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Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Holy Saviour

The rites of the Roman liturgical Use for the hallowing of churches and altars are said to have begun under Saint Pope Sylvester I. From the very time of the Apostles there had been places set apart for God, where assemblies took place upon the First Day of every week, and where the Christians were wont to pray, to hear the Word of God, and to receive the Eucharist, which places were by some called oratories and by others churches. But these places were not dedicated with a solemn liturgical formulary; rather, the initial celebration therein of the Eucharist was deemed to be the consecration thereof. Hence, they did not then, as is now the custom, set up an altar of stone for a pillar, after the example of Jacob, and pour the Oil of Chrism upon the top of it, for a figure of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself our Altar, our Victim and our Priest.

But when the Emperor Constantine had become a Christian, then for the first time, in a law by him published, was it allowed to Christians throughout the whole world to build churches, to the which holy building he exhorted them by his example as well as by his decree. For he dedicated his own Lateran Palace as the Church of the Saviour, and built hard by it a baptistry in the name of Saint John Baptist, upon the place where he had been received as a catechumen by holy Sylvester, and later the Monastery of Saints John Baptist and John Evangelist was established there, whereby the name John has also come to be associated with the Lateran Basilica. This cathedral is believed to have been hallowed by the said Pope upon a certain ninth day of November. It is the anniversary of this consecration which is still celebrated upon this day, the first whereon the public consecration of a church ever took place in Rome, and wherein the likeness of the Saviour, portrayed on the wall, was for the first time displayed to public view in Rome.

It is also said that Saint Sylvester afterwards decreed, when he was consecrating the altar of the Prince of the Apostles, that altars were thenceforward to be made of stone only. Nevertheless, the Lateran Cathedral hath the altar made of wood. This is not surprising. For the Popes, from the Apostle Peter to Saint Sylvester, had no fixed abode because of persecutions. Hence they celebrated the holy Liturgy in cellars, in burying places, in the houses of godly persons, or wherever need was, upon a wooden altar made like an empty box. Whereupon the Prince of the Apostles himself is reputed to have offered sacrifices, and after him his successors, until Sylvester placed it in this foremost basilica in Rome, which on its face hath carved: The Mother and the Head of all the Temples of the City and the World: for this is the Cathedral of Rome, wherein is permanently fixed the Pope's Cathedra. But the original Lateran Basilica, cast down and destroyed by fires, pillage, and earthquake, and ever renewed by the care of the Popes, was at last rebuilt afresh, and solemnly consecrated by Pope Benedict XIII, a Friar Preacher, on April 28, 1726, the memory of which Festival he ordained to be kept on this same day. In the year 1884, Leo XIII took in hand a work which had received the sanction of his predecessor Pius IX. The great sanctuary, the walls of which were giving way with age, was lengthened and widened, a task of immense labour. The ancient mosaic had been renewed previously in several places; it was now restored according to the original design, and transferred to the new apse, the embellishment of which was carried out with great magnificence. The transept was redecorated, and its ceiling and woodwork repaired. And also at that time, a sacristy, a residence for the Canons, and a portico connecting with the Baptistry of Constantine, were added to the existing buildings.
Collect

O GOD, whom year by year we praise for the dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour: hear, we beseech thee, the prayers of thy people; and grant that whosoever shall worship before thee in that place, may obtain thy merciful aid and protection. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Anglican Breviary, Frank Gavin Liturgical Foundation, Inc., New York, 1955, pages 1553-1554; 1746

Additional Information:

The Anglican Breviary is available at the Anglican Breviary website.

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