First a bit of history & tradition – St John Lateran, mother church of the world:
“To dedicate or consecrate” a place to God is a ritual that is found in every religion. To “reserve” a place to God is an act of recognizing His glory and honor.
When the Emperor Constantine granted full liberty to Christians in 313, they did not spare in order to construct places for the Lord – numerous are the churches constructed at that time. Constantine himself also constructed churches, one of which he was a magnificent basilica on the Caelian Hill in Rome, over the ancient Lateran Palace, which Pope Sylvester I dedicated to Christ the Savior (318 or 324). A chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist was built inside it which served as the baptistry. This moved Pope Sergius III to dedicate it to Saint John the Baptist as well. Lastly, Pope Lucius II also dedicated it to Saint John the Evangelist in the 12th century. Thus, the name of this Papal Basilica is the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. Christians consider the Basilica to be the mother church of all churches in the world.
The church was destroyed several times in the course of the centuries, and always rebuilt. The final reconstruction took place under the pontificate of Benedict XIII. The church was rededicated in 1724. It was at that time that the feast celebrated today was established and extended to the universal Church.
This church is the cathedra (or chair) of the bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. A Latin inscription in the Church reads: “omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis mater et caput.” Translated, this means,
“The mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world.”
The basilica was originally named the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior. However, it is called St. John Lateran because it was built on property donated to the Church by the Laterani family, and because the monks from the monastery of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Divine served it.
In Jesus’ time the practice of sacrificing a lamb for Passover and the practice of making other sacrifices throughout the year for thanksgiving or to plead forgiveness led to a complex system of certifying and selling worthy sacrificial animals. Temple priests and animal breeders/sellers benefited from this system. A second group of people benefited from this system because only temple coins could be used in the temple area. Thus, the need for money changers. This “business” took place within the temple area. After passing through the main entrance and climbing up the stairs, one came into the outer ring of the temple known as the Gentiles’ court. On the south-east side of the court, near the main entrance, you would walk into the sellers’ and money exchangers market. The temple priests, the money changers, and the animal breeders made out very well in this system. The common folk suffered abuse from this payment system when they wanted to pray, offer thanksgiving or penitential sacrifices, or prepare the Passover meal.
The whole purpose of the temple was to have a place for the glory of God, a place of encounter with God that would nourish the holiness of the people. Jesus was the living “Glory of God” returning to the temple and the people of Israel. Rather than finding a place of encounter and true holiness, he found a business and empty rituals. He breaks that system by throwing out the animal breeders and money changers. He proclaims himself as the new temple.
As a local community of faith, we are the new temple, the point of encounter and the sign of holiness and faith. Paul speaks of this in the second reading as he describes how we are all bricks that form the local church to show the miracle of communion in the Risen Christ. Seeing what Jesus did in today’s Gospel, we are challenged to live deeply our mission to be temple. As beautiful and impressive as are all the churches in the world, the local faith community is called to be even more beautiful through its life in Christ and service to others.
Zeal for your house will consume me.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?