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.
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
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.