Gospel For Today: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica


Today is a special feast day, but unlike most feast days, today does not celebrate the life of a saint or a major event in the life of Christ.  Today we celebrate the day on which the Lateran Basilica in Rome was dedicated.  Why would we do such a thing?  The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, first consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324 AD.  This makes it the oldest and the highest ranking of the four basilicas in Rome.  It is an historically significant church, and so it makes sense that the anniversary of its dedication would be celebrated locally in Rome.  The reason why this celebration is extended to the universal Church is to show the union of the churches world wide with the successor of St. Peter.  Because it is the official cathedral of the Pope, it is considered the mother cathedral of the whole world.

But why celebrate a church building at all?  Why does a building get a feast day?  Today’s readings help us to understand why.  First we hear of the prophet Ezekiel being brought by an angel “to the entrance of the temple of the Lord” (Ez 47:1), where Ezekiel saw water flowing out from its sides.  In our gospel reading Jesus goes into the temple where He chases out the money-changers and tells them, “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (Jn 2:13-22).  
This is one of the only times we see Jesus angry.  His anger is righteous because the integrity of the temple — His Father’s house — was being violated.  The temple was constructed specifically to house the presence of God.  The temple in Jerusalem is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, containing within it fragments of the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, as well as pieces of manna that fell from heaven during the time of the Exodus.   The Word of God and the Bread from Heaven signified God’s presence in a very tangible way.  This is why the temple was built.  This is why Jewish people, no matter how far they were scattered, would return to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices and give worship to God in the temple.
Of course the Jewish people knew that God exists everywhere.  As David reflects in Psalm 139, whether we ascend to the heights of the heavens or descend to the depths of hell, God is there.  God is omnipresent. Yet the temple represented a place where God dwelt in a very specific way.  We today, as Catholics, can understand this.  We recognize that God is always present to us, but sometimes that presence is in a more tangible form.  God is present whenever two or more are gathered in His name, as we pray and worship (Mt 18:20).  God is present to us in His Word when we read the sacred scriptures.  But we recognize that God is present in a very specific and special way in the Holy Eucharist.  So the Bible, which we revere as God’s word, may be kept on a shelf along with other books.  But the Eucharist would never be kept in the pantry with other bread.  Because it is the Real Presence of God we house it in a special place, in a special way, out of respect for its sacredness. 
Though God is present everywhere, and we can pray and worship God anywhere, the Jewish people dedicated the temple especially as a place of worship which would house God’s presence.  We today dedicate churches to house the Eucharist and where we gather each day — most especially on Sundays — to worship God.
Let us consider the word “dedicate.”  When we speak of someone as being dedicated we mean he is especially devoted to one particular task or area of interest.  If I am a dedicated student, that means I do not allow anything to distract me from my academic studies.  If I am dedicated to my family, that means that I am not going to allow any outside pursuits to take my focus away from familial responsibilities.  If you are involved in IT you might speak of a “dedicated server,” meaning that server is to be used for one purpose only.  A dedicated server is more reliable, because its resources and capacities are not divided.
To dedicate something is to set it apart for a specific use or function.  It is a way of recognizing the importance or significance of something.  When we dedicate a church we are setting that building aside for sacred use.  We are saying that this space is to be used for the worship of God and not as a place of business, a dining hall, a dormitory, or a dance studio.  Those are all fine things, but the worship of God is so important that it merits a place exclusively for that purpose.  To be dedicated involves exclusivity.  A husband and wife are dedicated to each other.  Theirs is an exclusive relationship.  Violating that exclusivity does harm to the sacredness of their marriage.  This is why Christ gets upset at the money-changers in the temple.  They were violating the sacred integrity of that dedicated space.
The temple in Jerusalem is not the only temple mentioned in the gospel today.  Christ says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up again.” The gospel writer tells us, “He was speaking about the temple of His body.”  Jesus Christ is also a temple.  He is the Word of God.  He is the Bread from Heaven.  The presence of God dwells in Him.  If this is true of Christ, then those who receive Christ make their bodies into temples, as well.  St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “Brothers and sisters: You are God’s building… Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:9-17).  
If we are temples of God that means that we, like our churches, have been dedicated to God and should not be used for profane things.  Our relationship with God is exclusive.  We have been set aside for holiness and love.  Anything that runs counter to that purpose should be cast out of our lives the way Jesus cast the money-changers out of the temple.
In Ezekiel’s vision, he saw water flowing out of the sides of the temple.  Wherever that water flowed, there was found life.  We enter our churches so that we may be in the presence of God and offer Him worship.  When we leave, we should be like those flowing waters, bringing God’s life to the rest of the world.  One of the dismissals that the deacon or priest may use at the end of Mass is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Our sacred spaces exist for the purpose of worshiping God.  They also remind us that we, too, are sacred spaces and exist for that same purpose.
  • Learn more about the Lateran Basilica here
  • TRIVIA:  Who is St. John Lateran?  No one!  The basilica is named after St. John the Evangelist, and is called “Lateran” after the Laterani family who originally owned the land it was built on.