THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA – 9 November 2014
While most people would probably nominate St Peter’s at the Vatican as the centre of Catholicism, historically and officially that honour belongs to the Lateran Basilica, the cathedral church of the Pope as Bishop of Rome. The Lateran Basilica goes back to the gift of the site for a church made by Constantine, the first Christian emperor, in the early fourth century. It was the first truly monumental church building that Christians were able to erect after the centuries of persecution. For over a thousand years, as the seat of the papacy, the Lateran Basilica was the centre of the Western Church.
Nonetheless, despite its historical importance, believers today might wonder why they are being asked to celebrate the feast of the dedication of this church.
To this it can be said that because of the central position of the Lateran as cathedral church of the one who, as Bishop of Rome, is universal Pastor, there is a sense in which it is a church for all the faithful. Beyond that, in celebrating the feast of this central church, believers are celebrating their own local church, whether it be a glorious and monumental building in its own right or a far humbler and perhaps provisional place of worship. More radically still – and this is what the scriptural readings will especially bring out – believers are celebrating today the church that is made up not of bricks and mortar but of themselves as ‘living stones’, the ‘temples’ (local faith communities) God has built in every place to dwell among humankind. Every local community can in a true sense make this feast their own.
In today’s second reading, St Paul moves from speaking of the Christian community at Corinth in terms of a ‘plantation’ to that of a ‘building’, and finally a ‘holy building’ or temple, in which God’s Spirit dwells. Christian ministers, such as himself and his co-workers, are the builders who are bringing this holy building to completion.
The image of the community as a holy building or temple was something early Christianity derived from Judaism. It communicates the sense that even when absent from a physical place of worship the gathered community is already itself a holy building (temple) in which the Lord is present.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ ‘cleansing’ of the Temple in Jerusalem is very radical. By driving out the animals and money changers he is really overthrowing the whole system of Temple worship based upon animal sacrifices that had existed hitherto. ‘Zeal for (his) Father’s house consumes’ him in that his whole life and teaching is one great campaign to disclose and make effective the presence of God on a vastly wider scale than in the confines of the material Temple. Christians live within the new ‘Temple’ constituted by the body of their risen Lord.
Believers today celebrate the dedication of material sacred buildings – the Lateran and their own church. They should do so conscious of the rich sense in which they themselves are the Temple of the Lord.
(Adapted from Scripture Commentary by Brendan Byrne SJ)
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