Dedication of the Lateran Basilica


For the next two Sundays, the colour of vestments and hangings at Mass will not be the green of ordinary time that you would expect to see at this time of the year. For Sunday 2nd November the liturgical colour is violet because it the feast of All Souls. Next week it will be white, because on 9th November the Church celebrates the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. The latter has precedence over the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time, which would otherwise be celebrated next Sunday, because it is regarded as a feast of the Lord.

The origin of the feast goes back a long way. In the year 313, the ban on Christianity was lifted by the Emperor Constantine who had recently converted from paganism to Christianity. Constantine gave the palace of the Laterani, which belonged to his wife Fausta, to the Pope as his private residence. A basilica was built beside the palace, and Pope Sylvester dedicated it to the Holy Saviour on November 9th 324.

Over the centuries, the church has been subjected to earthquake and destructive fire and has constantly been under reconstruction and restoration. Despite these changes, the basilica still bears the floor plans of the original church and the baptistery.

The baptistery, which had existed on the site before the basilica, was dedicated to John the Baptist. St John the Evangelist was also associated with the basilica. This is why the basilica is often referred to as 'St John Lateran'. It is one of the four major basilicas in Rome.

The palace of the Lateran served as the residence of the Bishop of Rome continuously until 1304 when safety concerns forced Benedict XI to move to Avignon. Even after the general offices of the church were transferred to the Vatican in the mid-1400s, the Lateran basilica remained as the Cathedral church of the pope. Most Catholics would consider St Peter’s to be ‘the pope’s church’, but St John Lateran is the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome presides.

In every diocese, the cathedral is the symbol of the unity of the local church gathered around its bishop, and through him, its unity with other local churches throughout the world. For this reason, the anniversary of the dedication of its cathedral is celebrated as a solemn feast day in the diocese.

Because the bishop of Rome, the pope, has a universal ministry of charity and unity, his cathedral, the Lateran, is the mother church for the whole world. Therefore, when we celebrate the feast of the Lateran Cathedral, we celebrate the Lord who brought the Church into being in order to gather together in unity all God's daughters and sons, wherever they may be.

The second reading for the feast, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, expresses this well.
“Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”


Elizabeth Harrington