Monday, August 6, 2007

The Mother of All Churches

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, the titular feast of the Archbasilica of the Holy Saviour -- more commonly referred to as Saint John Lateran. As the Cathedral Church of Rome, it proudly bears the inscription 'Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput', the Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City [Rome] and of the World.

In addition to the liturgical commemoration of the manifestation of Christ's glory on Mount Thabor, Rome also celebrates the memorial of Pope St. Sixtus II, martyred on this date with four of his deacons (Januarius, Vincentius, Magnus, and Stephanus); two other deacons were martyred on the same day. It is said that Sixtus was beheaded while sitting upon his episcopal throne; the blood-stained cathedra was enshrined behind his tomb in the catacomb of Saint Callixtus.

The martyrdom of the Pope with his deacons was the prelude to the perhaps more spectacular martyrdom of St. Lawrence three days later. We will recount that story at the proper time. For now, we'll finish this post with the inscription composed by Pope St. Damasus for his heroic predecessor:

At the time when the sword pierced the bowels of the Mother, I, buried here, taught as Pastor the Word of God; when suddenly the soldiers rushed in and dragged me from the chair. The faithful offered their necks to the sword, but as soon as the Pastor saw the ones who wished to rob him of the palm (of martyrdom) he was the first to offer himself and his own head, not tolerating that the (pagan) frenzy should harm the others. Christ, who gives recompense, made manifest the Pastor's merit, preserving unharmed the flock.
Finally, today is the anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI, whose mortal remains lie in the Vatican Grottoes beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescant in pace.

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