Today the Church celebrates the dedication of the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. This Church was the first one to be built when the persecution of the Christians came to an end under the reign of Constantine. It was consecrated by Pope Sylvester on November 9th, 324. Originally the feast was only celebrated in Rome but eventually it spread throughout Christendom.
This idea of “Church” was important to the Jewish people. Each year the Jews commemorate the feast of the Dedication in memory of the purification and re-establishment of worship in the temple in Jerusalem following the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the King of Antioch.
The celebration lasts for a week, and it reminds the children of God of this great event. It also reminds them of the miracle of the oil. As the Jews purified the Holy Temple, they found only one flask of the oil for the eternal lamp — enough to keep it burning for just one day. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted eight days and nights. Hence the name the “festival of light.” Jewish families continue this tradition by lighting a special candelabra called a “menorah” over a period of eight nights.
Similarly the whole Church recalls the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. It is the oldest and most dignified of all the Western Churches. Each diocese holds a day of celebration for the dedication of its cathedral and most parishes celebrate the day of dedication within their own parish.
Like the Jews, we too go to our Churches to encounter God. He always awaits us there, hidden in our tabernacles. Pope St John Paul II said, “Any Church is your house, and the house of God. Value it as the place where we encounter the common Father.”
The Church structure is the sign of the whole assembly. The congregation are the living stones, men and women consecrated to God by their Baptism. The Church building is the place where the Christian community gathers together to hear the word of God, to offer prayers of petition and to praise God and to receive him in a most special way.
We should have a deep reverence for our parishes, since there is no place more worthy of respect than the house of God. These great buildings, no matter if they are the most majestic, like the basilica in Rome, or the humblest little shack – these buildings should inspire us, since the most supreme sacrifice of Heaven and earth, the blood of God made Man, is offered up there.
Let us never fail to visit them with the confidence of a person on his way to meet his best friend, Jesus Christ. He gave his life for each one of us out of love, and eagerly awaits us there every day. In our Churches we also encounter the house we share in common with our brothers and sisters in the faith, and through ministering to each other we should strengthen our bonds and edify each other to grow in faith and holiness.