10 - 14 minutes readNovember 9 – Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Savior ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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November 9 – Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Savior

In the fourth century of our era, the cessation of persecution seemed to give the world a foretaste of its future entrance into eternal peace. “Glory to the Almighty! Glory to the Redeemer of our souls!” wrote Eusebius at the opening of the tenth and last book of his History. Himself a witness of the triumph, he describes the admirable spectacle everywhere displayed by the dedication of the new sanctuaries. In city after city the Bishops assembled, and crowds flocked together. From nation to nation, the goodwill of mutual charity, of common faith, and of recollected joy, so harmonized all hearts that the unity of Christ’s body was clearly manifested in these multitudes animated by the same inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies: the living city of the living God, where all, whatever their age or sex, praise together the Author of all good things. How solemn were then the rites of the Church! The complete perfection therein displayed by the Pontiffs, the enthusiasm of the psalmody, the inspired readings, the celebration of the ineffable Mysteries, formed a divine pageantry!

Constantine had placed the imperial treasure at the disposal of the Bishops; and he himself stimulated their zeal for what he called in his edicts the work of the churches. Rome, the place of his victory by the Cross, the capital of the now Christian world, was the first to benefit by the prince’s munificence. In a series of dedications to the glory of the holy Apostles and Martyrs, Sylvester, the Pontiff of peace, took possession of the eternal city in the name of the true God.

Today is the birthday of the mother and mistress of churches, called “of our Savior, Aula Dei (God’s palace), the golden Basilica;” it is a new Sinai, whence the apostolic oracles and so many Councils have made known to the world the law of salvation. No wonder this feast is celebrated by the whole world.

Although the Popes for centuries have ceased to dwell in the Lateran palace, the Basilica still holds the first rank. It is as true now as it was in the time of St. Peter Damian, to say that “as our Savior is the Head of the elect, so the church which bears his name is the head of all churches; those of St. Peter and St. Paul, on its right and left, are the two arms which this sovereign and universal church embraces the whole earth, saving all those who desire salvation, cherishing and protecting them in its maternal bosom.” And St. Peter Damian applied conjointly to our Savior and his Basilica the words of the prophet Zacharias: Behold a Man, the Orient is his name: and under him shall he spring up, and shall build a temple to the Lord. Yea, he shall build a temple to the Lord: and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit, and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne.

It is still at the Lateran Basilica that the Roman Pontiffs take official possession of their See. There each year, in the name of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, the episcopal functions are performed, viz: the blessing of the Holy Oils on Maundy Thursday, and on Holy Saturday the blessing of the Font, solemn Baptism and Confirmation, and the general Ordination. Could the great poet of the age of triumph, Prudentius, return to life in these our days, he might still say: “The Roman people hasten in eager crowds to the Lateran, whence they return marked with the sacred sign, with the royal chrism. And we are yet to doubt that Rome is consecrated to thee, O Christ!”

Let us now read the liturgical history of this day.

