Some people will no doubt think it odd that the Universal Church should remember the dedication of a church building, and especially on a Sunday, and Remembrance Sunday at that. As Catholics we are used to symbolism and mystery, and it should come as no surprise to us that there is more involved in today’s feast than simply commemorating the dedication of a church.
If you have been to Rome you may have paid a visit to the Basilica of Saint John on the Lateran Hill. The first basilica was built on that site by the Emperor Constantine and dedicated by Pope Sylvester I on 9th November 324. The present structure was completed in 1735. Twelve colossal statues of the apostles line the rim of the roof. Inside the basilica the walls are bordered with mosaics of all the popes, beginning with St. Peter and continuing to the present pope, Our Holy Father Pope Francis I. These statues and mosaics are visual reminders that we are a Church rooted in Christ and the apostles.
Today we commemorate the dedication of this basilica because it is the pope’s parish church, the cathedral church of Rome. And by extension Saint John Lateran is the cathedral or the home church of all Catholics. We certainly admire the fine building which is worthy of its purpose, but rather today we acknowledge the people that make up the Church. Each individual Catholic is a living stone in whom God dwells. The readings for today’s Mass speak about temples and they give us an understanding of God’s presence within all his people.
Animals were sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem and within the Holy of Holies incense was offered in bucket loads around the clock for atonement and petitions. The people asked God to watch over the temple and to hear the prayers that were offered in it. The most sacred place in the temple was the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant.
In the Gospel we heard how the temple, or at least the outer court which had been set aside for the Gentiles to worship in, had become little more than a marketplace and a Den of Thieves. Our Lord drove out the moneychangers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice because these merchants were cheating the people who came to the temple to worship God.
Saint Paul says that we are all living stones in a spiritual temple built on the solid foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ is the cornerstone and each one of us is a brick in the structure. Saint Paul says to us: Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you? God is alive and active in us, infusing us with his goodness and love.
Saint Paul teaches us how to built up the Church: Your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous and worthy of praise.
The same Holy Spirit that gave birth to the Church at Pentecost lives in the Church today and in each one of us who are members of it. This means that we, individually and collectively, are temples of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit dwells within us by virtue of our baptism.
In a few minutes our gifts of bread and wine will be blessed and broken. The one bread broken and the one chalice shared among many join us in one Spirit. We are holy people worshipping in a holy place that is just one of many holy places throughout the world of which the cathedral church of Saint John Lateran is Mother and Head. And so today, we commemorate more than the dedication of a building made of marble and mortar. Rather we commemorate the continuing dedication of a living structure, a living temple of God: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.