The Cathedra of Our Holy Father Symbolizes his Teaching Office

Homily for November 9th - Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Why do we celebrate the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran? The Basilica of St. John Lateran, like every church, is a place of the presence of Jesus and so when we honor a church, we honor Jesus. The preface for Mass today states,

Your house is a house of prayer,
And your presence makes it a place of blessing.

Jesus himself was indignant when the temple in Jerusalem was dishonored and he drove out the moneychangers. How much more zeal should we have for every church because it contains the presence of Jesus. Zeal for church buildings will be part of your future ministry as your parish renovates or builds a new church. How much more zeal should we have for the Basilica of St. John Lateran because it is the Pope’s Cathedral containing his Cathedra, the symbol of his teaching office.

“Cathedra” literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community.

When a Bishop takes possession of the particular Church that has been entrusted to him, wearing his miter and holding the pastoral staff, he sits on the cathedra. From this seat, as teacher and pastor, he will guide the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.
Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, February 22, 2006.

Thus as we celebrate the Dedication of the Basilica of John Lateran today we also honor the teaching office of Our Holy Father. Then continuing in his General Audience Pope Benedict traced the history of the Cathedra of St. Peter.

So what was the "Chair" of St Peter?…[Peter] began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The Church's first "seat" was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples…Subsequently, the See of Peter was Antioch...Peter was the first Bishop of that city…From there, Providence led Peter to Rome. Therefore, we have the journey from Jerusalem, the newly born Church, to Antioch, the first center of the Church formed from pagans…Then Peter went to Rome, the center of the Empire...So it is that the See of Rome…has the honor that Christ entrusted to Peter of being at the service of all the particular Churches for the edification and unity of the entire People of God. The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock.
Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, February 22, 2006.

Thus today we celebrate the unity of the People of God around the Cathedra of Our Holy Father as he teaches us.

The site where the Basilica of St. John Lateran stands was the palace of the Laterani, the administrators of the Roman emperors. After Constantine converted and issued the famous Edict of Milan in 313 allowing Christians to practice their faith in public he gave the Lateran palace to the Pope who adapted it to become a Church and it was dedicated on November 9th 324 AD. It was first called the Basilica of the Savior and an inscription on the façade dedicates it to Christ the Savior but later it was also dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist and so it acquired the name Basilica of St John Lateran. The adjacent Lateran Palace was the residence of the Popes for almost the next 1000 years. Although no longer the residence of the Popes the Lateran Basilica continues to be the Cathedral of the Popes since it contains the Pope’s Cathedra.

Every church building reminds us of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Every place set aside for divine worship is a sign of that spiritual temple, which is the Church, made up of living stones: of the faithful united by the one faith, of the participation in the Sacraments and of the bond of charity.
Pope John Paul II, November 9, 2003.

In our second reading today we have a similar idea, “You are God’s building…the foundation…is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:9,11) This together with our first reading reminds us to make Jesus the foundation stone and corner stone of our lives because there is a life-giving river flowing from him to fill us with his grace.

Our celebration of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran reminds us that we are all a living building whose foundation stone is Christ and we are united around the Cathedra of Our Holy Father which symbolizes his teaching office to transmit the faith to the whole Church. As the preface states today,

Your house is a house of prayer,
And your presence makes it a place of blessing.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for November 9th - Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, mother of all churches