Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today the whole entire Church celebrates together the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, the Mother Church of all the whole entire world, the most important and prominent of all the churches, as the seat of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the seat of his authority, power and sovereignty over the whole Universal Church. This may come as a surprise to quite a few among us who may have thought that St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican as the most important church of all, given its unique position in Vatican City, just adjacent to the Apostolic Palace where the Popes reside in. Indeed, most of the major celebrations by the Pope and other important major celebrations and commemorations are celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica due to its size and also importance, being essentially the largest church in all of Christendom and also convenient centre of the Church’s coordination and ministry.
However, in terms of actual significance and importance, St. Peter’s Basilica, also known officially as the Papal Major Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican is second in rank after that of the Lateran Basilica, which commemoration of Dedication we are celebrating today. The Lateran Basilica is the actual seat of the Pope and the place where his Cathedra as the Bishop of Rome is located at. In order to understand this better, first we must all know that each ordinary or bishop of a diocese has his own Cathedra, located in a church which is therefore known appropriately as a Cathedral, the Cathedral and also the Mother Church of the entire diocese. Since ancient times and the earliest days of the Church, the bishop’s authority has always been associated and linked to his seat of teaching and authority, which is his Cathedra.
That is why whenever a new bishop has been ordained, he officially takes over the governance of his diocese when he has been installed and enthroned on his Cathedra, a ceremony which is even more explicit and clear in nature amongst our brethren following the Eastern Christian traditions. In the same way therefore, the Pope as the Bishop of Rome also has a Cathedra, the Cathedra of the Diocese of Rome and its bishop, who is also the Pope and the Vicar of Christ. This Cathedra is located at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is therefore, given the universal nature of the Papal authority and supremacy over the whole Church, is appropriately the Mother Church of the whole entire world. Hence, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, sometimes also known by its official name of the Archbasilica of Our Saviour, and of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist in Lateran, is truly the most important church of all.
Historically, this very important particular House of God was also among the first churches to be built following the end of official persecutions of Christians and the whole Church by the Roman state, as well as the beginning of period of toleration and eventually support by the Roman Emperors and state for the Christian faith. Prior to the Edict of Milan which ended a long series of persecutions against Christians, most Christians usually worshipped in secret, gathering in places where they would not be easily seen and found out being Christians, such as in the catacombs, the tombs where many of the martyrs and saints were buried, as well as in houses, outside of cities and other secret places that were relatively safe from the knowledge of the authorities. Most Christians were not able to openly profess their faith in God, and many were persecuted, suffered and died for their faith in God.
Therefore, when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided to end the official persecution of Christians which had lasted for almost three centuries, and extended toleration and even support for the Church, it was a time of new beginnings for the Church and to the Christian communities long accustomed to great persecution and sufferings. The Emperor helped to fund and provide the lands which would become the place where the then Pope, Pope St. Miltiades, would establish a new church dedicated to God, the Most Holy Saviour of all, as a most worthy House of God and as the seat of the Pope and Vicar of Christ, and hence, as the centre of all of Christendom. The Church since the earliest days and the beginning had always considered St. Peter and his successors, the Popes, to be the ones entrusted by God with the governance and leadership over the whole Church.
That church, what would become the Basilica of St. John Lateran, was dedicated on this date, the ninth day of November, about seventeen centuries ago, in the year of Our Lord 324, just eleven years after the Edict of Milan. This church therefore became the beginning of a visible authority of the Church which had remained long hidden from the world, as it emerged out of the long and dark periods of persecutions, into a new period of establishment and expansion, as many new churches, facilities and communities were established all throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, and seventeen centuries later, this work of evangelisation and establishment of the Church which had begun even earlier since the days of the Apostles, still continued on after the Christian faith has reached the very ends of the world.
On this day, we celebrate the day of the Dedication of this great House of God, the Mother Church of all the whole entire world. What does it mean by a church being dedicated to God? It means that the church as a building and edifice has been solemnly blessed and marked by God to be a House and Temple worthy of His Presence, and worthy of the Divine Sacrifice taking place there, where the bread and wine, by the power of God, through the offerings and hands of the ordained, in persona Christi, are changed in essence, reality, matter and all into the Most Precious Body and the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Himself. And henceforth, because the very Real and Holy Presence of God is present and contained within the church, it has to be purified and blessed, dedicated to God for purpose only of divine worship and praise.
