The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homily: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Readings: Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12; Ps 46; 1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17; Jn 2:13-22

Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome as the pope’s primary church, his cathedral, but it’s not. That honor belongs to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, for it is the pope’s church, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome presides. And today we celebrate its dedication.

Interior of St. John Lateran (I took this photo in 2008)

The Ancient Church of Rome was persecuted until the Edict of Milan and the conversion of the emperor Constantine in the year 313. That was when the patrician Laterani family gave the land to the emperor for the construction of a church – hence the name, Lateran. With the building of the first Lateran church the Christians of Rome could finally enter into the Lord’s house on the Lateran Hill and worship openly in peace and joy. How wonderful it must have been for them to be able to come to a holy place and worship together.

That first Lateran church and its successors suffered fire, earthquake and the ravages of war, but remained the church where popes were consecrated. All this changed in the 14th century when the popes returned after 70 years of exile in Avignon to find the church and the adjoining palace in ruins. Up until that time to say “the Lateran” was the same as saying “the Vatican” today.

Facade of St. John Lateran (2008)

Gradually the rebuilt Lateran was overseen by the cardinal vicar who governed the Pope’s diocese in his name so the Pope could devote more time to the universal Church. The Lateran Palace became the “chancery” of Rome, housing the papal vicar along with his household and offices. But because it’s the pope’s cathedral the Lateran church or basilica is the mother church of all Catholic churches.

It was actually dedicated under the title of the “Most Holy Savior” as well as that of St. John the Baptist. Although it’s known more by this second title of St. John, its full proper name is the Patriarchal Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saint John the Baptist at the Lateran. Quite a mouthful for any parishioner to remember.

The Lateran is a truly imposing church, though, and one cannot help but be impressed by its towering facade crowned with 15 huge statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar are the remains of a small wooden table which tradition tells us was the altar used by St. Peter himself to celebrate Mass.
St. John Lateran Baptistry

Another striking feature is the baptistry, a large circular building behind the Church. It’s large because when people were baptized, whether infants or adults, the entire parish gathered for the celebration. The entrance of a new Christian into the faith was a central focus of the Church. Baptism was never considered a private ceremony.  It was and should remain a community celebration. This is why here at St. Vincent de Paul we generally celebrate baptisms at Sunday Mass.

Unlike the commemorations of other Roman churches, today’s anniversary isn’t a simple memorial; rather it’s a feast – a feast reminding us of our union with the pope, the Bishop of Rome. For the papacy is a gift from the Lord who appointed Peter and his successors to continue His presence over the other apostles and bishops as his Rock, his Vicar on earth.

Peter, the Rock, receives the keys on which Christ will build His Church(facade of St. Peter's)

The Pope is often referred to as the Supreme Pontiff or bridge builder between God and man. Every Pope has particular gifts as well as particular human failings.  What really matters is not the individual but the charism given to the individual when he is consecrated Bishop of Rome.  It is, therefore, important to remember that our regard for the papacy shouldn’t be colored by the individual who happens to be pope at a particular time. We’ve been blessed with wonderful, dynamic leaders in Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But the papacy is far greater than either man.

The union of all the Dioceses of the world with the Diocese of Rome, of all the Bishops of the Church in communion with and under the authority of the pope, the Bishop of Rome, is our assurance that we remain the Church that Jesus Christ founded on the Rock of Peter. It is only through the union of the universal Church with the Chair of Peter that the fundamentals of our faith, our liturgy, and our morality have remained the same throughout the world and through the ages.

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus cleansing the temple of defilement, showing us the importance of doing the same to His Church whenever the need arises. And so today, as we worship together in freedom to celebrate the Dedication of St. John Lateran, we thank God for our union with the Church in Rome and pray that our pope, our bishops, and all God’s people will, like Jesus, be consumed by zeal for His House.

1 comment:

  1. For more info about St John in Lateran's Basilica I suggest to visit this page