The Schoenstatt Cloud

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200 Questions

Chapter One: General Questions

Schoenstatt is Catholic movement which realizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a distinctive way. Its history and fruitfulness lend support to the view that it is a special initiative of God. To understand Schoenstatt, one must consider it as

  • a movement of renewal,
  • a place of grace,
  • and a unique spirituality within the Church.

As a movement of renewal in the Catholic Church, Schoenstatt works to help renew the Church and society in the spirit of the Gospel. It seeks to reconnect faith with daily life, especially through a deep love of Mary, the Mother of God. As an international movement it is present on all continents and has members from all vocations and walks in life. It is a spiritual family whose many branches and communities (è 141-150) join to form a single Schoenstatt Family (statistics, è 161).

As a place of grace, Schoenstatt has touched the lives of millions. The Schoenstatt Shrine is the movement’s spiritual home and center of life. This shrine is dedicated to Mary as the Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt. In addition to the Original Shrine in Germany, there are over 160 replica daughter shrines around the world where people gather for prayer, renewal and inspiration (è Chapter 3).

As a unique spirituality in the Church, Schoenstatt has contributed to the growth in holiness of men and women since 1914. Its characteristic features have proven especially fitting for living the faith in our modern times. As a covenant spirituality it fosters a personal relationship with God, Mary and fellow-man. As an instrument spirituality it makes Christian discipleship more tangible and in tune with God’s will. As an everyday spirituality it seeks ways to form everyday life with practical steps forward in faith, hope and love (è 85-89).

See John Paul II, Message for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities, May 27, 1998; Seminar on Movements and New Communities, June 18, 1999; CCC 951 (communion of charisms).

A movement is a broad current in society inspired by a common cause or charism, usually motivated by the desire to reform, renew or defend some aspect of life. It can be inspired by a political or secular cause, such as the labor movement, feminist movement or civil rights movement. Or it can be inspired by a spiritual or religious cause, such as the liturgical movement of the 20th Century Catholic Church or the revival movement of 19th Century Protestant America.

When a movement in the Catholic Church develops a distinct community (usually loose-knit and charism-centered), one speaks of an ecclesial movement. At its heart is generally a specific charism, such as renewal of the faith or ecumenical initiative. It can focus on personal or community renewal (faith formation, striving for holiness, marriage and family life) or on the great works of the Church (catechesis, evangelization, missions, etc.). A particular strength of the movements is lay involvement. They tend to have a looser organization and leave more room for personal charisms than pre-Vatican-II confraternities and congregations.

The renewal of the Church in Vatican Council II gave the Church a new appreciation for a multiplicity of charisms (see “communion of charisms” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 951) and gave more space to the ecclesial movements. In his message to the first World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in 1998, Pope John Paul II described the nature of ecclesial movements this way:

“What is meant today by ‘movement’? The term is often used to refer to realities that differ among themselves, even in their canonical structure. (....) [I]t indicates a concrete ecclesial reality with predominantly lay membership, a faith journey and Christian witness which bases its own pedagogical method on a precise charism given to the person of the founder in specific circumstances and ways.”

At another point he said of the movements:

“They represent one of the most significant fruits of the springtime of the Church which was foretold by the Second Vatican Council (....). Their presence is encouraging because it shows that this springtime is advancing and revealing the freshness of the Christian experience based on personal encounter with Christ. Even in the diversity of their forms, these movements are marked by a common awareness of the ‘newness’ which baptismal grace brings to life, through a remarkable longing to reflect on the mystery of communion with Christ and with their brethren, through sound fidelity to the patrimony of the faith passed on by the living stream of Tradition. This gives rise to a renewed missionary zeal which reaches out to the men and women of our era in the concrete situations in which they find themselves, and turns its loving attention to the dignity, needs and destiny of each individual” (May 27, 1998).

The last 100 years have been outstanding in their development of ecclesial movements. These include Schoenstatt (Germany, 1914), Taizé (France, 1940), Focolare (Italy, 1943), Cursillo (Spain, 1949), Communion and Liberation (Italy, 1954), St. Egidio (Italy, 1968), Catholic Charismatic Renewal (USA, 1967), Marriage Encounter (USA, 1968), and many more. They have especially proliferated since Vatican Council II (1962-65), reflecting new initiatives on the part of the Holy Spirit to engage the whole Church in its work of renewing the world.

