Monday, 9 November 2009

The Lateran Basilica

Today is the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilca, which gives us a convenient excuse to return to our coverage of the parish trip to Rome. Here the pilgrims arrive at the front entrance of the Basilica, which is the Cathedral Church of Rome. The Popes lived in the adjoining Lateran Palace until their exile in Avignon (1305-1378). After their return to Rome the Papacy moved to the Vatican, but the Lateran Basilica remains the Cathedral.

An inscription at the entrance of the Basilica tells us that it is the Sacred Lateran Church, "the mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world".

This - believe it or not - is just the entrance. The group take a look at the impressive sight before entering the Basilica, which is found behind the huge doors visible to the left.

Inside the Basilica contains twelve enormous statues of the Apostles, which line the nave. They are a fitting reminder that Christ founded His Church on the twelve Apostles, and each generation after them builds on that foundation.

When school groups come to Lancaster Cathedral we often ask them "what makes a cathedral?" Their answers are usually to do with the size or impressiveness of the building. Eventually, though, the real meaning of 'cathedral' is discovered: a cathedral is the bishop's church, the place where his seat ('cathedra') is to be found. At the east end of the Lateran Basilica is the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. From here he presides over the worldwide church.

The main altar is seen here, from behind. Here is the view that the Holy Father sees when celebrating Mass in his Cathedral.

This is a closer view of the cathedra, which is a sign of the Pope's teaching authority. This is why the Pope always sits to preach and to deliver his address at the weekly general audience. It's the reason, too, why solemn pronouncements made by the Holy Father are said to be 'ex cathedra'. In each diocese the feast of the dedication of the local cathedral is kept in all parishes, but for this Cathedral, the mother church of the world, the feast is celebrated across the globe.