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Chapter Three: About the Shrine

See John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 28 (Marian shrines and the ‘geography’ of faith); P.C.M.I., The Shrine: Memory, Presence and Prophecy of the Living God.

Although God is everywhere, He often chooses certain places to show his presence and action in a special way, often through Mary and the saints. Such places are called places of grace, pilgrimage places or shrines.

They originate in many different ways: some through the devotion at the tomb of a saint, others through God’s intervention in an extraordinary or miraculous event. In other cases the origin is a vow or promise to build a shrine if a prayer is answered. In still others it is an outspoken act of faith which finds it monument in a place of grace.

God favors special places as early as in Old Testament times (Mt. Sinai, the Temple in Jerusalem, etc.). The early Church soon discovered a special effectiveness of God’s action in the places of Jesus’ life and the resting places of the martyrs. The veneration of holy places and the establishment of places of grace remains an important feature of Christianity until today.

God’s aim is to establish a personal covenant with man. Observation of how God works (such as in the Old Testament) makes it clear that he is not satisfied with calling us in a general way, but by calling us to commitment through privileged times and places. In this spirit there are two main reasons for God to choose places of grace:

1) God often reaches out to the many through a chosen one or few, following the “law of exemplary cases” (è 122). Examples of this are the election of Abraham, the central place of the Temple in the Old Testament, the renewal of the Church through great saints such as St. Francis of Assisi or St. Teresa of Avila. Through such shrines God can reach out to his children in a special way, encouraging them through radiant examples.

2) On the natural level, God’s choice of shrines is one of his ways of showing how seriously he takes our sentient nature. We find our way to God through signs tangible to the senses, be it in the sacraments (water in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist, etc.) or sacramentals (holy water, devotional images, etc.).   Here the shrines form a special type of sacramental, connecting the experience of faith with such tangible signs as the beauty of nature, a building that draws our senses to God, the excitement of pilgrimage, particular songs and prayers, etc.

It is Schoenstatt’s conviction that the Shrine is a genuine place of grace. In the first months and years after Fr. Kentenich proposed the original covenant of love with Mary, inviting her to come to dwell there, he carefully observed the life around the Shrine for signs of genuine activity of Mary in the spirit of the Founding Document. What he saw convinced him again and again that the Shrine was truly a place of grace.

Some of the evidence that convinced him was: the boys making the plan their own, even though he deliberately did not promote it after October 18, 1914 until they showed interest; the genuine fervor that the founding generation developed for the aims of the Founding Document; the interior support from Mary in the Shrine which many experienced as soldiers in World War I; the formation of young men whose lives showed true and heroic sanctity (especially Joseph Engling).

In the years since 1914 many of the faithful have repeatedly observed that the Shrine is a place of grace, especially in the area of the three “graces of the Shrine” – the grace of a home, of inner transformation, and of apostolic fruitfulness (or zeal).

Fr. Kentenich used the “law of the creative resultant” (è 110) to determine if the Shrine was truly a place of God’s action. This meant he applied the following criteria. He observed:

  • the greatness of the difficulties
  • the smallness of the instruments
  • the greatness of fruitfulness or success.

In other words, the magnitude of the difficulties and the smallness of the instruments forces one to conclude on the level of human logic and normal expectations that such and such would be the normal “resultant.” Indeed, one can even imagine a maximum resultant on the basis of particularly good fortune. If, nonetheless, the actual resultant goes well beyond what one could humanly expect, one must acknowledge this as a “creative resultant,” strongly indicating the hand of God.

In the case of the Shrine he noticed such creative resultants over and over, especially in the concrete lives of those persons and communities who came in contact with the Shrine, and he was convinced that it could not be accounted for through human fruitfulness or good fortune alone. God’s hand was behind it; hence, it must be truly a place of grace.

Yes, the Church has given her approval to Schoenstatt as a place of grace. Implicitly this was included in the first apostolic blessing received in 1922 from Pope Pius XI. Explicit approval came on April 9, 1947, when Pope Pius XII granted indulgence privileges to those faithful visiting the Original Shrine. Further scrutiny in the Apostolic Visitation of 1951-53 concluded with a nihil obstat of the entire movement, including the Shrine, in 1953.

In 1929 Fr. Kentenich stated as his heartfelt conviction: “In the shadow of this Shrine, the destiny of Church and world will be essentially co-determined for centuries to come.” After 15 years of observing the activity of Mary in the Shrine, he was convinced that the MTA would use this place of grace not only to shape the lives of individuals and communities, but to shape the future of the Church and world.

