dedication of lateran basilica in rome

Source: a woman in the church | catholic dialogue

The Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome can be baffling. I remember priest after priest trying to share the historical story and significance of St. John Lateran. It is the cathedral of Rome, the “home church” of the pope as Bishop of Rome, and considered to be the “the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world”. (Here is more information on it’s history.)

When I began travelling to Rome for the Marianist Family, I visited the Basilica regularly. It was within walking distance of where we were meeting. Sometimes the feast day took place during our meetings, so it took on a new significance for me.

I have a love-hate relationship with our grand churches. Their beauty and majesty can both inspire and lift my spirits. Knowing their darker history saddens my heart. The “in your face” monuments to a patriarchal leadership deflate my hopes of gender equality in our church.

While each church has a story, we weave our own stories when we visit them. Here is my St. John’s Lateran story, from a blog post written four years ago; a woman in the church.



the women of notre-dame basilica, montréal

I love to visit grand churches, and have visited many in my travels. I am quite easily impressed. I am no longer easily inspired. Most cathedrals and basilicas are awesome in their grandeur and magnificence. Not all move my heart and soul.

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a classic example. The jewel of the city’s landscape, it stood as a beacon of hope to the British people during the dark days of WWII bombings. When I first saw it, I had the lovely image of Mary Poppins and the woman feeding the birds on its steps. Inside the Cathedral, though, I was overpowered by the presence of monument after monument, memorial after memorial to military leaders and politicians. Rather than soaring with the glory of God, the mind was cluttered with extravagant attempts at glorifying men.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome still impresses me with its grandeur. No photo or film can do justice to its size. While I feel a connection to its history, it doesn’t inspire me.

St. John Lateran has a similar effect. Walking down the center aisle, the massive statuary depicting the twelve apostles doesn’t encourage affection for these men. Rather, the height and weight towering over you is oppressive.

This past weekend, I visited a Basilica that did impress and inspire me; the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montréal. We attended the 11:00 Mass, not knowing that a special celebration was taking place to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, the founder of Montréal. A military band marched up the street to the Basilica. The sanctuary was filled with bishops and priests. A long list of present dignitaries was read.

The Mass itself was well orchestrated with all the requisite protocol for such an auspicious occasion. While bishops and priests sat, the choir and organ soared. The glorious sounds filled the blue and gold interior. It was a spectacle to hearken and to behold. But the inspiration came after.

Walking around the now empty church, I was struck by the stained glass windows, paintings and statues. Rather than depicting biblical scenes, they told the history of Montreal. Numerous depictions of religious women showed to the world the central role they played in the founding of our country.

They included,

  • St. Marguerite d´Youville, founder of the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montréal, or the Grey Nuns.
  • Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre Dame of Montréal.
  • Blessed Mother Marie-Rose Durocher, founder of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (the Sisters who educated me in high school)
  • Kateri Tekakwitha, the “Lily of the Mohawks” who will be canonized this October.

I tried to take as many pictures as I could, until I was stopped abruptly by a man who told me I was allowed to “go up and enjoy the pictures” but not to photograph them.

Ah, but I now have some photos.  I can remember them, and share the inspiration of countless women who built this great country by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the young, and healing the sick. God bless them and all the women who follow in their foot-steps to this day.

the annunciation and the angelus

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear the gospel story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). The encounter between the Angel Gabriel and Mary is one of the most familiar scenes in Christian art. The picture above is a wood-inlaid beauty from India, given to us by a Marianist Brother and friend. It hangs by our front door as a gentle reminder of Mary`s role in salvation, and her presence in our lives.

The Catholic prayer, The Angelus, is grounded in the Annunciation story. Traditionally, it was prayed three times a day; at 6:00 am, noon and 6:00pm. In monasteries and villages, bells would summon all to pause in their work to pray.

"The Angelus," by Jean-Francois Millet, 1857 Louvre, Paris

As a child, I loved the back and forth rhythm of this prayer. The words from the gospel and the Hail Mary were simple, familiar and comforting.  But, I always stumbled on the closing prayer. If the truth be known, I still do to this day. (Mea culpa!) Interestingly, the New Roman Missal is re-introducing this closing prayer into the `Collect` or Opening Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It will be a comforting memory for many who grew up with the Angelus. This simple mind still prefers the simplicity of the gospel words.

Here is the traditional version of  The Angelus…

The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
our death. Amen. 

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary . . . 

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us. 

Hail Mary . . . 

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.