Monday, December 08, 2008

National Patronal Festival

In 1792, John Carroll, the bishop of Baltimore and America's first Roman Catholic bishop, consecrated the newly-created United States under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of The Immaculate Conception. In 1847, Pope Pius IX formalized Carroll's acclamation, proclaiming the Immaculate Conception as the Patroness of the United States.

Bishop Thomas Joseph Shahan, the fourth rector of the Catholic University of America proposed the construction of a national shrine to commemorate the Immaculate Conception in the country's capital. Bishop Shahan took his appeal to Pope Pius X on August 15, 1913. In January 1914, Shahan published the first issue of Salve Regina, a newsletter meant to stir enthusiasm for his project. He wrote that the shrine would be a "monument of love and gratitude, a great hymn in stone as perfect as the art of man can make it and as holy as the intentions of its builders could wish it to be.

By 1919, architectural drawings were chosen by Shahan and McKenna for the construction of the national shrine by the Boston firm of Maginnis & Walsh. At first a traditional Gothic architectural style was considered. Bishop Shahan wanted his shrine to be bold and glorious and opted instead for a Byzantine-Romanesque design. It is the largest Catholic church in the United States, the eighth largest religious structure in the world, and the tallest building in Washington, D.C.. An estimated one million pilgrims from around the country and the world visit the basilica each year.

The crypt has displayed the Papal Tiara of Pope Paul VI since 1968. In 1990, Pope John Paul II named the national shrine as the U.S.'s 36th minor basilica. In August 2006, work was completed on a mosaic covering the Redemption Dome in the Upper Church. This is the first new work to be done in many years and was part of the original architectural plans. Following its completion in the summer of 2007, the Incarnation Dome was blessed on November 17, 2007. Future plans include finishing the intended mosaic for the largest of the domes, the Trinity Dome. A small chapel on the crypt level was recently completed honoring Our Lady of La Vang (Vietnam).
[Source: Wikipedia]

In tomorrow's lessons, the Anglican Breviary gives this very useful explanation of the origin of the teaching that Mary was conceived immaculately:

The belief that special gifts of grace were bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary, whereby she was preserved in sinlessness all her life long, is a most ancient tradition in Catholic theology. Almost with­out exception the early Fathers of the Church agreed upon this matter. In­deed, so widespread was this belief, alike in East and West, that most theologians have held it as of Catho­lic consent; and in the present, it is generally accepted among those who call themselves Catholics or Ortho­dox. Certain it is, in any event, that some fundamental truths of our re­ligion demand the ascription to our Lady of a special privilege of grace.

For it is clear from the sacred Scripture, as well as from the experience of all holy souls, that first, God calls whom he will; and second, that he doth fit for his work them that re­spond to his call. Such as respond wholeheartedly to God are the elect souls upon whom he bestoweth all the gifts, natural and supernatural, necessary to accomplish what he would have done. From this truth the liturgical usage developed of ap­plying to our Lady, and other Saints, what we read of the valiant woman Esther; to wit, that the King first chose her, along with many other maidens, and then, because of the response she made, preferred her to special favour in his sight.

There can be no greater or more perilous voca­tion than that which was given her whom the Church delighteth to call the Mother of God; and with such a vocation was certainly joined, in all justice, gifts of nature and of grace greater and more indescribable than have come to any other child of Adam. And in this connection, it is to be noted that spiritual privileges always center in freeing the soul from sin and endowing it with God's grace.

Western theology, unlike that of the East, was for a long time occupied with a consideration of grace and sin. This served to direct the attention of the Church's teachers to the traditional belief in the sinlessness of our Lady, and led to a special examination of the same. Despite certain difficulties which became manifest when the attempt was first made to state this belief in conform­ity with the rest of Catholic doctrine, greater difficulties were found in the denial of it. For example: Sinfulness, either actual or original, is usu­ally held to constitute a state of some sort of malice toward God, and Catholics were unable to believe that the Blessed Virgin was ever in a state of malice toward her Son, either be­fore or after he was conceived in her womb.

As the Fathers had said, our Lady conceived the Son of God in her heart before she conceived him in her breast; he was the Spouse of her soul before he became the Son of her body. And the Church had long expressed at least an implicit belief in such a privilege by appropriating to our Lady the words of the Song of Songs: My undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, [that is of the Church] she is the choice one of her that bare her.

Since original sin is a condition of imperfection wherefrom, except there be an intervention of God's grace, every kind of hatefulness to­ward God may grow up in the soul, it seemed necessary to believe that the Blessed Virgin received an inter­vention of God's grace such as this. But the question then arose, When did this intervention take place? At her nativity or at her conception? Did God work by partial measure or by whole? Was Mary freed by grace, not only from actual sin, but even from sin in its original source?

Such freedom from sin could of course ex­ist only in virtue of a special privi­lege. So it began to be urged that our Lady from the first moment of her conception was freed, by a spe­cial privilege of grace, from the sin which all other of mankind doth in­herit from the fall. Thus it came about that the wide-spread and an­cient belief in the sinlessness of the Virgin Mother led men to deduce that her freedom from actual sin was the result of her deliverance from original sin at the time of the creation of her soul.

For as to us sinners Baptism is given, to free us from orig­inal sin by sacramental grace; to her, who lived before Baptism was insti­tuted, said the theologians, was given prevenient grace, to set her entirely free from all sin; and this special privilege of grace, since it was to fit her for that awesome vocation which we call the Virgin-Motherhood, was co-extensive with the creation of her soul by God, inasmuch as it was for this purpose that God created her.

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