By Jay Nies
Marian hymns and chants resonated through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains on the Blessed Mother’s newest feastday.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight offered Mass at the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church, in Laurie, the Monday after Pentecost — which Pope Francis recently designated a universal feastday honoring Mary, Mother of the Church.
It was for Bishop McKnight, a Kansas native who was ordained and installed as bishop of Jefferson City in February, his first visit to the outdoor shrine, located on the grounds of St. Patrick parish near the Lake of the Ozarks.
“Of all creatures ever created, both spiritual and material, including the highest angels — Mary alone, for all eternity, can look upon the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity and say with all truth, ‘You are my Son!’” Bishop McKnight noted in his homily.
As mother of Jesus, she is the spiritual mother of His Church, the Body of Christ on earth.
“What a great gift the Father has given us in His own Son!” said Bishop McKnight. “What a great blessing His Son has given us in sharing His mother! As we reflect upon her significant role in the salvation of the whole world, we recognize our need to honor her.”
“Always with Mary”
Surrounded by nature, cascading water and several hundred Catholics, Bishop McKnight said it was a good day to contemplate Mary’s unique role in God’s plan for the salvation of humanity.
The celebration began with a candlelight procession from St. Patrick Church down the hill to the shrine.
Joining the bishop and the faithful were Father John Schmitz, administrator of the Laurie parish; Father Robert Fields, administrator of neighboring St. Bernadette parish in Hermitage and the Mission of Our Lady of the Snows in Climax Springs; about 20 Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus and about 40 members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Bishop McKnight said Pope Francis had given the Church a tremendous gift in proclaiming a universal feastday for Mary as Mother of the Church.
He said that from now on, Catholics get to celebrate two Mother’s Days each spring — one honoring individual mothers, the other honoring the universal mother and patroness of all Christians.
He noted that Catholics are often asked “why we celebrate Mary as we do.”
“First and foremost, it’s because we need to,” he said. “We need to celebrate her and her motherhood, because her motherhood is essential and important to our own salvation.”
God the Father, especially on the cross, gave Himself through His own Son, said Bishop McKnight. “And His Son, Jesus, gave us His own mother so that we might remain close to Him.
It’s not an accident that the Church celebrates her as Mother of the Church the day after Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon her, the Apostles and the others who were gathered in the Upper Room.
“How can we not remember the significance of the mystery of her Annunciation — when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she would become a mother by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit?” said Bishop McKnight.
That same Holy Spirit bestows motherhood upon the whole Church, “who gives birth to new disciples by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of baptism, which is renewed every time we celebrate the sacrament — the gift of the Spirit given again and again and again, always with Mary, never apart from her,” he said.
“My spirit rejoices”
Fr. Schmitz, the pastor, thanked Bishop McKnight for traveling to Laurie and offering the Mass.
In keeping with a longstanding tradition at the shrine, he led everyone in praying the “Hail Mary” “for the mothers that are here, the mothers that are represented on our wall, and the many mothers of the world that give that loving care. Please join with me in that Hail Mary.”
Bishop McKnight thanked everyone who helped plan the Mass.
“And thanks to all who were involved with the building of this holy place and getting it recognized as a national shrine,” he said. “I am also very thankful for all of you who keep this shrine functioning, maintaining, keeping it beautiful as is worthy of our Blessed Mother.”
At a reception in the parish hall, someone mentioned that the weather had been very cooperative.
“Mary wouldn’t let it rain at her shrine on her feastday,” Fr. Schmitz answered.
An estimated 50,000 people a 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. Conceived the mid-1980s in what was a drainage ditch at the rear of the St. Patrick parish property, the shrine is dedicated to Mary as Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to her during the Second Vatican Council.
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 seat more communicants than the indoor church over the 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.”
Weather permitting, Sunday Mass is celebrated in the shrine each Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 8:30 a.m. in the shrine between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
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,” he said the shrine honors all mothers, living and deceased, and of every race, creed and skin color.
“Mary’s universal motherhood”
St. Patrick parish was founded in 1868 in what was then the heart of the Osage River Valley. Since the completion of 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.”