Otherwise, the Sacraments cannot be celebrated within the church, and therefore it is imperative that a church has to be dedicated before it can be properly used for any benefits for the faithful and the community of the people of God. That is why we celebrate and rejoice in the dedication of a church because that moment of dedication is the time when the people of God can finally celebrate together the Sacraments and be in the Holy Presence of God. The Church of God rejoices because a new House of God where the people can gather together as a Church has been blessed and hallowed as such, appointed to be a place of holiness and virtue, and for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is rightful therefore that the people celebrates the dedication of their parishes and the anniversary of that dedication, and the people in a diocese to celebrate the dedication of their Cathedral and the respective anniversaries.
Therefore, it is most fitting and right for the whole Church to celebrate together the dedication of this great Basilica of St. John Lateran and its anniversary, which happens on this date, as it is the Mother Church of all of us, reminding us of the unity of all Christians through the leadership and guidance of St. Peter and his successors, the Popes and the Vicars of Christ. As we celebrate this Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, we therefore renew our commitment to the unity between all the faithful people of God, all members and parts of this same Body, the one and only Church of God, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. We remember the seat of the Pope and his authority, over the whole Church, together with all the bishops and other leaders that the Lord has appointed, and the deposit of faith that has been preserved from the time of the Apostles themselves, and those are what we celebrate today.
And not only that, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we are also reminded at the same time that while we rejoice greatly at this House of God which God has blessed and made worthy to be the Temple of His holy Presence, we should not forget that there is yet another Temple of God, the House of His Presence that is equally important for each and every one of us. And what is that, brothers and sisters? It is the body that we have, each and every one of our body, heart, mind, soul and indeed, our while entire beings. We are all the Holy Temples of God, the Temple of His Holy Presence just as St. Paul told the faithful and the Church in his Epistle to the Corinthians. All those who have received the Lord and accepted Him as their Lord and Saviour, are all the dwelling places of God, Who is truly present in us.
Those who are familiar with the rites of dedication of a church will know that what happens during the dedication is exactly just what we as Christians went through during our initiation to the faith, be it as infants or as adult converts. Just as the church is blessed with holy water, so has us as Christians received the holy waters of baptism, and just as the church is anointed with oil, on the twelve consecration crosses, we too have received the anointing with holy oils of sacred chrism during our baptism as well. The incensation of the Altar and the whole church is mirrored by the incensation of all the people of God in the Mass as the living Church, the Temple of the Lord’s Holy Presence, marking that each one of us are truly set aside to be holy and worthy of God. And just as the Altar is clothed in white, so we have also received the white garments at our baptism.
What is even more important is that, while churches and even the great Basilica of St. John Lateran are all made with the hands of men, imperfect and flawed, the One Who crafted and made us all was none other than God Himself. He made us all to be worthy and perfect, but unfortunately, due to our disobedience and refusal to follow His path, His Law and commandments, sin had entered into our hearts, our very being and corrupted this Temple and House of God that is our bodies and our being. Yet, God did not give up on us or destroy us, because of His ever enduring love for us, and He gave us the means towards our salvation and liberation from sin through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, God has called all of us to holiness and to be worthy of Him, remembering that each one of us have received the Lord Himself, in His Real Presence through the Eucharist, and also have been sanctified and set aside by our baptism, and our whole initiation into the Christian faith and Church. Therefore, let us all be reminded of the need to keep ourselves as far as possible to be blameless and free from sin, and refrain from doing things that are contrary to God’s will and can lead us down the slippery slope towards sin and damnation. We have to do our best to guard and take care of ourselves to avoid falling into the many temptations, coercions and pressures all around us trying to drag us away from the path towards God’s salvation and eternal life.
Let us hence live our lives to the best of our abilities, to be good role models and inspirations for one another in faith. Let us all be truly worthy of God dwelling and being with us all the time. Otherwise, if we fail to fulfil our respective Christian callings and missions, then it will be more difficult for us to come nearer to God. May the Lord give us the strength and the perseverance to remain firmly committed to Him despite the challenges and hardships we may have to encounter along the way, keeping our body, heart, mind, soul and our whole existences and beings free from sin, as the Temples of the Lord. May God be with us all, and as He blessed the great Basilica of St. John Lateran, may He also bless us all in our future good works and endeavours. Amen.