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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Nov. 9th -- Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome: Sacred Space and the Cleansing of the Temple

(first published November 9, 2014)


by David Pence


It may seem odd that a feast day celebrates the consecration of a church. Think of it as a time to reflect on all the ways God and his Church have set aside sacred space to bring Creator and man in closer union. Out of nothingness, he set a platform of matter where man could stand and know and love. In the hostile expanding universe, He set the solar system and earth in just the right place for life. Then, from inanimate matter he enclosed a cell: a set-aside enclosed space which is the structure of all physical life. He set aside a garden amidst the earth for the best of his handiwork.

After man was cast out from the holy place because he defiled it, Noah and his sons were instructed to set aside an ark where they could survive the Deluge. God made all the men under Abraham a set-aside sacred brotherhood when he ordered them circumcised. When He gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He also instructed him in building a new sacred space: the Ark of the Covenant. There God would dwell amidst his elected people. That holy chest of the desert wanderers eventually became the Temples of the Promised Land. And from that Jewish culture came the Virgin-Mother, the new sacred Ark. She was set aide in her beginning by her Immaculate Conception and at her earthly end by her Assumption into Heaven. She was the ultimate sacred space. And He dwelt among us.

There is a setting aside of sacred spaces, and days and persons, because the whole of matter and living beings is not destined to be drawn into the Body of Christ. There is a separation which makes this ground here, holy; and that ground over there, profane. There is a separation that will send the devil to Hell, while drawing the poor in spirit into the Body of Christ. Maintaining this separation is so crucial to the divine plan that spaces and persons which have been consecrated must be destroyed or purified if they become contaminated. The root of the word "holy" actually means "set aside or separated."

The celebration of Hanukkah by the Jews is an 8-day commemoration of the Purification of the Temple after it had been defiled by a desecrating Greek king. When the Maccabees cleansed the temple altar from the Greek abominations, they destroyed the old altar and then rebuilt a new one. The Maccabees could end the desecrations only by warfare. They were led by a father and his sons. Once again we hear the biblical lesson that without a fighting patriarchal fraternity there is no defense of the sacred center. (Hanukkah really isn't "the Jewish Christmas.")

The liturgy of this day reminds us that human beings are temples of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit of God dwells within us. Ezekiel has his vision of the sanctifying sacramental graces flowing like a river from the new temple of the Church. This day's Gospel recalls the Maccabees. Christ swings a purging whip to cleanse his Father’s house. In that same week on the night before he dies, he will do his other great pre-Crucifixion purifying act when he cleanses his sacred Apostles of the Judas-priest and orders them to do the same through the ages. Today, let us reflect on sacred spaces and our duty to keep them pure.

                                       
by El Greco (d. 1614)
                                                               



UPDATE: The Lateran in Rome  was dedicated in November 324. It was the first  Church built in Rome after Constantine's Edict in 313 allowed Christianity a recognized public identity.  Emperor Constantine convoked the first Ecumenical Council - at Nicaea -- the following May.

"The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.
Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love. "
— Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, November 9, 2008


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