Today is a very significant day within the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, as we observe the Feast of the Anniversary of the Dedication of Saint John’s Cathedral which took place on 19th May 1882. We all know why the Cathedral in so important in the life of the diocese. Not only is the Cathedral a place of worship, but the symbol of the Bishop’s authority – his chair – is located there. The Cathedral is the place where the Diocese celebrates the important and notable moments in the community of faith.
But why should this anniversary be observed as a Feast, and as a Solemnity within the Cathedral itself? Well, in almost all religions, the temple is the place where the divinity is believed to make itself present to worshippers. By means of the temple, priests and people enter into communication with the world of the gods. We see this in paganism, in Buddhism, and we saw it in the Old Testament, where the temple at Jerusalem was the symbol of the presence of God among his people.
But that Old Testament sign was only temporary, destined to be replaced with another sort of sign; not a building, but the Body of Christ – the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
That’s why the Church is called the New Jerusalem—itself a sign of God-with-us. And we, as members of the Body of Christ, form a spiritual temple not built by human hands. As Saint Peter tells us in his First Letter, “Together with Christ, we are one building” (1 Peter 2:4).
So today’s feast celebrates the invisible richness that eclipses even the most beautiful art and architecture of the great cathedrals of Europe. We recall the dedication of Saint John’s Cathedral as a shining symbol of the Church, built on Christ, who is the foundation and the cornerstone.
We rejoice in the presence of God in our midst—not only in the Cathedral or within the four walls of our own chapel, but in the entire Body of Christ, the Universal Church, which is at one and the same time, temple, sacrifice, and priest.
As members of the Diocese of Portsmouth, the anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral to God’s praise and glory reminds us today of our call to work together in faith and charity to continually build up the Church.