Peter’s Basilica and therefore it alone is titled “Archbasilica” among all other basilicas.
The archbasilica is sited in the City of Rome, outside and distanced from Vatican City proper, which is approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) to its northwest, although the archbasilica and its adjoining edifices have extraterritorial status from Italy as one of the properties of the Holy See, subject to the sovereignty of the latter, pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929 with Italy under Benito Mussolini.
This feast commemorates the Dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran which, by a tradition dating to the 12th century, is said to have taken place on this day. It was dedicated as the first Catholic basilica in Rome, by Pope Sylvester in 324. Until the 15th century, the Lateran was the residence of the popes. It is the episcopal seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope and until the 15th century, it was also his residence. At first, the feast was kept only in the City of Rome but the, in honour of the Basilica, which is called the “Mother and Head of all Churches of the City and the World” (omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput) it was extended to the whole of the Roman Rite as a sign of unity and respect towards the Holy See of Peter, the Holy Father and the Magisterium, which, as St Ignatius of Antioch wrote, presides over the whole assembly of charity.
In the year 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine declared the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to Christians. Constantine himself donated the palace of the Lateran, a portion of his wife’s dowry, to the Church for its basilica. The Lateran is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the pope, and, as such, it ranks as the “mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world.”
The pope celebrates the Holy Thursday liturgy at Saint John Lateran, surrounded by towering statues of the twelve Apostles bearing the instrument of their martyrdom. Above its towering 18th century façade can be seen the image of Christ Triumphant, surrounded by saints and doctors.
We are all members of our own local church, work for he universal kingdom of Christ, are also members of this “mother-church” in Rome.
The dedication of churches can be traced back to the Jewish practice of dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem to God. Once the Temple had been dedicated, there was a feast each year to celebrate the anniversary of the dedication. This feast was celebrated not only in Jerusalem but in every synagogue as well. Similarly, every Western Catholic church observes the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
This feast helps us move beyond our narrow geographical confines to a sense of the universal Church.
“Every place set aside for divine worship is a sign of that spiritual temple, which is the Church, made up of living stones: of the faithful united by the one faith, of the participation in the sacraments and of the bond of charity. The Saints, in particular, are precious stones of that spiritual temple”… Saint Pope John Paul II.