Bishop at National Shrine in Laurie: ‘Celebrate the unity among Jesus’s earthly and heavenly families’


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The moon rose up in broad daylight above the outdoor sanctuary of the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church, in Laurie, as Bishop W. Shawn McKnight offered the second outdoor Mass of the season.

“This is the place of Mary,” the bishop declared. “And where our mother is, there is home ... and there is the Church.”

It was the day after Pentecost Sunday — the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church.

“We pray for our Church today and for her unity, and plead for the intercession and the assistance of our spiritual mother, Mary, the mother of Jesus,” the bishop proclaimed.

Joining him at the altar were Father John Schmitz, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Laurie and the Mission of St. Philip Benizi in Versailles and rector of the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church; and Father Louis Nelen, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Moberly and chaplain of the diocesan chapter of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Rev. Mr. Christopher Hoffmann, whom Bishop McKnight will ordain to the Holy Priesthood on June 1, served as deacon.

Other seminarians of the diocese, including Gregory Clever, whom the bishop will ordain a transitional deacon on June 1, assisted at the Liturgy.

The St. Patrick Parish Choir led the singing. Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus served as the honor guard, accompanied by a large contingent of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Mary’s new vocation

A welcome breeze carried the essence of burning incense and spring blossoms to the congregants, many of whom found seating in the shade.

Choruses of “O Sanctissima” and “Immaculate Mary” harmonized with the songs of birds and the babbling water in the nearby fountains.

Bishop McKnight joked about “Brood 17 of the cicadas that are singing louder than we are.”

In his homily, the bishop talked about how from the cross, Jesus, united his earthly family with his heavenly family through Mary.

“You could say, the Lord gave a special mission, perhaps even a special calling or vocation, to his mother to look out for us,” the bishop stated. 

The first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles tells of how Jesus’s spiritual family on earth — his Apostles — and his earthly family — his mother — were together when he ascended into heaven, “and we were given the pattern of the Church at prayer.”

Bishop McKnight noted that mothers are great intercessors and are good at helping their children stay on the straight and narrow.

“Mothers are always concerned about our safety and our wellbeing,” he noted.

Similarly, “our spiritual mother in heaven is always there for us, and she holds concern for us,” said the bishop. “And she will always show us the way to her Son.”

Praying the Rosary is a great way of “checking in with our mother,” thereby staying connected with the rest of the Church “and our whole spiritual family.”

“And we allow Mary, the mother of Jesus, to tell us about her own son,” said Bishop McKnight.

The bishop thanked Fr. Schmitz and the members of the board of the National Shrine for inviting him to offer the feastday Mass.

“May you who have devoutly gathered on this day carry away with you the gift of spiritual joy and heavenly reward,” he prayed. 

The celebration concluded with an informal reception in the parish hall.

“Most loving mother”

Pope Francis in 2018 instituted Mary, Mother of the Church as a universal memorial to be celebrated each year on the Monday following Pentecost.

Pope St. Paul VI, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council in 1964, formally declared the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Mother of the Church — that is to say, of all Christian people, the faithful as well as the pastors, who call her the most loving Mother.”

An estimated 50,000 people each year visit the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church and enjoy the scenic, well-manicured grounds that include the avenue of flags, a prayer path, fountains and a larger-than-life image of the Blessed Mother.

The Shrine was dedicated in 1992, having been conceived in the mid-1980s in what was once a drainage ditch at the rear of the St. Patrick Parish property in Laurie.

Longtime pastor Father Fred Barnett, now deceased, had the idea of developing the 6,000-seat outdoor Shrine in the form of a grotto to make room for more weekend communicants each summer.

The centerpiece is a 14-foot, 2,840-pound stainless steel sculpture of the Blessed Mother on a revolving pedestal above a reflection pool.

Sculptor Don Wiegand, who created the sculpture, described his subject as “an ageless lady, depicting love, balance and grace.”

Sunday Mass is celebrated at the Shrine each Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. between the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The Masses are celebrated indoors in the event of inclement weather. 

The Shrine also contains the Mother’s Wall of Life, a series of polished black granite panels inscribed with the names of mothers from all over the world, out of gratitude for the gift of life.

Bishop John R. Gaydos, bishop emeritus of Jefferson City, dedicated the Mother’s Wall on Mother’s Day in 1999.

Fr. Barnett emphasized repeatedly that the Shrine’s purpose is to honor the Blessed Mother and to help promote a deeper overall appreciation of motherhood, the preciousness of human life and the integrity of the family.

Calling it a “wonderful tribute to motherhood,” Fr. Barnett said the Shrine honors all mothers, living and deceased, and of every race, creed and skin color.

For all humanity

St. Patrick Parish was founded in 1868 in what was then the heart of the Osage River Valley.

Since the completion of the Bagnell Dam in the 1930s, the area now lies on the west side of the Lake of the Ozarks, a popular tourist destination.

In May 2003, the U.S. Catholic bishops granted the Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church the rare designation of a national shrine.

In doing so, the bishops acknowledged that the Shrine was already a pilgrim destination for people from all over the United States, and encouraged even more people to seek spiritual refreshment at this holy place.

“This,” Fr. Barnett stated in 2003, “will enable us to reach more people with the message of Mary’s universal motherhood — not just of the Catholic Church her Son started, but of the whole world.”