Of these modern movements, Schoenstatt is the oldest. Other groups from about the same era which also developed along the lines of a movement include the Blue Army (inspired by the Marian apparitions in Fatima, Portugal in 1917) and the Legion of Mary (begun by Frank Duff in 1921). Nor should one forget time-honored movements such as the Franciscan lifestream of the Church (inspired again and again by the charismatic person of St. Francis of Assisi), parts of which are also included in the ranks of the modern ecclesial movements.

Schoenstatt’s founding process (è 166-174) reached a certain climax in 1919 and 1920 when it established its own organizational form under the titles “Apostolic Federation” and “Apostolic League.” Both forms were united under the title “Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt” (è 173). The word “apostolic” was chosen to reflect the desire of the young movement to contribute to the apostolate of the Church through the “religious and moral renewal of the world” from the Schoenstatt Shrine.

Until today, Schoenstatt remains an apostolic movement, committed to promoting the growth of the faith and renewal of Church and world through the apostolate of all the faithful and in every walk of life.

“Schoenstatt” is named after its place of origin: the little Schoenstatt Valley in the Rhine region of west-central Germany. It is just east of Vallendar on the Rhine, a small city about 6 km (4 miles) north of Koblenz. Schoenstatt is some 90 km (60 miles) south of Cologne and about the same distance west of Frankfurt.

The word “Schoenstatt” comes from the German for “beautiful” (schön) and “place” (statt). The earliest known reference to this valley is found in a historical document from the year 1143, where it is called “eyne schoene statt,” that is, a beautiful place.

Schoenstatt began on October 18, 1914. Although not formally constituted as the “Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt” until 1919 and 1920 (è 4, 173), the essential character of the covenant of love and the Shrine makes October 18, 1914 the founding day of the movement (è 168).

Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968) is Schoenstatt’s founder. He was born on November 18, 1885, in Gymnich, Germany. In 1904 he joined the Pallottine Fathers as a novice and was ordained a priest of this community on July 8, 1910 (è 165). In 1912 he was appointed spiritual director of the Pallottine Minor Seminary in Schoenstatt, Germany. This was the first of a chain of events leading to the founding of Schoenstatt as part of his work with the young seminarians.

In 1919 the Pallottines allowed Fr. Kentenich to begin working full-time for what came to be known as the Schoenstatt Movement. By then it was no longer confined to the Minor Seminary in Schoenstatt, but was beginning to spread to other parts of Germany. His work expanded rapidly in the 1920s and 1930s. It was persecuted by the Nazis in the time Hitler controlled Germany, and Fr. Kentenich was also a prisoner of the Nazis for 3½ years, primarily in the Dachau Concentration Camp (è 178).

He survived Dachau to begin a new phase of international expansion and growth for the Movement. He and his work were tested by the Church, leading to a time of exile from Europe (1951-65) before his full reinstatement under Pope Paul VI (è 189-190). His final years were spent guiding the already vast and international movement. He died on September 15, 1968 in Schoenstatt, Germany, where he is buried (è 196). His cause for beatification was opened by the Church in 1975.

See Perfectae Caritatis 2; Paul VI: Evangelica Testificatio 11; John Paul II: Audience with the Schoenstatt Movement 1985, 2.

In the teaching of Vatican II, one of the keys to the vitality and renewal of the religious life is the faithfulness to the spirit of the founder:

“It is for the good of the Church that institutes have their own proper character and functions. Therefore the spirit and aims of each founder should be faithfully accepted and retained, as indeed should each institute’s sound traditions, for all of these constitute the patrimony of the institute” (Perfectae Caritatis, No. 2).

This teaching especially applies to a movement whose founder could work with and shape his work over as long a time as Fr. Kentenich was able to shape his Schoenstatt Work. Just as the Franciscans cannot be understood without St. Francis and the Jesuits without St. Ignatius, so can Schoenstatt not be understood without Fr. Kentenich.