One of the most striking features of the Schoenstatt Shrine is that it was founded totally on the basis of God speaking through ordinary channels, such as the circumstances of the times, and on the human discernment of His will, that is, the same methods available to every Christian.

Unlike such famous Catholic Shrines as Fatima, Lourdes or Guadalupe, Schoenstatt did not begin with any apparitions or other extraordinary phenomenon. In fact, when asked by others how he founded Schoenstatt and then pressed to say that there must have been at least a “tiny vision,” he adamantly insisted – there was no vision, not even a tiny one.

Given the nature of Schoenstatt’s founding (on the basis of ordinary discernment), one would expect God to be consistent in the kind of miracles He chooses to work there. Indeed, Schoenstatt has proved to be a place of predominantly “moral miracles” (as opposed to “physical miracles”). Such moral miracles include miracles of grace and inner transformation, of feeling at home and loved by the MTA, of the courage to live one’s life with God and with apostolic zeal.

This does not mean that God cannot work physical miracles there. Fr. Kentenich taught that if the God would wish to glorify the MTA through physical miracles (for instance, to verify to the larger Church that Schoenstatt is a place of grace), He would do so and Schoenstatt would rejoice in God’s blessings. After all, there is nothing to keep us from asking for any miracle through Mary’s intercession. On the other hand, because of the realization that the ordinary way of modern sanctity relies on the graces of the more hidden “moral miracles,” we prefer (all other things being equal) that Mary’s power shine through moral miracles.

In the months leading up to the founding of the Shrine, Fr. Kentenich was guided to the decision to invite Mary into the Shrine through various outward indications. Some of them are mentioned in the Founding Document of October 18, 1914:

1.   The positive development of the Marian Sodality: “Whoever knows the history of our sodality will have no trouble believing that Divine Providence has something special in store for it” (Founding Document). The growth of the Schoenstatt Sodality from resistant boys in 1912 to young men interested in sanctity in 1914 was indeed remarkable. That their Marian spirit became so genuine (May 1914) even caught Fr. Kentenich by surprise. Was this not a sign of Divine Providence?

2.   The outbreak of World War I: “According to the plan of Divine Providence, the great European War is meant to be an extraordinary help for you in the work of your self-sanctification” (Founding Document). The war posed extraordinary difficulties for continuing the work of the boys sanctification: most could be expected to be drafted into the military, removing them from the favorable setting of their school and sodality. How could they keep up a strong spiritual life unless Mary would help them?

3.   The gift of the St. Michael Chapel: “This little chapel belongs to our small sodality family, guided by our heavenly Mother. It belongs completely to us and only to us” (Founding Document). It was entrusted to the Sodality on July 8, 1914. Much work went into cleaning it up during the summer vacation. Was this not a sign of God pointing to the creation of a place of grace?

4.   A newspaper article about the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii that fell into Fr. Kentenich’s hands (by Fr. Cyprian Fröhlich, published July 18, 1914 in Die Allgemeine Rundschau): It told how an Italian lawyer, Bartolo Longo, had begun this famous shrine in 1871. No apparitions or extraordinary miracles were involved. Fr. Kentenich asked himself: Is God telling me we can do this, too?

Fr. Kentenich wrestled with what God was saying through these outward indications. In the end it required of him an extraordinary leap of faith – to believe God was calling him to invite Mary to accept their striving for sanctity and take up her abode in the Shrine.

The Founding Document (è 70) is the talk which Fr. Kentenich gave to the young men of the Schoenstatt Sodality on Sunday, October 18, 1914. It was the first opportunity since the outbreak of World War I for the Sodality to meet in their newly renovated chapel of St. Michael.

The program with Fr. Kentenich proposed was this:

“Program: Acceleration of the development of our self-sanctification as a means of transforming our chapel into a place of pilgrimage.”

Hence, it was directly concerned with making the chapel into a place of pilgrimage or Shrine.

Schoenstatt was founded in an act of invitation: the earthly partners offered their striving for sanctity and the heavenly partner (Mary) was asked to come to actively dwell in the Shrine as Mother and Educator. But this is precisely the “covenant of love” upon which Schoenstatt was founded. The life of the Shrine depends entirely on this covenant and Schoenstatt’s unique kind of Marian consecration is inseparable from the Shrine and its graces. Every covenant of love with the MTA is therefore connected to the Shrine, at least spiritually, and the Shrine is nourished by the life of the covenant of love of all who are attached there.

The three pilgrimage graces are the most typical graces received by any pilgrim to the Schoenstatt Shrine. They are also known as the “graces of the Shrine” (è 11):

1. the grace of a home,

2. the grace of inner transformation,

3. the grace of apostolic zeal or fruitfulness.

