Shrines as ‘Witnesses of the Good News’
BY Jim Cosgrove
June 6-12, 1999 Issue | Posted 6/6/99 at 1:00 PM
In a document dated May 8, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People released a document titled “The Shrine”: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God. The Vatican presented this document as an aid to themany celebrations and events for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 that will see pilgrims travelingto shrines all over the world — especially in Rome and the Holy Land. Following are excerpts of the document:
One can find the entire history of the pilgrim Church reflected in countless shrines, “permanent witnesses of the Good News,” linked to the decisive events of the evangelization or the faith-life of different peoples and communities.
Every shrine can be seen as the bearer of a specific message, since it vividly makes present today the foundational event of the past which still speaks to the heart of pilgrims. Marian shrines in particular provide an authentic school of faith based on Mary's example and motherly inter-cession.
Today too, by their witness to the manifold richness of God's saving activity, all shrines are an inestimable gift of grace to his Church. …
The shrine reminds us that the Church is born of God's initiative, an initiative that the piety of the faithful and the public approval of the Church acknowledge in the foundational event at the origin of every shrine.
Thus, in everything associated with the shrine and in everything that finds expression in it, we need to discern the presence of the mystery, the activity of God in time, the manifestation of his efficacious presence, hidden under the signs of history.
This conviction is further expressed in the shrine through the specific message connected with it, whether in regard to the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ, in regard to one of the titles of Mary, “who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of the virtues,” or in regard to the individual Saints whose memory proclaims the “wonderful works of Christ in his servants.”
One approaches the mystery with an attitude of awe and adoration, with a sense of wonder before the gift of God; for this reason, one enters a shrine with a spirit of adoration.
Anyone who is incapable of experiencing wonder at the work of God, who does notperceive the newness of what God brings about through his loving initiative, will not be capable of perceiving the profound significance and beauty of the mystery of the Temple, which is disclosed in the shrine. The proper respect shown to a holy place expresses the awareness that, i seeing what God has done, we need to respond not with a human logic, which presumes to define everything on the basis of what is seen and produced, but with an attitude of veneration, filled with awe and a sense of mystery.
Surely, an adequate preparation is needed for an encounter with a shrine, so that we can perceive beyond its visible, artistic and folkloric aspects the gracious work of God evoked by various signs, such as apparitions, miracles, the foundational events that represent the real first beginnings of every shrine as a place of faith. …
It is extremely important that a shrine be associated with the persistent and receptive hearing of the Word of God, which is no mere human word, but the living God himself present in his Word. The shrine, in which the Word of God resounds, is a place of covenant, where God reminds his people of his faithfulness, in order to shed light on their journey and to offer them consolation and strength.
A shrine can become an excellent place for deepening one's faith, in a special setting and at a favorable time, apart from the ordinary. It can offer possibilities for a new evangelization, help to foster a popular piety that is “rich in values,” bringing it to a more exact and mature consciousness of faith, and it can facilitate the process of inculturation. …
[Shrines] are also privileged places for the celebration of the sacraments.
This is especially true for the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, in which the Word is most powerfully present and at work.
The sacraments bring about an encounter of the living with the One who constantly preserves them in life and grants them ever new life in the consoling power of the Holy Spirit. They are not rote rituals, but events of salvation, personal encounters with the living God who in the Spirit goes forth to meet all those who come to him hungering and thirsting for his truth and peace. When a sacrament is celebrated in the shrine, therefore, it is not that something “is done,” but rather that someone is encountered. Indeed, that someone is Christ. …
Pilgrims thus approach a shrine as the Temple of the living God, the place of the living covenant with him, so that the grace of the sacraments may liberate them from sin and grant them the strength to begin again with a new freshness and new joy in their hearts, and thus to become, in the midst of the world, transparent witnesses of the Eternal….
As a sign, the shrine does not only remind us whence we come and who we are, but also opens our eyes to discern where we are going, the goal of our pilgrimage in life and history.
The shrine, a work of human hands, points beyond itself to the heavenly Jerusalem, our Mother, the city coming down from God, all adorned as a bride (cf. Rev 21:2), the perfect eschatological shrine where the glorious divine presence is directly and personally experienced: “I could not see any temple in the city, for the Lord Almighty and the Lamb were themselves the temple.” (Rev 21:22)
In that city and temple there will be no more tears, no more sadness, or suffering, or death (cf. Rev 21:4).
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