This environment, perhaps, was not the most spiritually uplifting, but it was necessary in order to build a beautiful place of worship that would lead the congregation into greater worship of God during the sacred liturgy.
This weekend, in place of the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the Dedication of St. John Lantern. This might seem odd, but there is a perfectly good reason for it. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the pope’s basilica.
Given that St. John Lateran is one of the pre-eminent churches in our Catholic tradition, it is fitting we celebrate its feast day universally. St. John Lateran is the world’s basilica. It is similar to a cathedral for a local diocesan church or a parish for s specific geographical boundary.
This feast day affords us the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the temples of old and churches today. It allows us to pause and reflect on the three temples our readings point to: religious temples, Jesus, and the body of Christ.
A little over a month and a half ago, I had the opportunity to attend the consecration of the altar for the newly renovated parish. I had never been to an altar consecration before, but the ritual actions of the liturgy were beautiful and symbolic of the Christian life.
In the beginning of the liturgy, there was a sprinkling rite, which included not only the people, but the altar as well. All those gathered for the liturgy had been immersed in the waters of Baptism, so too the altar was “baptized” through the sprinkling rite. After the Prayer of Consecration, the altar was then anointed with Sacred Chrism, another sign of baptism. In this action, the altar was set aside for holy purposes from which everyone would receive the sacred mysteries. Finally, a brazier with incense was placed on the altar, in order to evoke the imagery of the funeral rites wherein the casket, adorned in a while baptismal garment, is incensed.
Churches are places that are set aside for the worship of God; they are places where we meet God in the Scriptures, the Eucharist, and the gathered assembly. They are a place where today we celebrate the sacraments, including Eucharist and Baptism.
It is by no accident then, that the Church conjures up within our minds the image of Baptism in her ritual of consecrating an altar.
This baptismal imagery is found in the first reading from Ezekiel, in which he saw water flowing from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east. This reading parallels nicely with the gospel, in which Jesus identifies himself as the temple.
He tells the Jews, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.” They did not understand “he was speaking about the temple of his Body.” The temple of Jesus, crucified, hung on the cross. One of the Roman centurions pierces his side, and from it flows blood and water. Water flows forth from Jesus, who is the New temple.
Jesus is the source of living water. He invites us to come to him and drink, and we will never thirst. He can quench our thirst for all eternity. And now He allows his blood and water to flow out onto living temples of the Holy Spirit. This is who we are, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “you are God’s building…you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
The blood and water that flows from Jesus, sanctifies each one of us as living temples. It is in religious temples, the Churches, where Jesus’ salvific action on Calvary continues to this very day through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus’ blood and water flows out upon each one of us in order to make us holy.
In our day, Jesus has become the temple par excellence. He is the center and foundation of our sacred temples today. He comes and dwells in our church so that we as temples of the Spirit can encounter the divine.
Each one of us, in Baptism, has become a temple of God. Like my diaconal assignment for the summer, our temples are under construction, because God wants to do some major renovations in our life. The Lord challenges us by the message of sacred scripture. He calls us out of complacency to live the gospel and grow in virtue.
If the renovation of our heart and life is successful, at the end of our life, the Lord will take down the sign on our souls that says “Under Construction” and hopefully say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter the kingdom prepared for you.”