As the anniversary of the dedication of a cathedral is kept as a solemn festival in all the churches of a diocese, so the dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of the Supreme Pontiff, is everywhere celebrated. The first mention of the Lateran in ecclesiastical history is that of Optatus of Milevis who relates that a Council against the Donatists was held within its walls. About this time Constantine gave to the Church of Rome the ancient Palace of the Laterani, part of the dowry of his wife, Fausta.
From that time onwards the Lateran became the ordinary residence of the Popes, and may be regarded as a memorial of that long series of holy Pontiffs who inhabited it during the course of nearly ten centuries. Those walls, now nearly two thousand years old, have seen many important events in history and have figured in poetry and in art, whilst they sheltered a dynasty of Pontiffs who ruled longer than any dynasty of kings. Here, at the suggestion of Pope Sylvester, Constantine the Great transformed or constructed the first basilica dedicated to the Saviour at Rome. In the Twelfth Century, on account of the baptistery, it was dedicated to St. John the Baptist and began to be called St. John Lateran. In the early Middle Ages the Pope officiated, not at one church only but in all the basilicas and titles within and without the city. On great solemnities and for ordinations and coronations, he officiated at St. Peter”s. When the observance of the stations declined, the basilica was ranked as the Papal residence, and the basilica was looked upon as a cathedral with regard to the other titular churches of the city.
As papal cathedral and mother of all the churches, the Basilica of the Saviour had been clothed with the dignity of a symbol of the Pontifical authority in the eyes of the Catholic world. The Liturgy has also concentrated in her ritual this belief held by the household of the faith, and Pius X raised the feast which we celebrated today to the same rank of a double of the second class for the entire Latin Church, as is held by the great feasts of the religious year.
In this basilica and the Latern Palace five ecumenical councils were held, besides twenty synods. The basilica, after its destruction, was rebuilt by Benedict XIII and consecrated on November 9, 1726. Since that time the feast has been kept in the Universal Church.
The dedication of a church is an important liturgical event. It is not the same thing to pray in private, or to pray in the sacred sanctuary and to take part in the rites of Catholic Liturgy. By reason of its consecration the Church is the throne of God”s mercy, the place chosen by Him, and where He chiefly condescends to work our salvation. Here we know He listens to our prayers; here Jesus is pleased to receive from the assembly of believers that solemn, public, and united adoration which is due to Him.