Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building. … For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Cor 3:9, 17)
November 9th, just before commemoration of Pope Leo the Great, we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral Church -the Pope’s primary church – of Rome by Pope Sylvester the First in the year 324. Originally known as the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and now known as St. John Lateran, this ancient church is universally recognised as the Mother and Head of All Churches of the City and of the World (Omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et Orbis mater et caput). Accordingly, the whole Church celebrates its dedication. In continuity with the Feast of All Saints which began the month of November, today’s celebration affirms the universal call to holiness that we have all received by virtue of our Baptism. We are reminded of this defining truth by the Apostle Paul: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwell in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:17).
There are striking similarities between the Rite of Baptism and the Rite of Dedication of a Church. Just as we are cleansed of sin through the waters of Baptism so too, the church building is sprinkled with Holy Water. The walls of the church and the Altar of Sacrifice are likewise anointed with the same chrism that is used to anoint those receiving the other Sacraments. The candles on the church walls mark the places where the walls were anointed. An ancient antiphon sung on the anniversary of a church’s dedication expresses the holiness of every church dedicated and consecrated to the worship of God: Locus iste a Deo factus est, inaestimabile sacramentum, irreprehensibile est: This place was made by God, a priceless sacrament; it is without reproach.