Feast of the Dedication
of the Lateran Basilica
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
In the Lectionary the Common of the Dedication of a Church precedes Mary, the Martyrs and the other saints. If there is a hierarchy as I think there is, why would the Dedication of a Church precede Mary? Is it that the celebration of Church, the holy assembly of God’s people, includes Mary along with all of the saints in its celebration? It is also a good reminder to us that we celebrate not a church building but the primary symbol when we gather for liturgy, the people who are Church.
The Basilica, really Archbasilica in that it is the oldest of the four major basilicas of Rome, is the Episcopal seat of the Pope as the Bishop of Rome. It is called the Mother and Head of all the Churches of Rome and the world. As we have celebrated All Saints and our beloved dead, All Souls, we could see today’s feast as celebrating all the living, the Church, gathered symbolically with it’s head, the Bishop of Rome.
There is a selection of readings to choose from for the feast day. Paul to the Corinthians tells us ‘the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.’ We are the living body of Christ. The Old Testament selection from Ezekiel is particularly beautiful. He speaks of hearing the sound of water, being led by an angel to the gate of the temple that faces east. Ezekiel falls face down as the Lord enters the temple from the east. He hears God say, ‘this is where I will set the soles of my feet; here I will dwell among the Israelites forever.’ We can think of Baptism, the early church facing the east making their profession of faith in the direction of the rising sun, the symbol of the radiance of Christ whose coming would be from the east. This is the Lord God who has threatened Israel by saying that he would leave the Temple and go off to the north, to the land of Babylon! How solid and reassuring to Ezekiel the image of the soles of God’s feet now being planted in the temple. God has returned. God does not abandon Israel.
I will choose John’s gospel of the cleansing of the temple. Jesus becomes the temple, he replaces it with himself. When asked for a sign authorizing his actions Jesus replies, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ John will interpret for us, ‘Actually he was talking about the temple of his body.’
Today is our celebration and we are honored. At baptism our places at the banquet table of the Eucharist were reserved for us. We could see the Basilica of John Lateran as one large gathering of all the Baptized, sort of the yearly family reunion, remembering our connectedness, gathering at a place that is meaningful to us all. At the reunion we hear the story of God marching into the temple from the East, making a wondrous display, as God takes up residence in our midst. But the story grows more exciting. God’s presence in our midst becomes living, Jesus, Our Savior. (The Lateran was first dedicated to Our Savior and bore that as its name). And as he is the Temple, we who are coheirs with the saints, we are temples of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us.
Very happy feast day to all!
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.