Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Mother of All Churches

If someone were to ask you "What is the most important Catholic Church in the world?" what might your response be?

If you were thinking on your feet, you might say, "my own parish".

And you would be right.

But if you're going for the technically and hierarchically correct response to this question, you might respond "St. Peter's in Rome".

And you would be wrong.

While St. Peter's obviously gets a lot of press, and most people think it to be the Mother Church of the Catholic world, in actual fact, the "most important church" in Rome is the Cathedral Church of the Pope – the Archbasilica, of Saint John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano).

Visiting churches in Rome is even more challenging than doing so in Paris – sometimes they are so numerous that there are two or three in a single city block! But if the chance can be had, along with a visit to the Vatican, St. John Lateran is an important pilgrimage point. And, in fact, visiting the Lateran is actually a visit to Vatican City, because the Archbasilica is formally part of the Vatican by way of territory.

November 9th falls on a Friday this year, but if it fell on a Sunday, a curious thing would happen, one that seldom takes place in the goings-on of the church calendar: the Sunday readings and Prayers of Ordinary Time are scratched, and a whole special set of prayers and Scripture passages take their place.

This is because the Lateran Basilica is actually the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome – the cathedra, or episcopal chair (and tangible sign of leadership for the bishop) is actually found here, and not in the Vatican. And therefore, worldwide, the Church celebrates this day as a major solemnity in her calendar.

So today, even though it was a challenging 95° in Rome, we actually denied ourselves a siesta and walked over to this famous place of prayer.

The church is staggering and simple, both at the same time. Huge marble parquet slabs and enormous statues of the twelve apostles usher you down the main nave:

Finally, just as with St. Peter's in Rome, there is an enormous baldacchino over the main altar, at the intersection of the cruciform sections of the nave and the apse. All of it on such a grand scale! And while not as colossal as the Vatican, it too occupies a place of honor as a Papal Basilica in the Eternal City.

With one of the photo apps from my iPhone, I was able to take this panorama of the ceiling of the Lateran, starting at about the vestibule and moving all the way down the nave. Pretend you're looking up....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Basilica Cathedral of St. John Lateran

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