Sunday, Nov. 9, is the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome.


This Sunday marks the feast of a building: the dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran by Pope Sylvester I in 324.

Some facts about this basilica:

— This Church, not St. Peter’s, is the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome; it houses the papal cathedra (chair).

— It’s called “Mother of All Churches.”

— It is dedicated to both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, but primarily, to Christ the savior himself. Its titular feast is the Transfiguration.

— The basilica’s relics include the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul.

— Across the street are the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs), wooden steps that encase white marble steps. According to tradition, the staircase was sanctified by the footsteps of Jesus Christ during his passion.

— St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine I, brought the Scala Sancta from Jerusalem.


The beautiful color movie The Agony and the Ecstasy is a celebration of that other papal church, the Sistine Chapel beside St. Peter’s Basilica. Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo, and Rex Harrison does very well as Pope Julius II. The film was partly based on Irving Stone’s historical novel and indulges in some of his theories about Michelangelo, mostly in ways that go over kids’ heads — but beware of one brothel scene; you might want to fast-forward.

This is the kind of challenging film we like to show our children because it sparks discussion. It shows affection and respect for the Catholic Church, but leaves them surprised to see what other eras of the Church were like, and how popes have not always been saintly: Julius is a warrior pope with human weaknesses; the cardinals bicker and oppose Michelangelo.


Option chosen on the bishops’ website:

Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 84:3-6, 8, 11; 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22 offers free homily packs for priests.

Our Take

When we say “The Church isn’t made of bricks; we are the Church,” we’re saying something only partly true.

On our honeymoon, we went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and spent one afternoon riding horses into the hills near town. Our guides took us down a long dirt road to a rest stop near a poor village where vendors sold soda and bread. There, we saw a sign in broken English asking for donations for a new church to be built. Some of the tourists were surprised that the people there wanted to build a church: Weren’t there higher priorities, like a job training center or a better school facility?

It’s true that a church made of stones isn’t strictly necessary for worship. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” Christ said, “there am I in the midst of them.” But today’s feast and today’s readings recognize something important in the human soul, and those villagers recognized it, too.

A solid building, the more beautiful and architecturally grand the better, is essential to us knowing who God is and what he wants from us.

Today’s readings almost form a syllogism about respect for the connection between “we, the Church” and church buildings.

First reading: Heaven is essentially an eternal version of the Temple or a church.

Psalm: God is what makes the Temple or a church strong.

Second reading: The significance once given the Temple built on rock is now given to the people of God, built on Christ.

Gospel: Therefore, Christ showed zeal for the physical Temple and laid the foundation for the new life we have in the Church.

Even if our own parish church isn’t grand, feast days like this are important to remind us why we have great cathedrals. They remind us that the Church is solid; it lasts forever, and our real home is the Father’s house.