This Sunday in the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. This ancient place of worship in Rome was dedicated and consecrated to the Lord, by Pope Sylvester I, on November 9, 324. The Lateran basilica was honored as the episcopal seat of the pope as bishop of Rome. During Pope Sylvester’s reign, the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion, and several basilicas were built in Rome. This was the very first church to be built. The Emperor donated the property, and the pope took up residence there. For centuries, the Lateran was the center of the Catholic world, until the popes moved over to the Vatican. According to an inscription of Pope Clement XII placed on the façade, this basilica is the “mother and head of all churches of Rome and the world.” It is a symbol of the unity of the people of God. To this day, it is the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. It is the pope’s cathedral, and his chair is there in its apse. It is the one cathedral that unites all the other cathedrals around the world, where all the other bishops have their chairs.
In the Gospel we hear that Jesus too, was consumed with zeal for the temple of God. He cleansed the temple by sending out those who did business inside the temple. The Jews who confronted Jesus asked “what sign can you show us that you should act like this? Jesus answered ‘Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”(John 2:19-20) Jesus was speaking about his own body the temple. The Jewish life was centered on the temple. God revealed both His glory and grace to His people in the temple. Temple was the platform from which God dealt with the people, answered their prayers and delivered judgment and justice. The destruction of the second Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 CE witnessed major historical upheavals and significant religious changes. As Jesus visioned the temple was transformed to the living temples.
St. Paul said we are “the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16). He reminds us God’s dwelling place is not a splendid, bejeweled building, but God’s holy people where God comes to live among us. The church is now the center of God’s activities. It is a place that reveals both His glory and grace. It is the vehicle that God uses to call sinful human beings to Himself. The church stands as a beacon of light calling all people to the Mediator.
The Feast of the dedication of our mother church reminds us that we all belong to one church which is holy, catholic and apostolic. We believe in the one universal Church, Jesus Christ is the head and we are the members of his body and that is the Church (Colossians 1:18).
“Our Lord had in his humanity two parts, body and soul ; so the Church his spouse has two parts, the one interior, which is as her soul, invisible—Faith, Hope, Charity, Grace,—the other exterior, as her body, and visible—the Confession of Faith, Praises and Canticles, Preaching, Sacraments, Sacrifices.”
St. Francis de Sales