Grace to you!
Among the feasts celebrated in the Catholic Church include the dedication of certain Church buildings. For instance, today is the feast of the Dedication of Lateran Basilica, the first Basilica to be built in Rome by Pope Sylvester in 324. Today, I reflect on the relevance of having a sacred space for worship.
Basilica of Saint John Lateran is an architectural masterpiece. I remember when I celebrated Mass in the Basilica with a number of pilgrims. The spiritual aura of the place was profound. God’s presence could be felt in the most remarkable way inside the Basilica. It was no surprise, because Jesus is in that Basilica 24/7. If you have not visited the Basilica, you may want to include it as one of the places to visit when you have the opportunity to be in Rome.
Are you wondering why the Church pays special attention to church buildings, cathedrals, or chapels, and in this case a basilica? I have a few thoughts.
Basilica ordinarily means “a house” from the Latin basilica, and “royal palace” from Greek basilike “royal hall.” So, it is a house of God, the Lord of the universe. The Church uses it to mean a special church building regarded as an extraordinary pilgrimage center because of its historic and unique spiritual significance. It is approved so by the authority of the pope.
Comparable to cathedrals, chapels and church buildings, there are few basilicas in the world. One of the most famous of the 82 in the United States is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Nigeria has only one–Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, Onitsha (I feel honored to have been baptized there). Only four basilicas are called papal or major basilicas. Saint John Lateran is one of them, as well as St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major and St. Paul outside the Walls, all in Rome. Others are minor basilicas.
It’s important to think about the relevance of having a place of worship, a sacred space we may call the house of God. God is everywhere. You know that much, don’t you? Certainly, God isn’t limited by space. Yet, right from ancient times, God wants his people to have a sacred space for him (see for example, 2 Samuel 7:1-29).
God relates with us as humans, not as spirits. As humans, we make use of our senses and we connect better if there is a thing, place or a time we can point to. There seems to be a natural disposition to have a sacred space. It’s natural to us and we seek that space. This is truly human, and God likes to relate with the truly human.
Have you seen the movie “War Room”? Isn’t it fascinating? Did you observe that the plot revolved around having a sacred, private place, such as your closet (the movie’s example) where you can encounter Christ and have him do the spiritual battle?
That war room is a sacred, private place. I have one in my room with a mini altar, which reminds me of the prayer-date I have with God. My special meeting place for my love, my ultimate love, and the fulfillment of my heart’s desire is the sacred space. You may have your special spot in your home, don’t you? It’s good to have one.
So, for the community of faith, when we gather to pray, we have a community sacred space. We call it Church, or Chapel or Basilica. Inside this basilica, we keep memorabilia of God, the Holy Ones, angels, etc.; and these remind us of the sacred nature of the place. They become holy images shaping our imagination so we can contemplate what they signify.
More importantly for us Catholics, at the heart of a completed church building, and many times dedicated churches, is what we call the tabernacle (a unique box inside which the Eucharist is preserved), often located at the center of the sanctuary wall. Visualize the Old Testament prototype of the Holy of Holies. There, the Lord Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is reposed. Therefore, in a Catholic church with the tabernacle light on, Jesus is fully present in the real way.
Many times, I have met people who come to church and they say they feel something different about the space. For people spiritually alert, when you enter the church, don’t you feel the hands of God all over you or a unique presence, sometimes weird but calming, reminding you of God’s presence – “I am here”?
God is in His church in a special way, more so when the Blessed Sacrament is in that church.
Maybe, you could go to a Catholic church or chapel which has the Blessed Sacrament inside, and be a little silent for a few minutes. You may be surprised how the Lord could stir your heart and bless you.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.