Ritus quos in consecrandis ecclesiis et altaribus Romana servat Ecclesia, beatus Silvester Papa primus instituit. Nam etsi jam ab Apostolorum tempore loca fuerunt Deo dicata, quæ ab quibusdam Oratoria, ab aliis Ecclesiæ dicebantur, ubi collectæ fiebant per unam sabbati, et christianus populus orare, Dei virbum audire, et Eucharistiam sumere solitus erat: non tamen illa adeo solemni ritu consecrabantur, nec in eis adhuc in titulum erectum erat altare, quod chrismate delibutum, Domini nostri Jesu Christi, qui altare, hostia et sacerdos noster est, figuram exprimeret. The rites observed by the Roman Church in consecrating churches and altars were instituted by the blessed Pope Sylvester. For although from apostolic times churches were dedicated to God, and called by some oratories, by others churches; and in them the Christian people assembled on the first day of the week, and were wont there to pray, to hear the word of God, and to receive the Holy Eucharist; yet hitherto they were never so solemnly consecrated, nor was an altar erected in them, anointed with chrism, to represent and signify our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our altar, our victim, and our priest.
Sed ubi Constantinus imperator per baptismi sacramentum sanitatem salutemque consecutus est, tum primum lege ab eo lata concessum est toto orbe terrarum, Christiani ut ecclesias ædificarent: quos ille non solum edicto, sed etiam exemplo ad sacram ædificationem est cohortatus. Nam et in suo Lateranensi palatio ecclesiam Salvatori dedicavit, et ei continentem basilicam nomine sancti Joannis Baptistæ condidit, eo loco quo ipse, baptizatus a sancto Silvestro, a lepra mundatus est: quam idem Pontifex consecravit quinto idus novembris: cujus consecrationis memoria celebratur hodierno die, quo primum Romæ publice ecclesia consecrata est, et imago Salvatoris in pariete depicta populo romano apparuit. But when the emperor Constantine had received health of body and soul by the Sacrament of Baptism, he promulgated a law to the whole world, allowing the Christians to build churches; and he encouraged them in this work by his own example as well as by this edict: Thus, in his Lateran palace he dedicated a church to our Savior; and founded the adjoining baptistery in honor of St. John Baptist, on the very spot where he himself had been baptized by St. Sylvester and cleansed from his leprosy. The Pontiff consecrated it on the fifth of the Ides of November; and we celebrate the memory thereof on this same day, whereon for the first time a church was publicly dedicated in Rome, and there appeared before the eyes of the Roman people an image of our Savior depicted on the wall.

Quod si beatus Silvester postea in consecratione altaris Principis Apostolorum decrevit, ut deinceps nisi ex lapide altaria non ædificarentur, tamen basilicæ Lateranensis altare fuit e ligno erectum: quod mirum non est. Nam cum a sancto Petro usque ad Silvestrum, propter persecutiones, Pontifices certo loco consistere non possent: quocumque eos necessitas compulisset, sive in cryptas, sive in cœmetaria, sive in ædes piorum, super illo altari ligneo ad arcæ similitudinem concavo, sacra faciebant. Quo altari sanctus Silvester, reddita Ecclesiæ pace, honoris causa Principis Apostolurum, qui in illo sacraficasse dicitur, et reliquorum Pontificum, qui usque ad id tempus ad mysteria conficienda eo usi fuerant, in Lateranensi prima ecclesia collacato, sancivit ne quisquam in eo, præter Romanum Pontificem, Missam deincepts celebraret. Eamdem ecclesiam incendiis, vastationibus, terræ insuper motibus disjectam eversamque, ac secula Summorum Pontificum cura reparatam, nova postmodum molitione restitutam, Benedictus decimus tertius Pontifex Maximus Ordinis Prædicatorum, die vigesima octava aprilis anni millesimi septingentesimi vigesimi sexti, ritu solemni consecravit, ejusque celebritatis memoriam hac die recolendam statuit. Quod autem Pius nonus perficiendum consuerat, Leo decimus tertius, cellam maximam, vetustate fatiscentem, ingenti molitione producendam laxandamque curavit, vetus musivum, multis jam antea partibus instauratum, ad antiquum exemplar restitui et in novam absidem, opere cultuque magnifico exornatam, transferri, aulam transversam laqueari et contignatione refectic exploriri jussit, anno millesimo octingentesimo octuagesimo quarto, sacrario, æde canonicorum perpetuaque ad Baptisterium Constantinianum porticu adjectic. Although later on, when consecrating the altar of the Prince of the Apostles, blessed Sylvester decreed that thenceforward all altars should be built of stone; yet the altar of the Lateran Basilica was of wood. This however is not surprising. For, from the time of St. Peter down to Sylvester, persecution prevented the Pontiffs from having any fixed abode; so that they offered the holy Sacrifice either in crypts of cemeteries, or in the houses of the faithful, as necessity compelled them, upon the said wooden altar, which was hollow like a chest. When peace was granted to the Church, Sylvester placed this altar in the first church, the Lateran; and in honor of the Prince of the Apostles, who is said to have offered the holy Sacrifice upon it, and of the other Pontiffs who had used it up to that time, he decreed that no one should celebrate Mass upon it except the Roman Pontiff. This church having been injured and half ruined in consequence of fires, hostile invasions, and earthquakes, was several times repaired by the care of the Popes. After a new restoration, Pope Benedict XIII, a Dominican, solemnly consecrated it, on the twenty-eight day of April in the year 1726, and ordered the commemoration thereof to be celebrated on this present day. The great works undertaken by Pius IX have been happily completed by Leo XIII, to wit: the principal apse, which was threatening to fall through age, has been very much enlarged; the ancient mosaic, already partially restored at different times, has been reconstructed on the old model, and transferred to the new apse, which is handsomely and richly decorated; the roof and woodwork of the transepts have been renewed and ornamented. Moreover a sacristy and a house for the Canons have been added, as well as a portico connecting these buildings with Constantine’s baptistery. The whole work was completed in the year 1884.

