Being a Basilica

Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel

What is a Basilica?

There are two kinds of basilicas: major basilicas and minor basilicas. The world’s four major basilicas, or papal basilicas are in Rome. Minor basilicas are both in Rome and elsewhere throughout the world. Minor basilicas are given special ecclesiastical privileges by the Holy Father.

A basilica is expected “to be a center of active and pastoral liturgy” according to the 1989 Vatican document regarding the sacredness of worship space. In a minor basilica, all the liturgical roles for congregation members are to be promoted, liturgical music is to be prayerfully developed, and special feasts days and devotional practices are to be observed. The feast days include the World Day of the Sick on February 16th, the feast of the chair of Peter on February 22nd, the solemnity of the apostles Peter and Paul on June 29th, election or inauguration anniversaries of the pope, the titular of the Basilica and the basilica’s anniversary of consecration. Devotional practices include regular scheduling of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, frequent and regular times for Eucharistic Adoration, Stations of the Cross, devotional practices honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Lenten penitential practices.

There are three symbols that indicate that a church is a minor basilica. The first symbol is a conopaeum, a silk canopy or umbrella designed with stripes of yellow and red, traditional papal colors. The second symbol is the tintinnabulum, or bell. It is mounted on a pole and may be carried in processions. These symbols are located to the right of the main altar. The third symbol is the papal coat of arms, which is displayed in the inlaid marble flooring at the central steps of the Basilica sanctuary.