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The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Vatican News
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

“To dedicate or consecrate” a place to God is a ritual that is found in every religion. To “reserve” a place to God is an act of recognizing His glory and honor.

When the Emperor Constantine granted full liberty to Christians in 313, they did not spare in order to construct places for the Lord – numerous are the churches constructed at that time. Constantine himself also constructed churches, one of which he was a magnificent basilica on the Caelian Hill in Rome, over the ancient Lateran Palace, which Pope Sylvester I dedicated to Christ the Savior (318 or 324). A chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist was built inside it which served as the baptistry. This moved Pope Sergius III to dedicate it to Saint John the Baptist as well. Lastly, Pope Lucius II also dedicated it to Saint John the Evangelist in the 12th century. Thus, the name of this Papal Basilica is the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. Christians consider the Basilica to be the mother church of all churches in the world.

The church was destroyed several times in the course of the centuries, and always rebuilt. The final reconstruction took place under the pontificate of Benedict XIII. The church was rededicated in 1724. It was at that time that the feast celebrated today was established and extended to the universal Church.

From the Gospel according to John

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. (Jn 2:13-22).

Meeting place

The biblical readings selected for today’s feast develop the theme of a “temple”. In the Old Testament, during the Babylonian exile around 592 BC, the prophet Ezekiel tried to help the people overcome their discouragement over not having any land or any place in which to pray. This situation gave rise to his message in the First Reading (Ez 47) in which the prophet announces the day on which the people would adore their God in a new temple – a place where the people would raise their prayer to God and where God would draw near to them, listen to their prayer and come to their aid: a meeting place. In this way, the temple would assume the role as the House of God and the House of the People of God. From this temple the prophet saw water flowing: “I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple”. This water was a gift that brought life wherever it flowed—a blessing. It was a place in which justice was exercised, the only type of justice capable of healing the people.

Out of here

Every male Hebrew was obliged to go up to Jerusalem to offer a lamb during the Passover. Three weeks beforehand, animals fit for sacrifice were offered for sale. It was the money changers responsibility to exchange Roman coins for those minted in Tyre. This had nothing to do with the orthodox practice of their religion, even if it was portrayed that way. Even the coins minted in Tyre had a pagan image inscribed on them. These coins, however, contained more silver, and were therefore worth more. Overseeing this “commerce” were the temple priests who always made a profit from this exchange. This is the context in which Jesus found himself in the Temple (v. 14, the Greek text uses the word hieron), or more precisely, in the Temple’s outer court, the Court of the Gentiles.  The proper name for the Temple in Greek was naos, the sanctuary, and used in vv 19-21. “He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area” (v 15). Using a whip, Jesus threatened these “merchants” present in the Temple (the hieron). He overturned the vendors’ tables and cast everyone out (cf. Ex. 32 – the Golden Calf).

“Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” These words and actions bring to mind the prophet Zechariah who prophesied what would happen when the Lord would come into the city of Jerusalem: “On that day…there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord” (Zc 14:21).

“What sign can you show us for doing this?” “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Temple priests asked by what “authority” Jesus did this and He responds by inviting them to destroy the Temple (naos) and He would raise it up. Jesus does not refer as much to the temple, that is to the building, but to the true and proper “sanctuary” where God was present. “He was speaking about the temple of his Body.” With Jesus’s Passover – with His body destroyed and restored to life – the new cult, the cult of love would begin in the new Temple – and this new Temple is Jesus himself. His resurrection would be the key that would allow the disciples to finally understand. Later, it would be the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26) who would make them recall these things and interpret them in a new way.

Jesus, the new Temple

Today’s Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica allows us to remember the journey of the people and God’s constant and faithful care. At the same time, we are reminded today that each one of us is a “house of God” in the Risen Jesus, because the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16). This awareness alone leads us to praise the Lord on the one hand, and on the other, it leads us to say, at times excessively, “O Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” (Mt. 8:8), forgetting that He is already in us and that He welcomes us and loves us not as we would like to be, but as we are, here, now. All the present distractions are what make the Lord’s face blurry. When we learn to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, of our friendship with Him (cf. Heb 12:1-4), our faces will shine with light that flows from a “unified” heart. The serenity required is momentary, but it is needs to develop over a life time of continuous entering within ourselves and heading straight for the “King’s room” (cf. The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa of Avila).

09 November
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