St. John Lateran dates back to Constantine, and the Church beyond Rome has celebrated its dedication since 1565.
There is one Christ the Lord and His Church,
a holy possession,
is throughout the world.
—St. Leander of Seville
The anniversary of the dedication of the Roman Basilica of St. John Lateran, which was built by the Emperor Constantine in the year 324, has been observed on this day since the 12th century. Although this feast, which celebrates the church Pope Clement XII called “the Mother and Head of all the churches in the City and the world,” was once limited to the city of Rome, the celebration was extended to the whole Latin Rite Church in 1565.
Originally dedicated to the Most Holy Redeemer, the church’s title (i.e. its name) came to include the names of both Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. The addition of the name “Lateran” comes from the fact that the basilica stands on the site of an ancient Roman palace, once owned by the Laterini family. Given all of these historical developments, the full title of the church is Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano: The Church of the Most Holy Savior and St. John the Baptist and [St. John] the Evangelist in the Lateran. Because the Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome and the principal church of the Holy Father, our celebration of this feast reminds us that each local church is ultimately tied to the mother-church of Rome.
As members of a local church, we should look beyond the limits of geography, striving to have a dynamic sense of the universality of the Church with the pope as the pastor of the entire Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, 22).
As St. Caesarius of Arles said,
“Although the universal Church of God is constituted of distinct orders of members, still, in spite of the many parts of its holy body, the Church subsists in an integral whole, just as the Apostle says, ‘We are all one in Christ,’ nor is anyone separated from the office of another in such a way as that the lower group has no connection with the head” (Sermon 229).
The physical building of a church, whether it is a great basilica or a small mountain chapel, is a visible sign of the presence of the Church in the world. These structures are a testament to the faith of the local community and they provide a gathering place where the most important moments in the life of the Church take place—the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments and the proclamation of God’s Word. Church buildings also provide a place of refuge for prayer and reflection because, wherever we may be, these buildings are our home.
“Catholic” means “universal” and the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran is a truly catholic celebration because it reminds us that our home in the Church, which is the Body of Christ, is a place of welcome and refuge for all the peoples of the world
Prayer for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome +
O God, who from living and chosen stones
prepare an eternal dwelling for your majesty,
increase in your Church the spirit of grace you have bestowed,
so that by new growth your faithful people
may build up the heavenly Jerusalem.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)