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CHRIST AND WE ARE THE CHURCH

Father Francis's picture
Dedication of the Basilica of John Lateran

Most Catholics think of St Peter's in Rome as the pope's main church but, in fact, it is St John Lateran, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome where the Bishop of Rome presides. It is far more important than St Peter's Basilica and been in existence far longer.

It was first dedicated to the Redeemer but after destruction by an earthquake in 896 it was dedicated to St John the Baptist and St John the Apostle. The first basilica on the site was built in the 4th century when Constantine donated land he had received from the wealthy Lateran family. That structure and its successors suffered fire, earthquake and the ravages of war, but the Lateran remained the church where popes were consecrated until the return from Avignon in the 14th century when it and the adjoining palace were in ruins.

Pope Innocent X commissioned the present structure in 1646. One of Rome's most imposing churches, the Lateran's towering facade is crowned with 15 colossal statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist and 12 doctors of the Church. Beneath its high altar rest the remains of the small wooden table on which tradition holds that St Peter himself celebrated Mass.

This feast day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of the word 'Church' and what we mean by it. On the one hand, it is a visible structure, a building used as a place of worship. On the other hand, and more importantly, it is a spiritual entity, the Body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head and we are all members.

Jesus told us that where two or three are gathered together in His name He will be there with us, because He has sent His Spirit to live in us forever. Jesus Himself is the cornerstone on which the Church is founded and we, His followers, are the living stones which help to build it up. Each one of us is a small but very important component, and we can feel secure because Jesus has promised that not even the power of Hell can destroy this Church which He has built. The Church, therefore, is something far more important and more durable than even the oldest and finest basilica.

Today we pay tribute to those who donated this basilica to the Church and all those who rebuilt and restored this beautiful edifice. But let us not forget that we are the building materials of which the Church is constructed. We are the marble, the stone if we are good Catholics, then we are providing materials of the finest quality which will enhance the structure. Let us pray that Christ will find us worthy to be used in building up His Church.