To the Threshold of the Apostles' Tombs
However, there is a lesser known fact. The heads of the apostles are actually in the reliquary above the baldachino (below) of the Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of Rome, which is the Mother and Head of all churches and Roman law holds that where the head is, there is the legal burial site. Nevertheless, the bodies of these martyred Princes of the Church are buried in the ancient catacombs beneath the altars of St Peter's Basilica and St Paul's Outside-the-Walls. It is the dedication of these memorial churches that we mark today and in so doing, we go on a spiritual pilgrimage ad limina apostolorum.
But in fact, by visiting either basilica, one actually visits both men. As Fr Engelbert Kirschbaum SJ explains: "For Rome and the Romans, Peter and Paul are inseparable. Both were founders of their faith and thereby founded their own unique position in the Roman world. Both shed their blood in Rome; Rome provided their last resting place... Where Peter is, there is Paul; and where Paul, also Peter. Everything develops with its inner logic from this deeply Christian and profoundly Roman idea: their heads, the noblest portion of their mortal remains, are the treasure of the Lateran, mother church of Christendom; equal halves of the other relics are likewise the pride and glory of the two other most important of Rome's shrines, St Peter's and St Paul's."
The Office Hymn, 'Iam bone pastor, Petre', uniquely provided for today in the new Liturgia Horarum, celebrates these men. The hymn is translated, although not metrically, thus by Fr Martin D. O'Keefe, SJ:
"Goodly shepherd, Peter most blest,
In your mercy receive now the prayers
Of those who call upon you,
And loose the bonds of their sins
By the power you have been given,
That power which you use
At your sole command,
To close or open
The gates of Heaven for all.
And you, teacher most renowned,
Paul the great,
Show us how we should live on earth;
Strive to transport us to heaven
In our thoughts at least,
Until that which is perfect
Be accorded us in full measure,
And that which we have
But imperfectly achieved
Be banished far away."
May this be our prayer today as we honour these great witnesses to the one true faith in Christ Jesus. May all who are drawn to the churches whose dedication we mark today be likewise dedicated to the service, glory and honour of the Living God. Amen.