Wednesday, November 09, 2022

The Dedication of St John in the Lateran

In honor of the dedication feast of the cathedral of Rome, the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, popularly known as St John in the Lateran, here are some interesting thoughts from the medieval liturgical commentator William Durandus on the Office and Mass of the dedication of a church. (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum 7, 48) The version of the Office which Durandus knows is slightly different from the version in the Breviary of St Pius V, as will be noted in the text itself.

The high altar of St John in the Lateran. (Photo by Fr Kevin Kimtis.)
The feast (of a church’s dedication) is solemnly celebrated by the Church, concerning which it is written in John’s Gospel (10, 22 and 23) “It was the ‘renewal’ ”, that is, the feast of the dedication in Jerusalem, “and Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch” in order to confirm that festival. It is called Solomon’s porch, because He was wont to pray there, and did so on the day of the dedication. (In many medieval Uses, such as that of Sarum, this Gospel, John 10, 22-38, was read on the octave of a dedication.)

This feast also took place in the Old Testament, whence we read in the book of Maccabees (1 Macc. 4, 42-43), “Judah Maccabee chose priests without blemish, and they cleansed the holy places.” Now the Church Militant can be cleansed, but not the Church Triumphant… * the Church on earth is built in baptism (i.e. washing), and in teaching, and in penance; here are heard (the noise of) the axe and every sort of metal tool, which are the many kinds of penances and disciplines in the Church Militant, … but the temple of Solomon signifies the Church Triumphant, in which these things are not heard.

The Jews celebrated the dedication for eight days, whence it seems that we likewise ought to solemnly keep the feast of the dedication for eight days. But it is strange that they celebrated it for eight days, when they kept Passover and Pentecost for only seven. The reason for this is that this festivity especially signifies the eternal dedication, in which the Church, that is, the holy soul, will be dedicated to God, that is, will be so joined to him that it cannot be transferred to other uses. And this will take place on the octave of resurrection, and therefore, in the New Testament, this feast has an octave. (In Durandus’ original text, this paragraph is actually where the red star is marked above, interrupting his allegorical passage about cleansing the Church.)

In the Office of Matins are said those Psalms in which there is a mention of doors, which represent fear and love, as in the Psalm “The earth is the Lord’s”, where it says “Lift up your gates, o ye princes” (23); those in which there is mention of an altar, as in the Psalm, “Judge me, o God, etc.” (42, not in the Roman Use); those in which there is mention of a city, such as “Our God is a refuge” and “Great is the Lord” (45 and 47); those in which there is mention of atria and gates, such as “How lovely are thy tabernacles” and “Her foundations are in the holy mountains.” (83 and 86)

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz during the consecration of the seminary chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the FSSP Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. After sprinkling the outside of the church with holy water, the bishop knocks on the door three times with his crozier, saying the words of Psalm 23, “Lift up your gates, o ye princes, and be lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the king of glory shall come in.” From within, the deacon answers from the same psalm, “Who is this king of glory?”, and the bishop replies “the Lord of hosts, he is the king of Glory!” A porter then opens the door, and the bishop blesses the threshold, saying “Behold the sign of the Cross, let all phantasms flee,” then, as he enters, “Peace to this house” to which the deacon replies “Upon thy entrance. Amen.”
But the question arises, why is the Psalm “O Lord, God of my salvation” (87) is said? To this, some say that it because burials are mentioned in it, but this reason is not correct, because the Psalm does not speak of such burials as those in which the bodies of the faithful dwell, or are buried in a church, but rather of the burials of the wicked. Wherefore, we say that that Psalm is said because it is a penitential Psalm, and treats especially of prayer, which is to take place in a church; whence it is said therein, “Let my prayer come in before thee.” And the Lord says of the Church, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

But the eighth Psalm (seventh in the Roman Use) is “He that dwelleth in the aid of the Most High” (90), that is, in the Church, in which it is said, “thou hast made the most High thy refuge,” because the Church is founded above all, on the height of the mountains.

The last antiphon, that of the Magnificat at Vespers, is “Eternal peace,” since the dedication is celebrated for this reason, that we may dedicated, and have that eternal peace.

(This antiphon, incorrectly labelled in the video as the Salve regina, is found in the Dedication Office in most medieval Uses, with a number of minor textual variations. Note the long melisma on the O of the last ‘domui.’ “Pax aeterna ab Aeterno huic domui; pax perennis Verbum Patris sit pax huic domui; pacem pius Consolator praestet huic domui. - Eternal peace this house from the Eternal One; may the Word of the Father be everlasting peace to this house; may the Holy Comforter grant peace to this house.”)

… To this feast certainly belongs Jacob’s vision of the ladder, and the angels ascending and descending, which is to say, he saw the whole Church in one vision, and raised up a stone, that is, Christ, who is the cap-stone, and the corner-stone, and foundation, who supports all the rest. He raised it up as a title of proclamation, of memory, of triumph, pouring oil upon it. For Jacob, who signifies the bishop, poured oil upon the stone, that is, on Christ, to show forth His anointings, and prophesied the same, saying, “How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” (Gen. 28, 17 and 16)

For the Church is terrible to demons, because of the likeness which it has to God, and therefore this is the Introit at the Mass, “Terrible is this place.” There follows “and it will be called the court of God.” The blessed Gregory added these words of his own initiative, since God is ready to hear us therein, as the Lord said to Solomon, “I have heard thy prayer etc.” But why it is terrible is shown in the verse, “The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty,” that is, in His members, and therefore the Church is terrible to demons. …

The Gradual “This place”, that is, the material church, “is holy”, because it is sanctified for this purpose, that the Lord may hear payers in it, and therefore it gives holiness to those praying. For Solomon prayed that the Lord might hear those who pray there, and the Lord said to him, “Thy prayer is heard.”

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