From the Desk of Father McCartney
Well, here at St. Mary’s we have now successfully passed through Holy Week, Easter, and Divine Mercy Sunday. I would like to thank all of those who worked so hard to make these special liturgies beautiful celebrations for all. Last weekend, our special 3:00 o’clock Divine Mercy Mass was very well attended, and I am especially grateful to the four priests who came to help us with confessions during that time. They were kept very busy!
As we were celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday here in our parish, Pope Francis was having a solemn celebration of his own in Rome. That was the day he officially took possession of his diocesan cathedral as Bishop of Rome.
When most people think of the Pope, they tend to summon to mind the image of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. However, as Bishop of Rome, the Pope’s diocesan seat is actually the Basilica of St. John Lateran, nearly three miles away. This imposing church houses the papal throne or cathedra (meaning “seat,” from which we get our word “cathedral”). It was built when the great persecutions of the Christians had finally come to an end, and ranks first among the four major patriarchal basilicas in the city of Rome (the others being St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls).
Its official name is the “Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior, and Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist at the Lateran.” However, popular usage has shortened it to simply “St. John Lateran.” The story of this singular church in our Catholic Faith is quintessentially Roman.
The basilica’s name comes from the wealthy family of Plautius Lateranus, a patrician of Rome who conspired against the Emperor Nero, had all his property confiscated, and was executed. This property on the Celian Hill, still bearing the original family name, eventually passed to the Emperor Constantine who presented it to Pope Melchiades in the year 313. Construction on this first Christian church in Rome began the following year.
Dedicated by Pope St. Sylvester I on November 9, 324, the church would have a tumultuous history. Sacked by the Vandals in 455, it was rebuilt by Pope St. Leo the Great in 460, only to be destroyed by an earthquake in 896. Rebuilt again, it would burn down twice more over the next 500 years, rising from the ashes each time.
Although the feast of the basilica’s dedication initially was observed only in Rome, the celebration eventually extended to the universal Church as a sign of unity with the Holy See in general and with the Holy Father in particular. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the first time in the basilica as Bishop of Rome, and took possession of his chair. At the end of the Mass he said: “Brothers and sisters … I ask that you pray for me: I need it. Don’t forget this. Thank you all! And now let us go forward together, the people and the bishop, all together, always forward with the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection. He is always at our side. May the Lord bless you.”
On the façade of St. John Lateran one may see carved the legend: Sacrosancta Lateranensis Ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater, et caput. Translated, this means: “The most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” This reminds us as Catholics that every baptized person is a stone in a much larger edifice: the Church, mater et caput, our mother and head.