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Catholic Gators

What in the World is the Lateran Basilica?

By: Beatriz Galindo

Tomorrow, November 9th, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Why? What does the dedication of a church in Rome have to do with you and me?

In the early 300s, Emperor Constantine gave the Lateran Palace to Pope St. Miltiades. On November 9, 324, Pope St. Sylvester I dedicated the now-Basilica to Christ the Savior. It was subsequently dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle; for this reason the Lateran Basilica is also referred to as the Basilica of St. John in Lateran, or simply St. John Lateran. It remained the residence of the Pope until the early 1300s. St. John Lateran is still considered the Pope’s cathedral, therefore the cathedral of Rome, and the “mother church.” It is the only church in the world with the title Archbasilica and is the highest ranking church in the Church.

It is beautiful to celebrate a 1700-year-old church dedicated to our Savior. For me, it is what the Lateran signifies, beyond its history, that makes this celebration even more beautiful. St. John Lateran, our mother church, is a reminder of the Church, universal. It reminds us that we are Christ’s people through the symbols found in the Mass readings for November 9th. One symbol is water; from the waters flowing from the temple to the stream in the city of God, water washes away the old and creates new life, as in baptism. Another symbol is that of the temple, the house of God. In the Gospel reading, Jesus clears out the temple area in Jerusalem, representative of his intent to restore his Father’s house, to wash away the old and create new life through his Resurrection. In the Gospel reading it is clear that Jesus, when speaking about the destruction and raising of the temple in three days, refers to his Body and not the actual temple building.

Included in the Office of Readings (from the Liturgy of the Hours) for November 9th is a sermon by bishop St. Caesarius of Arles. He captures the connection between baptism and the temple of Christ:

“…after our baptism we merited the privilege of being temples of Christ. And if we think more carefully about the meaning of our salvation, we shall realize that we are indeed living and true temples of God. God does not dwell only in structures fashioned by human hands, in homes of wood and stone, but rather he dwells principally in the soul made according to his own image and fashioned by his own hand.”

Yes, we celebrate St. John Lateran as a man-made structure, a home of wood and stone in which God dwells, but we also celebrate God’s dwelling within the people who make up the Church. We are temples of Christ and this is a privilege for which we can be thankful.

I first heard of the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica one or two years ago. I found it odd that we had a feast celebrating a building, but I accepted it as one of “those surprising Catholic things.” Looking back, it is these little surprises that remind me of the beauty of our faith and the endless beauty of Christ. He wants to clear away the obstacles and dwell in our hearts. As we find in tomorrow’s Gospel Acclamation,

“I have chosen and consecrated this house, says the Lord, that my name may be there forever.” (2 Chr 7:16)

Like the Lateran Basilica, we have been chosen as the dwelling of the Lord. May his name dwell in you and me forever!

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Whether it is November 9th or the middle of July, I challenge you to discover more about the faith. Find a feast, do some research, and celebrate! How will God surprise you?

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References

“Basilica of Saint John Lateran.” Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, 19 Nov. 2020, https://cmswr.org/basilica-of-saint-john-lateran/.

“The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica.” Vatican News, Dicasterium pro Communicatione, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.vaticannews.va/en/liturgical-holidays/dedication-of-the-lateran-basilica-.html.

“Saint John Lateran.” CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09014b.htm.

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