Collect from today’s Mass:
Let us pray.
O God, You Who purify Your Church by the yearly Lenten observance, grant to Your household that what they strive to obtain from You by abstinence, they may achieve by good works.
Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
I want to express one aspect of the current architecture of the Lateran Basilica. Though the facade (reconstruction work completed in 1775) has been transformed from the traditional, ancient, basilical architecture into a neo-classical facade, the interior maintains the aspect of the basilica that was made new in Christ. The basilica clerestory (the upper row of windows in the central nave of the church) draws so much light into the center of the church. This was what made the basilica so popular in Roman architecture in its use of commonplaces, such as marketplaces, for it lends to so much light.
The stark difference is that in early Christian architecture, in contrast to the pagans, the Christians decorated the interior of the structure, whereas the pagans were interested in cladding the exteriors of the buildings, leaving the interiors undressed. This means, the aspect of light coming into the basilica at the Lateran Basilica, as other Basilica Churches, takes on a whole new meaning in Christ. The glory of the Christian Basilica is the interior. The Christians knew that Christ is the Light, and concerning the Christian life it is necessary for the interior to be beautiful, that is, the soul. It is necessary for the soul to take on the virtues of Christ, to be transformed by the brilliance of the Light of Christ. The glory of the Christian is the interior.
The basilica is a mix of different styles: Neo-classical, Gothic, Cosmatesque, Rococo, Baroque….That being said, some just find the experience of the basilica unique and odd at points. I always take people to the portal of the holy door which is on the epistle side of the church. It was perfect when it was open for the extraordinary jubilee year of mercy. One walks in that door and he is almost in darkness. This was highlighted by Borromini’s re-design of the interior (to mention, the Basilica was sacked many times and suffered fires, and thus this mix of styles). That is, in this darkness, emphasized by Borromini’s low ceilings of the side aisles, the soul is drawn to the light that illumines the center of the basilica.
Reflect upon this reality today and throughout Lent. Christ is the Light and the beauty that matters is the beauty of our souls. Lent isn’t about the trials and the hardships of penance and fasting…rather, in our daily penances and abstinence and spiritual practices, it will amount to nothing unless we let the Light of Christ illumine and transform us.
For Lenten spiritual reading and beyond: check out my new publication HERE of 31 days of meditations on the Passion of Christ.