So many details might seem superfluous to the profane. But just as the Pope is to all of us our first and our own Pastor, so his church of the Lateran is our own church; whatever concerns it cannot, or at least should not, be a matter of indifference to the faithful. Let us take our inspirations regarding it from the following beautiful formulae, given us by the Roman Pontifical in the dedication ceremony. To no church could they be better applied than to this.

Antiphons and Responsories
℟. Fundata est domus Domini super viticem montium, et exaltata est super omnes colles, et venient ad eam omnes gentes. * Et dicent: Gloria tibi, Domine. ℟. The house of the Lord is founded upon the summit of mountains, and raised up above all hills, and all nations shall come to her. * And they shall say: Glory be to thee, O Lord.
℣. Venientes antem venient cum exsultatione, portantes manipulos suos. * Et dicent. ℣. Coming they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves. * And they shall say:
℟. Tu Domine universorum, qui nullam habes indigentiam, voluisti templum tuum fieri in nobis. * Conserva domum istam immaculatam in æternum, Domine. ℟. Thou, O Lord of all things, who hast no need, hast willed that this thy temple should be in the midst of us. * Preserve this house spotless forever, O Lord.
℣. Tu elegisti, Domine, domum istam ad invocandum nomen tuum in ea; ut esset domus orationis, et obsecrationis populo tuo. * Conserva. ℣. Thou, O Lord, hast chosen this house, that thy name may be invoked in it; that it may be a house of prayer and supplication for thy people. * Preserve.
Ant. Pax æterna ab Æterno huic domui. Pax perennis, Verbum Patris, sit pax huic domui. Pacem pius Consolator huic præstet domui. Ant. Peace eternal from the Eternal be to this house! May the unending Peace, the Word of the Father, be peace to this house! Peace may the loving Consoler grant unto this house!
Ant. O quam metuendus est locus iste: vere non est hic aliud, nisi domus Dei, et porta cœli. Ant. Oh how awful is this place: truly it is nought else but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.
Ant. Hæc est domus Domini firmiter ædificata: bene fundata est supra firmam petram. Ant. This is the house of the Lord, strongly built: it is firmly founded on the solid rock.
Ant. Vidit Jacob scalam, summitas ejus cœlos tangebat, et descendentes Angelos, et dixit: Vere locus iste sanctus est. Ant. Jacob beheld a ladder, the top whereof touched the heavens; and Angels coming down; and he said: Truly this place is holy.
℟. Hæc est Jerusalem civitas illa magna cœlestis, ornata tamquam sponsa Agni. * Quoniam tabernaculum facta est. Alleluia. ℟. This is Jerusalem, the great and heavenly city, adorned as the Bride of the Lamb. * For she has become the true tabernacle. Alleluia.
℣. Portæ ejus non claudentur per diem, nox enim non erit in ea. * Quoniam. ℣. Her gates shall not be closed by day, and there shall be no night in her. * For she has become.
℟. Plateæ tuæ, Jerusalem, sternentur auro mundo, Alleluia, et cantabitur in te canticum lætitiæ, Alleluia. * Et per omnes vicos tuos dicetur ab universis, Alleluia, Alleluia. ℟. Thy streets, O Jerusalem, shall be paved with pure gold, Alleluia, and there shall be sung in thee the canticle of joy, Alleluia. * And all along thy streets every one shall say: Alleluia, Alleluia.
℣. Luce splendida fulgebis: et omnes fines terræ adorabunt te. * Et per omnes. ℣. Thou shalt shine with a glorious light; and all the ends of the earth shall worship thee. * And all along.
Ant. Circumdate Sion, et complectimini eam, narrate in turribus ejus. Ant. Surround Sion and encompass her, tell ye her wonders in her towers.
℣. Magnus Dominus et laudabilis nimis, in civitate Dei nostri, in monte sancto ejus. ℣. Great is the Lord and exceedingly to be praised, in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.
℟. Induit te Dominus tunica jucunditatis, et imposuit tibi coronam. * Et ornavit te ornamentis sanctis. ℟. The Lord hath clad thee with a garment of joy, and hath set a crown on thy head. * And he hath adorned thee with holy ornaments.
℣. Luce splendida fulgebis, et omnes fines terræ adorabunt coram te. * Et ornavit te. ℣. Thou shalt shine with a glorious light, and all the ends of the earth shall worship before thee. * And he hath adorned.
℟. Nationes ex longinquo ad te venient, et munera deferentes adorabunt Dominum; et terram tuam in sanctificatione habebunt, et nomen magnum invocabunt in te. * Et ornavit. ℟. Nations from afar shall come to thee, and bringing gifts shall adore the Lord; and they shall esteem thy land as holy, and shall call upon the great name in thee. * And he hath adorned.
℣. Benedicti erunt, qui te ædificaverunt; tu autem lætaberis in filiis tuis, quoniam omnes benedicentur et congregabuntur ad Dominum. * Et ornavit te. ℣. Blessed shall they be that build thee up; but thou shalt rejoice in thy children, because they shall all be blessed, and shall be gathered together to the Lord. * and he hath adorned.

