Why do we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran?

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The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church is filled with feasts of the saints and commemorations of events in the life of Christ. But there are also occasional feasts that could do with a word or two of explanation. This weekend we celebrate one of those feasts: the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

In every diocese in the world, the anniversary of the dedication of their cathedral is observed as a local feast-day, usually with a Mass at the cathedral offered for the people of the diocese. Because the cathedral is the spiritual headquarters of the local church, its dedication is a special occasion.

The Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome, holds a special place in the memory of the Church. St. John Lateran was first dedicated by Pope Sylvester I, in the year 324. When centuries of persecution ended with Constantine's 313 edict granting Christians the right to publically practice their faith, St. John Lateran became the first basilica where Christians were able to worship freely in public. It is the oldest church in the West. It is the episcopal seat of the pope as the bishop of Rome.

Most people presume that St. Peter's Basilica is the cathedral church of Rome, but that honor actually belongs to St.John Lateran.

Throughout its long history, St. John Lateran has hosted five ecumenical councils. The Baldachino over the main altar is said to contain relics of the Apostles Peter and Paul. And the nave of the church is lined with exquisite marble statues of the apostles,by the Italian master Bernini.

We have a feast day honoring the dedication of this Roman church because of the historical and spiritual importance the basilica holds for the entire Church.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015