Dedication of the Basilicas of SS. Peter and Paul

Three Basilicas

A few days ago, the 9th of November to be precise, we celebrated the dedication of the foremost Basilica in Western Christendom: the Lateran Basilica or the Basilica of St. Saviour. Dom Gueranger reminds us of St. Peter Damian’s words: “as our Saviour is the Head of the elect, so the church which bears his name is the head of all churches; those of St. Peter and St. Paul, on its right and left, are the two arms with which this sovereign and universal church embraces the whole earth, saving all those who desire salvation (Liturgical Year, Vol. 15, p. 256). From the Basilica of St. Saviour we (liturgically) move to the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul. Our faith is founded in Jesus Christ, represented in the Basilica dedicated in His Name, and is traditioned to us via His Apostles represented in the Basilicas dedicated to them in their names. First St. Peter, as a foundation stone in the North, second St. Paul as an architect of the temple in the South. In between these two Basilicas we find the Basilica of the Saviour. A happy reminder, perhaps, that the Saviour is to be found dwelling in the midst of His Apostles. That the truth of Christian Faith resides there also: in the apostolic teaching and ministry. Several “saviours” have appeared – as we learn from the Book of Acts and history – but the Saviour is to be found not in sects and cults but precisely in the Apostolic Church.

I saw the New Jerusalem

The Dedication of a Church has a full Office and Mass in the Anglican Breviary and the Anglican Missal. These warrant close attention. The Offices of Vespers and Lauds read a short passage from the concluding portions of the  Apocalypse of St. John:

“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”

Rev. 21, 2.

The liturgy applies this verse to the Church, more specifically, to the Church building. Christianity is not a faith exclusively dominated by the abstract. The Church is not merely a group of people gathered in Christ, it of necessity includes the physical place of meeting: the Temple (which is precisely the Jerusalem Temple). Laurence Paul Hemming (see “Worship as a Revelation,” 2008) reminds us that the emphasis is on “seeing” here. By means of the Church building we are to be made able to see. But see what? Hemming explains that we are to see “the place where we meet Jesus Christ” the Church building represents a “coming together”of heaven and earth. That is what it is prepared for, to receive the Saviour, the Lord, the divine-human Husband. The Church is also the place where the Priest prays. This Priest is first and foremost Jesus Christ Himself, whose prayer includes His sacrifice of Himself for our salvation. The “prayer” prayed in the Church includes, is centered in, the Sacrifice of the Mass. When our Lord forcefully asserts that: “My house shall be called the house of prayer (Matthew 21, 13)” He certainly includes the sacrificial offering of Himself. This is why at the point of Communion precisely this verse is sung to accompany Holy Communion. Any Christian Priest today acts in persona Christi, and offers the prayer and sacrifice Jesus Himself made. What we see is therefore a great, holy, and redemptive mystery.

The Anglican Episcopate

As we saw previously, the feast of the Bestowal of the American Episcopate, is situated in between the feasts of the Dedication of St. Saviour, thereby positioning itself as part of Christ’s Body, and the feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, thereby asserting its apostolicity. As I also tried to point previously, the Anglican liturgy also asserts and acknowledges its connection to and dependence on the Roman, Mother Church. The Basilica of St. Saviour remains the first Basilica in Christendom as its inscription says:

The Mother and 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.

~Anglican Breviary, Lesson vi, for the Feast of the Dedication of the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, p. E534.

Even our Church’s history shows its dependence on and connection to Rome. We know that Christianity in an organized form existed in England since at least Origen’s days. Yet by the time St. Gregory the Great – the Pope – English Christianity had lost much territory, was severly weakened, and lacking missionary zeal in most places. Pope St. Gregory, a Roman monk, sent a Roman Monk, St. Augustine of Canterbury, on a mission to re-build the Church and to evangelize. His mission was hugely succesful and the English Christian Church was restored. Similarly, by the time the Oxford and Ritualist Movements arose the English Church had fallen into the deep darkness of Protestant error. By divine providence it managed to retain its Holy Orders, and yet again by divine providence, the spark of catholicity became a full flame in Anglican Catholicism. This was not a simple resuming of pre-Reformation faith and practice but again a deliberate turn to Roman faith and practice (see the preface of Ritual Notes). Catholicism is not archeology, though it is historical, it is a faith and practice living in tradition.

St. Peter and St. Paul

The Lord Jesus has said that upon Peter – not his confession – would His Church be built. And indeed the Episcopate, the life-blood of the sacraments in the Church, is precisely Petrine. It is in the Office of St. Peter (the stone of which the Cathedral is erected) that the Apostles share, and the Episcopate (first among whom is the Bishop of Rome) is, likewise, Petrine. Christian teaching – the design of the Cathedral) – is mostly done via the New Testament, the bulk of which was written by St. Paul. In the feasts of the basilicas of St. Saviour (now named St. John Lateran), St. Peter, and St. Paul the entire Christian Faith is indicated. We have, liturgically, undertaken a pelgrimage to St. Saviour (in Rome), and from there are today making pelgrimage to St. Peter and Paul (also in Rome). It should therefore not come as a surprise, or a shock, to Anglican Catholics that they are not different Catholics compared to their Roman brethren. Just like Sarum was an expression of Roman Rite, just like our Anglican Breviary and Anglican Missal depend on post-Tridentine Roman Rite, so our Anglican Catholic Faith is Roman Catholicism in an English dress. Whatever our differences and problems with today’s Church in Rome may be, we must remember that we are brothers and sisters. Not cousins, or more distant relations. On the Altars in our Churches we pray the same prayer all Priests (first and foremost the High Priest Jesus Christ) pray for the people. Wherever our fall from unity may be situated … It does not strike as deep as the Altar. The cement that binds us together still is Jesus Christ in the midst of His Apostles.

Fr. Gregory Wassen


About Father Gregory

I am an Anglican Catholic Priest, currently residing in Orvelte, the Netherlands.
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3 Responses to Dedication of the Basilicas of SS. Peter and Paul

  1. Charles Smith says:

    Great post and good reading. Thank you for including the history.

  2. Charles Smith says:

    Your summation goes hand in hand with today’s Invitatory Antiphonal! “Holiness becometh the house of God. * In her let us worship her Bridegroom, even Christ our Lord”

    • Father Gregory says:

      Indeed! It is unfortunate that the Invitatory as present in the Anglican Breviary the point of worshipping Christ within her is lost in translation.

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