The night before he allowed himself to be betrayed and executed, Jesus prayed aloud that all who would come to know him would be made one, just as he and the Father are one.
The next day, while nailed to the cross, he entrusted his beloved disciple to the care of his mother, and vice versa.
“Mary thus became the tender Mother of the Church, which Christ begot on the Cross,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight proclaimed from the outdoor pulpit of the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church, in Laurie.
“Mary, Mother of Christ, is also Mary, Mother of the Body of Christ — the Church — our mother!” the bishop stated.
Bishop McKnight was celebrating Mass the morning of May 29, the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, which coincided this year with Memorial Day.
“On this day when our country remembers those who have given their lives in service to their country, we as a Church Universal observe this Memorial feast of Mary, Mother of the Church,” the bishop stated.
An ample congregation of local parishioners and Memorial Day visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks gathered in the tiered seating area of the shrine, pausing to thank God for the gift of his mother.
The clear sky, mild temperature and restful breeze made for an almost perfect day for outdoor worship.
Strains of “Immaculate Mary” and “Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above” echoed through the hills and valleys.
“We gather at this National Shrine in order to remember the role of Mary in the story of her Son and in the story of the Church,” the bishop stated.
He asked everyone also to remember their own mothers in prayer, “especially those who have gone before us and are deceased.”
The bishop clarified that although Mary was conceived and born without sin, and although the fullness of her grace meant that she was free from sin her entire life — “she was a woman of flesh and blood, human as we are human, and so we neither worship nor adore her.”
Instead, it’s important to give thanks for her and to honor, love and venerate her.
“For she — whose Only Begotten Son, as he hung upon the Cross, chose her, his mother, to be our mother also — helps the Church to be more fruitful day by day,” the bishop said.
Mother to all
Bishop McKnight urged all the faithful never to stop seeking Mary’s powerful intercession.
“Especially on this day, may her prayers for us help us to be more faithful and holy members of the Body of Christ,” he said.
In Mary, the bishop emphasized, the Church receives the gift of a mother’s love.
“A mother who nurtures, intercedes for, and loves with an unconditional and unflinching love,” he said.
Through her, Jesus joined his earthly family to his spiritual family, with the Blessed Virgin presiding over both as “Mother.”
“This is why the Acts of the Apostles tells us that in addition to the Apostles and some of the women disciples, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers also joined together in the Upper Room, prayerfully awaiting the Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,” Bishop McKnight noted.
Through the ages
The bishop pointed out that Mary has always played an important role in the history of the Church, and that faithful recognition of her role as Mother of the Church dates back to antiquity.
St. Augustine wrote in the fourth century that Mary is the mother of the members of Christ, “because with charity she cooperated in the rebirth of the faithful into the Church.”
In similar fashion, Pope St. Leo the Great, who led the Church in the fifth century, wrote that the birth of the Head is also the birth of the body — “thus indicating that Mary is at once Mother of Christ, the Son of God, and mother of the members of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.”
More recently, the Second Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, concluded its teaching on the nature and role of the Church with the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is “mother of Christ and mother of men, and most of all those who believe.”
Pope St. Paul VI, at the conclusion of the Third Session of the 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.”
Bishop McKnight noted that by entrusting Mary and all humanity to one another, Christ was pleased to “choose all disciples as ministers of his love toward his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.”
Holding to the truth
Pope Francis in 2018 instituted Mary, Mother of the Church as a universal memorial to be celebrated each year on the Monday following Pentecost.
He did so “after having attentively considered how greatly the promotion of this devotion might encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety,” said Bishop McKnight.
This annual celebration is a necessary reminder “that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the offering of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed — the Virgin who makes her own offering to God,” Bishop McKnight stated.
“Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal,” the bishop noted.
All creation echoing
Joining Bishop McKnight at the altar for Mass 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; Father Alex Ekka, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Eldon and Our Lady of Snows Parish in Mary’s Home; Father Basil Tigga, pastor of Visitation Parish in Vienna, Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Brinktown and St. Aloysius Parish in Argyle; and Father Walter Kispotta, who is ministering temporarily in Edina, Memphis and Baring.
Deacon David Lovell assisted. 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.
Fr. Schmitz thanked the bishop for traveling to Laurie and celebrating Mass for the feastday.
The congregants joined in praying the prayer Pope Francis requested for the international Synod of Bishops, followed by a special Prayer of Consecration to the Blessed Mother.
The celebration concluded with an indoor reception with ice cream, cake and watermelon.
“Thanks to all of you who made this part of your Memorial Day celebration here at our National Shrine,” Fr. Schmitz said to the congregation. “May the Blessed Mother continue to guide and care for you in a very special way.”
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 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.”
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.”