Quod duce te mundus surrexit in astra triumphans, hanc Constantinus victor tibi condidit aliam. Because the world under thy conduct has risen triumphant to the very heavens, Constantine the conqueror built this temple in thy honour. This inscription stood in letters of gold over the triumphal arch in the ancient Vatican Basilica. Never did the Roman genius frame a more magnificent utterance in so few words; never did the greatness of Simon Bar-Jona appear to such advantage on the seven hills. In 1506 the great arch, that had looked down upon centuries of prostrate pilgrims, fell from old age, and the beautiful inscription perished. But Michael Angelo’s lofty dome points out to the city and the world the spot where sleeps the Galilaean fisherman, the successor of the Caesars, the Vicar of Christ, the ruler of the destinies of Rome.
The second glory of the eternal City is the tomb of St Paul on the Ostian Way. Unlike that of St. Peter, which lies deep down in the Vatican crypt, this tomb is raised to the level of the floor by massive masonry, on which rests the great sarcophagus. This circumstance was ascertained in 1841, when the papal altar was reconstructed. It was evidently to obviate the consequences of inundations from the Tiber, that the sarcophagus had thus been raised above the place where Lucina had first laid it. The pilgrim certainly finds nothing to blame in this arrangement, when, on looking through the small opening in the centre of the altar, his respectful glance falls upon the marble of the tomb, and he reads these imposing words traced in large characters of Constantine’s period: Paulo Apostolo et Maryri. To Paul Apostle and Martyr.
Thus Christian Rome is protected on the North and South by these two citadels. Let us enter into the sentiments of our fathers, when they said of this privileged city: “Peter the door-keeper sets his holy dwelling at the entrance: who can deny that this city is like heaven?” At the other extremity, “Paul from his temple guards the walls: Rome lies between the two; here then God dwelleth.”
The present feast therefore deserves to be more than a local solemnity; its extension to the universal Church is a subject for the world’s gratitude. Thanks to this feast, we can all make together in spirit to day the pilgrimage ad limina Apostolorum, which our ancestors performed with such fatigue and danger, yet never thought they purchased too dearly its holy joys and blessings. “Heavenly mountains, glittering heights of the new Sion! There are the gates of our true country, the two lights of the immense world. There Paul’s voice is heard like thunder; there Peter withholds or hurls the bolt. The former opens the hearts of men, the latter opens heaven. Peter is the foundation-stone, Paul the architect of the temple where stands the altar by which God is propitiated. Both together form a single fountain, which pours out its healing and refreshing waters. “
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It is the 25th Sunday after Pentecost; the Mass is that of the 6th Sunday After Epiphany.