Fr. Kentenich’s importance to his work was something that grew gradually. In the early years, he deliberately remained in the background, advocating the leadership of many co-workers. Still, his personal contact was extensive: he personally knew thousands of members, and he especially knew the leaders. His arrest by the Nazis in 1941 and his decision of January 20, 1942 (convinced that God called him to go to the concentration camp, è 179) thrust him and his importance as founder much more into the awareness of his work. This role was tested and clarified in the years of his exile in Milwaukee (1951-65, è 189-190), making it clear that authentic Schoenstatt cannot exist without a genuine attachment to the founder (see the three “contact points” below).

In the time since his death in 1968 Schoenstatt members have rediscovered Fr. Kentenich in his ongoing importance for the movement. His guidance is sought in many questions – through prayer, study of his writings, return to witnesses from his life.

In Schoenstatt one speaks of three contact points, or main relationships which are needed to fully grasp and grow into the life of the movement. They are sometimes called the “three H’s”:

Head - Father Kentenich,
Heart - the Mother Thrice Admirable
Home - the Shrine.

The image “contact point” comes from three-phase electricity, where some current can be drawn if only two prongs make contact in the power outlet, but full electrical power requires that all three prongs contact the respective part of the outlet.

The Schoenstatt Shrine is Schoenstatt’s place of grace. Physically, it holds about 30 people and has the architectural features common to many small chapels in the Rhineland area of Germany. It is dedicated to Mary under the title Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt (è12) and has grown to be a place of grace for people from all over the world, forming the heart and spiritual headquarters of the international Schoenstatt Movement.

Schoenstatt was founded here in 1914 when Mary was invited to “come to dwell” and make the original chapel in Schoenstatt, Germany a place of grace and pilgrimage (è 70-71). In contrast to other Marian Shrines such as Guadalupe, Lourdes or Fatima, no apparitions or other extraordinary phenomena were involved.

It was an act of discernment based on the same sources available to all Christians (see voices of the times, the soul and the order of being, è 24-26). Consistent with this spirit of “everyday sanctity” is the kind of “miracles” for which Schoenstatt is noted: not so much physical miracles as “moral miracles,” that is, miracles of feeling at home, of inner transformation and of being given the zeal to proclaim the Gospel and live the faith (è 46).

Beginning in 1943, Schoenstatt also established “daughter shrines” (è 60) in countries all over the world. These exact replicas of the Original Shrine in Germany share in all the graces of the original while expanding the reach of the Schoenstatt place of grace. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 million pilgrims visit the over 160 Schoenstatt Shrines worldwide every year.

God’s typical way of touching the pilgrims to the Schoenstatt Shrine is summarized by the three “graces of the Shrine” (è 50):

1. The grace of a home,
2. The grace of inner transformation,
3. The grace of apostolic zeal or fruitfulness.

These graces refer to blessings commonly experienced by those who come to the Shrine and pray there. The first is the feeling of being at home. Many first-time pilgrims are impressed by a feeling of home that can only be explained by the motherly presence of the Blessed Mother. A frequent experience made by members who travel abroad is to suddenly feel totally at home the moment they enter a Shrine, even though land and language may be totally foreign to them; the exact replica helps them feel at home in unfamiliar surroundings.

The grace of inner transformation refers to effect of the Shrine, especially on those who take seriously Mary’s power as Educator. Many have felt their lives changed for the better through the influence of Mary in the Shrine.

The grace of apostolic zeal or fruitfulness enables one to share the faith or give witness to it in a way that not only changes one’s own life, but the lives of others as well. As the center of an apostolic movement of renewal, the Schoenstatt Shrine is also an “epicenter” of sorts for apostolic efforts great and small.

Mary, the Mother of God, is venerated in Schoenstatt under the title

Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt.

This is often shortened to “Mother Thrice Admirable” or even “MTA.”

The title developed in three phases:

1) The founding generation gave Mary the title “Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt” in 1915 (è 13).

2) With the solemn crowning of the Mother Thrice Admirable in the Original Shrine in 1939, the title was expanded to “Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt” (è 54).

