Sylvester, priest of the Church in the City of Rome, discharged his office with such praiseworthiness that in January, 314, he was chosen to succeed Saint Mechiades as Pope. Less than a year before this the Emperor Constantine had granted toleration to Christianity by the Edict of Milan. Sylvester established the Lateran Church, a gift to the Church in Rome from Constantine, as the Cathedral Church in that City. Several other great churches were founded during his pontificate, notably Saint Peter’s on Vatican Hill. It was also during his time that the Council of Arles was gathered out of divers provinces of Gaul, Italy, Africa, Spain, and Britain, to deal with the Donatist heresy. And, among other things, this Council ordered that Easter should be celebrated everywhere on one and the same day. In his time also was held the first Ecumenical Council, to wit, of Nicea in 325, to which he himself went not, but sent legates. Some three hundred and eighteen bishops were present, over whom Hosius of Cordova p0resided. And by these bishops, in the presence of Constantine, the Holy and Catholic Faith was declared, and Arius and his followers were condemned.
This Pope is reputed to have issued many useful ordinances for the Church of God : such as the reservation to bishops of the right of consecrating the holy Chrism and the custom of anointing the newly baptized therewith ; the wearing of a dalmatic and maniple by deacons; the consecration of the Sacrament of the Altar on a linen Corporal ; that all persons taking Holy Orders should remain a while in each grade before being promoted to a higher; that laymen should not go to law against clergy; and that clergy themselves were not to plead before civil tribunals.
To Sylvester is also ascribed the decrees that the first and seventh days of the week should be called respectively the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath; and the others, Second Feria, Third Feria, and so on, in accordance with the use of the word Feria for the week days which had already begun in the Church. This word signifieth an holy-day, and pointeth to the duty of the clergy to lay aside all worldly labour, and leave themselves free to do continually the work of the Lord. In 335 Sylvester went to God, and the date of his feast day is probably the anniversary of his burial, in the church which he built over the Catacombs of Saint Priscilla, on the Salerian Way. In 761 his relicks were translated to the Church of Saint Sylvester. His feast hath been general in the Latin Church since the thirteenth century, and is kept also in the East, because his pastoral concern for all Christians, everywhere, made him generally beloved. For he was Pope immediately after the Church came up out of the Catacombs into freedom. He reigned twenty-one years ten months, and one day.
Collect:GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Confessor Saint Sylvester, may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.