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui per Filium tuum, angularem scilicet lapidem, duos ex diverso venientes, ex circumcisione et præputio parietes, duosque greges ovium sub uno eodemque pastore unisti; da famulis tuis per hæc nostræ devotionis officia, indissolubile vinculum charitatis, ut nulla divisione mentium, nullaque perversitatis varietate sequestrentur, quos sub unius regimine pastoris unus grex continet, uniusque te custode ovilis septa concludunt. Per Dominum. O Almighty, eternal God, who through thy Son, the Corner-stone, hast joined the two walls coming from opposite directions, to wit, from the circumcision and the uncircumcision, and hast united the two flocks of sheep under the one same pastor; give to thy servants, through these functions of our devotion, the indissoluble bond of charity, so that no division of opinions, no sort of perverse disagreement, may separate those, who are all one flock under the guidance of one shepherd, and are enclosed in one fold under thy protection. Through the same Lord.

On this day is commemorated the great martyr Theodore of Amasea, a conscript soldier, who was burnt alive. His praises have been celebrated by St. Gregory of Nyssa; he is honored in Rome at the foot of the Palatine, and had three churches dedicated to his name in Constantinople. Let us say with the Latin Church:

Deus, qui nos beati Theodori Martyris tui confessione gloriosa circumdas et protegis: præsta nobis ex ejus imitatione proficere, et oratione fulciri. Per Dominum. O God, who dost encompass and protect us by the glorious confession of blessed Theodore thy Martyr; grant us by his example to improve, and by his prayer to be supported. Through our Lord.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)