The word "basilica" had purely secular origins. It was used initially for civilian administrative buildings consisting of a long hall with an apse at one end. When Christians built churches over the tombs of martyrs, they called them basilicas, probably because of their structure.
There are two classes of basilicas: major and minor. The four major basilicas are in Rome: St. John Lateran which is Rome's cathedral, St. Peter's in the Vatican, St. Paul's Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major.
Minor basilicas are those to which the pope has granted this special privilege.
A number of churches throughout the world have been honoured with this title. Sometimes it is because of their historic significance in the life of the church, such as Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. Some because they are sites of pilgrimages.
Our cathedral received the designation of basilica when Pope John Paul visited here in 1984. As far as I know, this is the only Canadian church given the title at that time.
A cathedral is the official church of the bishop located in the diocese in which he exercises his responsibility.
Therefore, St. Joseph's is a cathedral. In a cathedral is located the cathedra (chair) or throne of the bishop.
The phrase "ex cathedra" (from the throne) designates authority and is used for infallible pronouncements from the pope.
However, cathedrals and basilicas are basically churches. This is the most common term used for buildings specifically designated and consecrated for public worship.
The English word "church" comes to us from the Hebrew practice of assembling, of being called together by God such as through Moses, or for special festivals, or during certain times of the year.
They assembled to hear God speak through anointed leaders and holy writings, reminding them of the great things done for them by God and exhorting them to greater faithfulness as a chosen people in covenant with God.
Called "qahal Yaweh" or "edah Yaweh," meaning "assembly of God," the assembly was important for the Hebrew people.
Christians, too, felt the need to meet with God "in assembly" on a regular basis. Just as in the Hebrew assemblies, God spoke to the people, so God spoke to the early Christians through the apostles, the elders, the presbyters and through the sacred writings of what would become the Old and New Testaments.
In addition, God also spoke to them through the Holy Spirit's extraordinary gifts of prophecy and tongues according to 1 Corinthians 14.
In these assemblies, they strengthened one another as they passed on values, memories, stories of religious experiences and beliefs. They prayed, celebrated the Lord's Supper, reflected on the meaning of what God had entrusted to them and proclaimed "the glorious works of the One who called you from darkness into marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
The Hebrew "qahal Yahweh" translated as ecclesia in Greek was used by the early Christians for their community assemblies.
When persecution stopped, Christians were able to have buildings specifically for these assemblies instead of using homes (house churches).
These buildings were called Kyriake (belonging to the Lord). This Greek term became circe in Anglo-Saxon, kirche in the Germanic languages, chirche in Middle English and finally "church" in modern English. The French word eglise comes from the Greek ecclesia.
The term "church" points to a holy building but more importantly to a community of believers who assemble to worship together, as a holy people of God, to listen to, be nourished and strengthened by God speaking to them through the Sacred Scriptures, through Jesus in the Eucharist and through their unity and love for one another.