Last updated on November 15, 2020
The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
November 9 is the dedication of the basilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the pope as Bishop of Rome.
When I cycled to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran Basilica) for the Vigil Service for Mother Teresa’s canonization Sept 2, 2016, I felt I a profound sense of being home, but I needed a memory refresh on the history of one of the most beautiful churches in Rome. Far beyond it’s grandeur is its visual representation of the universal church, the mother church of Rome and the world.
Here’s all you need:
- The current site was once occupied by the Laterani family, who served as administrators for various emperors. One of them was accused of conspiracy by Nero who promptly stripped them of their property.
- The Lateran Palace, as it was known, fell into the hands of Constantine I who ruled between 306 and 307. He gave it to the Bishop of Rome, Miltiades.
- Following the synod of Bishops in 313 the palace became Sylvester I’s residence, later becoming the Cathedral of Rome, and the home of the Popes until 1309 when Pope Clement V moved the Papacy to Avignon, France.
- St John is in the name because the Basilica was dedicated to St John the Baptist in the 10th century, and to St. John the Evangelist in the 12th century. They are co-patrons, but Christ is the primary one and head.
- The Lateran Basilica is the mother and head of all the churches of the world and symbolizes the living church. Pope Benedict made this point for the 2008 feast:
The Word of God during this Solemnity recalls an essential truth: the stone temple is the symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, that the Apostles Peter and Paul had, in their Letters, already understood as a “spiritual building”, constructed by God with the “living stones” that are the Christians, upon the one foundation that is Jesus Christ, who is in turn compared to the “cornerstone” (cf. 1 Cor 3: 9-11, 16-17; 1 Pt 2: 4-8; Eph 2: 20-22).
Cycling to the Vigil prayers for Mother
As I cycled from Santa Maria in Aracoeli, past the Colosseum, and through some of the narrow side streets, the Basilica’s beauty overwhelmed me. While my travels through the eternal city had me bathing in the Church’s history, constantly feeling the tangible hand of our Lord through time, my heart stopped at the sight of this Basilica, because its link to the Apostles and with St. Peter’s Basilica where I felt Our Mother Mary take me home from my arrival in Rome.
I felt more joy when I noticed, not too far away, the blue and white saris of the Missionaries of Charity moving toward the entrance. I would be gathering with them for a stunning, tear-filled prayer vigil, complete with adoration, rosary, and hymns, dedicated to Mother Teresa who heard Jesus asking her in 1946, “Come be my light.” Responding to Jesus’ thirst for souls she touched him, held him, and cared for him in the “distressing disguise” of the poorest of the poor, first in Calcutta’s streets, then throughout the world.
Inside, the Basilica covered me with its splendour, majesty, and tangible presence of Christ’s guiding hand from the Apostolic beginnings of the Church. I clutched a letter Mother Teresa wrote to me in 1980. Tears flowed as I watched the beautiful image of her carried high in procession to launch the Vigil.
Her words were sprinkled throughout the service and read by her sisters:
“ Love God and the poor…beginning with your own family. Do small things with great love.. Pray together-stay together, not just in one house, but in taking time to be present to each other…to almighty God it’s not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving. Maybe just a little flower to your old father or mother, maybe just arrange the bed a little better, maybe just a present to receive the husband when he comes back from work with a big smile…Jesus did not say, “Love the whole world.” But He said:” Love one another.”
“The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”
“ Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as you loved Him in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
John Paul II and Mother Teresa
Pope John Paul II walked through the ’70s to ’90s with Mother Teresa almost side by side. In his homily, November 12, 1978, in the Lateran Basilica he spoke:
O Eternal City, O dear Brothers and Sisters, O Roman citizens! Your new Bishop wishes above all that we should remain in Christ’s love, and that this love should always be stronger than our weaknesses.”
Resting on my bike, ready to leave San Giovanni in Laterano, I looked up at the Basilica’s towering facade. The image of Christ Triumphant surrounded by the Church’s saints and doctors held my mind and heart in a silent, prayerful, and confident gaze. I knew that evil and sin has been conquered. I will cling to Him alone.