3) In the final years of his life, Fr. Kentenich saw the growing importance of acknowledging Mary’s many victories, including the resolution of the difficulties with the Church during his exile (è 190). Hence the addition of title “Victress,” which the founder solemnly presented to the MTA in a special act on June 2, 1966.

The title “Mother Thrice Admirable” originated with a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jacob Rem (1546-1618). Fr. Rem worked with the Marian Sodality in the renowned Jesuit school in Ingolstadt, Germany, where he formed the so-called “Marian Colloquium” in 1595 to inspire the most motivated students to the highest aims of sanctity (è 169). In 1604 he had the illumination that the favorite title of Mary in the Litany of Loretto was Mater admirabilis (“Mother Most Admirable”). This was confirmed in a vision he had while the students sang the litany, during which he signaled the choir to sing this title three times. With this began the local tradition of praying this invocation in the litany not once but three times, and the students named their Marian image the Mater ter admirabilis or Mother Thrice Admirable.

In 1915 Fr. Kentenich came across a book by Fr. Franz Hattler about Fr. Rem and the Marian Colloquium. The students in Schoenstatt felt this captured their spirit and longing perfectly: they wanted to develop a strong Marian fervor that showed itself in both self-education and apostolate, and just as Ingolstadt had proved the motor of Catholic renewal of an earlier era, they wanted to be the instruments for another great Catholic renewal. In this spirit they chose Mater ter admirabilis as the title for their image of Mary, too—the “Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt”—and soon affectionately called her the “MTA.”

See CCC, 963 (Mother of God, of the Redeemer, of the redeemed).

In addition to the historical meaning given above (Mary as inspiration for a vigorous Catholic renewal), the title “Mother Thrice Admirable” (Latin: Mater ter admirabilis) can be interpreted in other ways. First of all, the “Thrice” (Latin: ter) implies a superlative beyond count (not just once, or twice, but three times admirable!). Secondly, the Latin admirabilis (“admirable”) does not just say Mary is someone we can admire (“look up to”), but tells us she is also someone we can count on (“look to”) for help. The German version implies this by calling her Dreimal wunderbar, that is, three times marvelous or miraculous.

Fr. Kentenich further interpreted the title on many occasions to highlight important features of Mary and her mission: 1) admirable as Mother of God, Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the redeemed (see Second Founding Document, No. 18); 2) admirable in her power, in her kindness and in her faithfulness (ibid); 3) admirable as daughter of the Father, Mother and bride of the Eternal Word, and vessel and shrine of the Holy Spirit; 4) admirable in her faith, love and hope, etc.

Schoenstatt did not have a picture for its shrine until April 1915, when one of the teachers in the school, Fr. Huggle, gave the students a lithograph print of a Madonna and Child in an octagonal frame. He knew of their need, saw this picture in a shop, and purchased it as a gift for the boys for some 23 Marks. It was placed in the Shrine on April 19, 1915 and given the title “Mother Thrice Admirable” shortly thereafter.

The picture was one in common circulation at the time, known by the title Refugium Peccatorum (“Refuge of Sinners”). It was painted in by Luigi Crosio (1835-1915), a prolific studio artist from Turin, Italy. The Swiss firm “Künzli Brothers” contracted Crosio to paint this Madonna and Child for them in 1898. They then made lithograph prints of the image for sale around the world as a devotional work of art. Even before becoming associate with Schoenstatt, the image enjoyed modest popularity in areas of Ireland, Italy and the United States. In the 1960s, the original painting (prototype for all prints) and copyright was purchased by Schoenstatt.

John Paul II: Audience with the Schoenstatt Movement 1985, 4.

Schoenstatt’s origin is inseparable from its unique relationship with Mary. Since the founding covenant of love of 1914, love of Mary has been at the heart of Schoenstatt and its spirituality. Schoenstatt is deeply and devotedly Marian and has repeatedly experienced how love of Mary opens new avenues to a vibrant relationship with Christ, to the Holy Spirit and to God the Father, and to a renewal of love of neighbor and self.

