The two basilicas of the apostles were held in great veneration from the earliest times. The priest Caius, declared against the heretics, “I can show you the trophies of the Apostles; for if you will go to the Vatican on the Ostian Way you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church.” Acceding to the request of Pope Sylvester, the Emperor Constantine undertook to make the sanctuaries at the tombs of these apostles correspond externally with their importance in the eyes of the whole Christian world. He erected the ancient Basilica of St. Peter on the Vatican and that of St. Paul outside the walls. On November 9, the Dedication of the Basilica of the Savior at Rome; on November 18 that of the Basilicas of the apostles is celebrated. The reason for determining November 18 is unknown. It would appear as though these dedications occurring within a few days of each other had been fixed by some conventional arrangement.
The present St. Peter’s is on the site of the ancient church, marking the spot where the martyrdom of St Peter took place according to tradition at the circus of Caligula in Nero’s gardens on the Vatican Hill, and he was buried nearby. It is held by some that in the year 258, to avoid desecration during the persecution of Valerian, the relics of St Peter, together with those of St Paul were translated for a time to the obscure catacomb now called St Sebastian’s; but they came back to their original resting-place, and in 323 the Emperor Constantine began the building of the basilica of St Peter over the tomb of the Apostle.
Amongst all the places which the blood of martyrs has rendered illustrious, that part of the Vatican Hill which was consecrated with the blood and enriched with the relics of the Prince of the Apostles has always been the most venerable. “The sepulchres of those who have served Christ crucified”, says St John Chrysostom, “surpass the palaces of kings ; not so much in the greatness and beauty of the buildings (though in this also they go beyond them) as in other things of more importance, such as the multitude of those who with devotion and joy repair to them. For the emperor himself, clothed in purple, goes to the tombs of the saints and kisses them ; humbly prostrate on the ground he beseeches the same saints to pray to God for him; and he who wears a royal crown looks on it as a great privilege from God that a tentmaker and a fisherman, and these dead, should be his protectors and defenders, and for this he begs with great earnestness.”
For nearly twelve hundred years this magnificent church remained substantially the same, a great papal establishment gradually growing up between it and the Vatican Hill. This was made the permanent residence of the popes on their return from the exile at Avignon, and by the middle of the fifteenth century the old church was found to be inadequate. In 1506 Pope Julius II inaugurated a new building designed by Bramante, whose erection was carried on over a period of a hundred and twenty years, undergoing many alterations, additions and modifications at the hands of various popes and architects, especially
Pope Paul V and Michelangelo. The new basilica of St Peter, as we see it today, was consecrated by Pope Urban VIII on November 18, 1626, the day of its original dedication. The high altar was set up over the Apostle’s resting-place, which until 1942 had been inaccessible for many centuries. Though St Peter’s must always yield in dignity to the cathedral of St John Lateran, it has nevertheless for long been the most important church of the world, both in fact and in the hearts of Catholic Christians.
The martyrdom of St Paul took place some seven miles from that of St Peter at Aquae Salviae (now called Tre Fontane) on the Ostian Way. He was buried about two miles therefrom, on the property of a lady named Lucina, in a small vault. Early in the third century, according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl., ii, 25, 7), a Roman priest, Caius, refers to the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul: “I can show you the trophies [tombs] of the apostles. If you go to the Vatican or on the road to Ostia you will see the trophies of those who founded this church.” Constantine is said to have begun a basilica here too, but the great church of St Paul Outside-the-Walls was principally the work of the Emperor Theodosius I and Pope St Leo the Great.
It remained in its primitive beauty and simplicity till the year 1823, when the Basilica of St. Paul was almost wholly destroyed by fire, which spared only that part of the Church where the altar of the Apostle stands under the triumphant arch of Leo the Great. The whole world contributed to its restoration, non-Christians as well as non-Catholics sending gifts and contributions. During the course of the work the fourth-century tomb was found, with the inscription PAULO APOST MART : To Paul, apostle and martyr; it was not opened. The new basilica, on the lines of the old one, was consecrated by Pope Pius IX on December 10, 1854, but the annual commemoration was appointed for this day, as the Roman Martyrology records. “We do not”, says St Augustine, “build churches or appoint priesthoods, sacred rites and sacrifices to the martyrs, because, not the martyrs, but the God of the martyrs, is our God. Who among the faithful ever heard a priest, standing at the altar set up over the body of a martyr to the honor and worship of God, say in praying : We offer up sacrifices to thee, Peter, or Paul, or Cyprian? We do not build churches to martyrs as to gods, but as memorials to men departed this life, whose souls live with God. Nor do we make altars to sacrifice on them to the martyrs, but to their God and our God.”
INTROIT Genesis 28: 17
Terrible is this place: it is the house of God, and the gate of heaven; and shall be called the court of God. (Ps. 83: 2, 3) How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. v. Glory be to the Father…
God, Who year by year dost renew the day of the consecration of this Thy holy temple, and dost ever bring us again in safety to the holy mysteries, hear the prayers of Thy people, and grant that whosoever entereth this temple to seek blessings may rejoice to obtain all that he seeketh. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, Forever and ever. R. Amen.
EPISTLE Apocalypse 21: 2-5
Lesson from the Book of the Apocalypse of blessed John the Apostle. In those days, I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven, from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God with men; and He will dwell with them: and they shall be His people, and God Himself with them shall be their God: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And He that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.
This place was made by God a priceless mystery, it is without reproof. V. O God, before Whom stands the choir of angels, hear the prayers of Thy servants. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ps. 137: 2) I will worship toward Thy holy temple; and I will give glory to Thy name. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Luke 19: 1-10
At that time, Jesus entering in, walked through Jericho. And behold there was a man named Zachæus, who was the chief of the publicans, and he was rich; and he sought to see Jesus Who He was, and he could not for the crowd, because he was of low stature. And running before, he climbed up into a sycamore-tree that he might see Him, for He was to pass that way. And when Jesus was come to the place, looking up, He saw him, and said to him, “Zachæus, make haste and come down, for this day I must abide in thy house.” And he made haste and came down, and received Him with joy. And when all saw it, they murmured, saying that He was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner. But Zachæus standing, said to the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him fourfold. Jesus said to him, “This day is salvation come to this house; because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON 1 Par. 29: 17,18
O Lord God, in the simplicity of my heart, I have joyfully offered all these things; and I have seen with great joy Thy people, which are present: O God of Israel, keep this will. Alleluia.
Bow down to our prayers, O Lord, we beseech Thee that, while we pay our vows here below, we may, by Thine assistance, be worthy to attain unto everlasting rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever. R. Amen.
PREFACE of the Most Holy Trinity
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, ever-lasting God: Who, together with Thine only-begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, are one God, one Lord: not in the oneness of a single Person, but in the Trinity of one substance. For what we believe by Thy revelation of Thy glory, the same do we believe of Thy Son, the same of the Holy Ghost, without difference or separation. So that in confessing the true and everlasting Godhead, distinction in persons, unity in essence, and equality in majesty may be adored. Which the Angels and Archangels, the Cherubim also and Seraphim do praise: who cease not daily to cry out with one voice saying:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Matthew 21: 13
My house shall be called the house of prayer, saith the Lord: every one that asks therein, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.
O God, Who from living and chosen stones dost prepare for Thy majesty an eternal dwelling, help Thy people who call upon Thee, so that what is profitable to Thy Church in material growth may be accompanied with an increase of that which is of the spirit. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever. R. Amen.