Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul

In both the ancient and the modern Roman calendar, today we observe the Dedication of the Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul in Rome. Many years ago, I recall someone saying that a visit to Rome could be trying to the faith of some. Speaking personally, I find it quite the opposite. In the face of the great Roman basilicas, in the presence of the catacombs, surrounded as well by the remnants of Imperial Rome, one comes face to faith not only with remnants of classical civilization, but the meeting of classical civilization with Christendom; one comes further into contact with the Rome of the middle ages, the renaissance, the baroque, the 19th century and the modern era.

Recently we marked the dedication of the Lateran archbasilica. Today we mark the dedication of the basilicas which house the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I thought we would let Dom Gueranger speak to us from his Liturgical Year.


(Because the world under thy conduct has risen triumphant to the very heavens, Constantine the conqueror has built this temple in thy honour)

This inscription stood in letters of gold over the triumphal arch in the ancient Vatican basilica. Never did the Roman genius frame a more magnificent utterance in so few words; never did the greatness of Simon Bar-Jona appear to such advantage on the seven hills. In 1506 the great arch that had looked down upon twelve centuries of prostrate pilgrims fell from old age, and the beautiful inscription perished. But Michael Angelo's lofty dome points out to the city and the world the spot where sleeps the Galilean fisherman, the successor of the Caesars, the Vicar of Christ, the ruler of the destinies of Rome.

The second glory of the eternal city is the tomb of St. Paul on the Ostian Way. Unlike that of St. Peter, which lies deep down in the Vatican crypt, this tomb is raised to the level of the floor by massive masonry, on which rests the great sarcophagus...

Thus Christian Rome is protected on the north and south by these two citadels. Let us enter into the sentiments of our fathers, when they said of this privileged city: 'Peter the doorkeeper sets his holy dwelling at the entrance: who can deny that this city is like heaven? At the other extremity, Paul from his temple guards the walls; Rome lies between the two: here then God dwelleth.' (Inscription on the gate of Rome which was called in the sixth century the gate of St. Peter.)


In the following lessons the Roman Church gives us her traditions concerning the two basilicas whose dedication feast we are celebrating.

Among the holy places venerated of old by the Christians, those were the most honoured and most frequented in which the bodies of the saints were preserved, or some relic or memorial of the martyrs. Chief among these holy places has ever been that part of the Vatican hill which was called the Confession of St. Peter. Christians from all parts of the world flocked thither, as to the rock of the faith and the foundation of the Church, and honoured with the greatest reverence and piety the spot hallowed by the holy sepulchre of the prince of the apostles.

Hither on the octave day of his baptism came the emperor Constantine the Great; and taking off his diadem, he prostrated on the ground with many tears. Then taking a hoe and mattack, he broke up the earth of which twelve basketfuls were taken away in honour of the twelve apostles; and on the site thus marked out he built the basilica of the prince of the apostles. Pope St. Sylvester dedicated it on the fourteenth of the Calends of December, just as he had consecrated the Lateran church on the fifth of the Ides of November. He erected in it a stone altar which he anointed with chrism, and decreed that thenceforward all altars should be made of stone. The same blessed Sylvester dedicated the basilica of St. Paul the apostle on the Ostian Way, also magnificently built by the emperor Constantine, who enriched both basilicas with many estates and rich gifts and ornaments... [...]

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