For many Schoenstatt members, the love of Mary has helped them develop a more personal and committed relationship with the persons of the Trinity. This is not surprising, given the close union of Mary with the mission of her Son. Nor is it surprising that this love has helped many grow into more personal and fruitful relationships with neighbor and self, be it through a greater maturity in one’s vocation, a stronger family life, a more Christian workplace or way of dealing with people. Through her activity in the Shrine, the MTA has helped many to overcome loneliness, anxiety and low self-esteem or to have the courage to reach out to others and find God-willed solutions to family, social and political problems.

Not least of all is how love of Mary has helped many grow in love for the Church. This is in keeping with something Pope John Paul II pointed out to the Schoenstatt Family in an audience in 1985:

“An authentic Marian spirituality leads to a deep love for the Church” (September 20, 1985).

17 What are the dogmatic foundations of Schoenstatt’s devotion to Mary?

Lumen gentium 52-69, CCC 484-511, 963-975, especially 971; Pius X, encyclical Ad diem illum, February 2, 1904.

Dogmatically speaking, Mary’s prominent place in Schoenstatt is founded on her objective position in the plan of salvation. As the Second Vatican Council teaches:

“...in the designs of Divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous helpmate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ; she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning love in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace” (Lumen Gentium, No. 61).

Schoenstatt’s Marian devotion takes this true spiritual motherhood of Mary seriously and cultivates it in the tradition of both the great Marian pilgrimage places and the great currents of Marian consecration which have enriched the Church over the last 500 years. As the Second Vatican Council states:

“Mary has by grace been exalted above all angels and men to a place second only to her Son, as the most holy mother of God who was involved in the mysteries of Christ; she is rightly honored by a special cult [or devotion] in the Church” (Lumen Gentium, No. 66).

By living this constant teaching of the Church on Mary, Schoenstatt has helped many of the faithful become stronger and more fruitful in all aspects of the life of faith. Thus the dogmatic foundations lead into fruitful life according to the wisdom of Pope St. Pius X which Fr. Kentenich liked to put this way:

“Mary is the swiftest, shortest and surest way to a vibrant relationship with Christ (cognitio Christi vitalis) and an enthusiastic love for God the Father” (Ad diem illum, 1904).

Like all communities and movements in the Church, Schoenstatt developed according to a particular history. From humble beginnings it eventually grew into an international movement involving millions of people. This process of growth was especially defined by four turning points known as the “four milestones.”

Fr. Kentenich developed the concept of the milestones as a way to grasp and cultivate the unique identity and mission which God has given Schoenstatt. Each is a historical moment that defines a central aspect of what Schoenstatt is. Each is (to use Fr. Kentenich’s words) an “inbreak of the Divine” indicating something of God’s unique creativity in making Schoenstatt what it is today. The milestones are:

October 18, 1914 - Schoenstatt’s founding and the covenant of love (the inbreak of the Divine in a heroic act of faith) (è 168).

  • January 20, 1942 - Fr. Kentenich’s decision to accept transport to the concentration camp for the sake of the “inner freedom of the family” (the inbreak of the Divine in a heroic act of trust or hope) (è 179).
  • May 31, 1949 - Fr. Kentenich’s letter to Church authorities warning of the dangers of “mechanistic thinking” in the Church (the inbreak of the Divine in a heroic act of love) (è 187).
  • October 22 (December 22), 1965 - Fr. Kentenich’s reinstatement by the Church (the inbreak of the Divine in Divine victoriousness) (è 193).

See CCC 897-913; Lumen gentium 31-38; AA 1-3.

Schoenstatt’s mission is to renew faith and life in the world. From the beginning of its history, this has been done with the awareness that all the members of the Church (not just the clergy) are involved in this renewal and the total apostolate of the Church. Although Schoenstatt has many priests and always sees itself in the service the Church, including in her hierarchy and official structures (è 93-94), most Schoenstatt members are lay people living the faith in the world.

Schoenstatt’s family-like character also leads to a mutual enrichment of both its clerical members and its laity. The clerical members benefit from the many contacts with lay people in different walks of life and can see them striving for sanctity. The lay members benefit from the clerical members through their witness as clergy devoted to Mary and a shared spirituality, sacramental service, and through the liaison role which clerical members often play toward the official leadership of the Church, including the articulation of what Schoenstatt is to the rest of the hierarchy.



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