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Dedication of St. John Lateran Basilica Print
Guest column
Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 -- 12:00 AM

Word on Fire
Fr. Steve Grunow

This month, the Church remembers the dedication of the great basilica church of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Lateran Basilica is the cathedral church of the Holy Father as he is bishop of Rome. The magnificent building stands on land that was given to the bishops of Rome by the Emperor Constantine.

Remember, it was during the reign of the Emperor Constantine that the laws restricting the practice of the Church's faith were removed from Roman law, and the Church went from being an illegal cult, whose profession of faith was considered an act of treason, to being the favored religion of the Roman emperor.

Our apostolic faith

This changed the Church for good and for grief. Some of the most arresting features of the Basilica of St. John Lateran are monumental statues of the 12 apostles that stand as if they are supporting the ceiling of the church.

Larger than life and full of dramatic intensity, the sculptures show the apostles holding the instruments of their martyrdom. The apostles are represented, not as they were on earth, but how they are in heaven.

Remember, the faith we profess is the apostolic faith. We believe and practice the faith that the apostles believed and practiced. St. John Lateran shows our connection to the apostles in stone. The Holy Father and the bishops reveal this connection in the flesh.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel presents a fantastic vision of the great temple of Jerusalem. Ezekiel's vision beholds not an earthly building, but the temple of heaven, where the angels and saints offer praise and thanksgiving to almighty God.

The sacraments emerge

Ezekiel sees this heavenly temple and foresees the day when this heavenly temple will reveal itself in our world. And we know in Christ that what Ezekiel saw was not simply a building, but a body -- the Body of Christ. Christ's body is the temple of God, and it is on the cross that this truth is revealed in its fullest intensity.

From Christ's pierced side his divine life flows into the sacraments of the Church. It is from this river of divine life that the sacraments emerge, and it is the sacraments of the Church that impart healing and abundant life to the world. This is the meaning of the prophecy of Ezekiel.

The apostle Paul testifies that the "spirit of God" dwells in us, a Holy Spirit that makes each of us a temple of the Lord. What does this mean? It means that as we receive the Blessed Sacrament we become bearers of the divine presence.

Remember, the purpose of the great temple of Jerusalem was not simply to be a cultural monument, but a place where God would dwell with his people. It was the place where the divine presence of the Lord met his people.

This is what happens within us as we receive the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is not just a symbol of Christ. It is the divine presence of Christ himself. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we take into ourselves the divine presence of Christ and become, as St. Paul testifies, temples of the Lord!

Let us recall and remember what the Blessed Sacrament is -- the divine presence of Christ given to us in a form that we can see and receive as food and drink.

Temple purification

In the Gospel of John, there is a scene that is known as the cleansing of the temple. Oftentimes this text is understood as being about Christ's fury at the commercialization of religion. Commercialization of religion is dangerous business, but it is not what this story is all about.

What is happening is that Christ is signaling the end of the sacrificial system that was integral to the worship of the temple. Remember, God was glorified and petitioned in the temple of Jerusalem through the offering of ritual sacrifices. God, in Christ, ends this system and makes himself the sacrifice.

This is what the Mass reveals to us. God has become the temple, the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice, and it is through his sacrifice, which is the gift of Christ's divine life, that he offers us Holy Communion with his divine life. I know this all sounds very mysterious.

Sacrifice and celebration

Our modern minds may struggle to grasp the full implications of what I am saying. But know this: the worship of the Church is temple worship. We participate in the Mass in the temple of Christ's Body, offered on the altar of the Cross, by Christ the High Priest, who sacrifices, that is, gives to us his divine life.

We gather for worship in the temple of Christ. This is what the church building that surrounds us is for and what it is meant to signify. When we celebrate the dedication of an earthly temple, we must remember that it is more than a building, it is here where heaven meets earth, and we enter into a great and holy temple!

When Mass concludes, we are commissioned to be Christ for others, because he now dwells within us.

Fr. Steve Grunow is CEO of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Learn more at