The grace of a home is the grace of knowing that Mary totally accepts me and gives me a home in her heart and in her Shrine. This is communicated on the natural level by such things as the small size and homey atmosphere of the Shrine. It is communicated on the supernatural level through the motherly presence of Mary, who takes in each person just as he or she is.

The fact that the daughter shrines are all replicas of the Original Shrine enhances the grace of a home. Pilgrims traveling from one daughter shrine to another feel at home right away because the soul recognizes the familiar spirit through the familiar forms. The MTA picture allows this grace to be further extended to wherever it is revered, for even this one point of familiarity helps the soul rapidly feel at home and among family.

The importance of the grace of a home is underscored by the deep longing in modern man for a home, security and deeper relationships. The uprooted and set-adrift qualities of modern life, compounded by the breakdown of family and basic attachments, make this grace an especially important one in our times.

The grace of inner transformation is tied to Mary’s work as Mother and Educator in the Shrine. She not only makes us feel at home, but works to make us more complete disciples of Christ by transforming us from within. In Schoenstatt this grace is asked for in conjunction with each one’s efforts to educate self and others, building on the realization that our effort is necessary but also on the realization that without the assistance of grace, the full formation of the new man and the new community is impossible.

This grace is especially important in the complexities of modern life, which demand a more complete command of the inner person, of one’s freedom and powers of the will, and of the skills needed to form solid relationships if one is to be happy. All of these demand a high level of interior growth and transformation if we are to overcome both the pitfalls of modern thinking (like collectivism and naturalism) and of fallen human nature (our sins, character flaws and failings). Modern psychology reminds us that much of what we do comes from subconscious motives and desires – indicating how even the deepest regions of our soul need to be formed and transformed for Christian life to be effective today.

The first two pilgrimage graces culminate in the third: the grace of the apostolic fruitfulness. When the soul is completely at home (knows it is completely accepted) and deeply transformed (made free from the many things which make it fearful and hesitant to spread the Gospel), it is able to reach a very high level of fruitfulness. This grace is often referred to as “apostolic zeal,” indicating that the love of Mary in the Shrine further inflames the soul to want to do the work of God and become apostolic.

The central Marian symbols in the Shrine are the:

• MTA Picture - central image of the Shrine (presented by the founding generation in 1915).

• Light frame - the decorative frame with the words “Servus Mariae nunquam peribit” (A servant of Mary will never perish) was hand-carved and presented by a member of the founding generation, Fritz Esser, shortly after World War I. The present gold version was presented by the Ladies of Schoenstatt in 1947.

• Crown - the MTA was crowned Queen of Schoenstatt on December 10, 1939 as a plea that she protect Schoenstatt in those dark days of Hitler’s rule in Germany. The crown was a gift of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, and Fr. Kentenich himself did the crowning. It was the conviction of the Schoenstatt Family that the MTA fulfilled her part of the bargain, protecting the Shrine and Original Schoenstatt from any serious damage during World War II.

The main elements relating to the altar are:

• Altar - the first altar in the shrine was a simple wooden one and was used for 20 years.   In 1934 it was replaced by the present baroque altar in honor of the 20th anniversary of Schoenstatt. Its design was meant to show the unity between Christ (altar and tabernacle) and Mary (the MTA picture).

• Tabernacle - the present design of the tabernacle was a gift from the Schoenstatt League in 1948. The metal doors include the image of the Annunciation (visible during adoration) and, when closed, a cross rising from a lily with the words “Nobis datus, nobis natus ex intacta Virgine” ([Christ] to us is given, to us is born of the untouched Virgin, St. Thomas Aquinas). The interior of the tabernacle is decorated with scenes from the Schoenstatt Office.

• Ver Sacrum lamp - sanctuary lamp to the right of the altar, presented by the Ver Sacrum (Holy Springtime) generation of young men and seminarians on New Year’s Eve 1940, expressing their desire that they become a new springtime for a world dedicated to Christ and Mary (hence the design: world on a paten, crowned with the MTA designed with the “T” shaped like a cross at the highest point).

• Antependium - this decorative front to the altar cloth is a typical feature of the Schoenstatt Shrine. It often has a typical saying such as “Nothing without you, MTA, nothing without us” (è 73) or “Cor unum in Patre” (One heart in the Father).

Besides Mary, other prominent saints are portrayed in the Shrine:

• Statue of St. Michael - reminder that the Original Shrine was a converted St. Michael chapel (gift from Fr. Michael Kolb, Pallottine provincial superior, to the founding generation, 1914).

• Statue of St. Joseph - originally presented to Fr. Kentenich in 1933 (who presented it to the Original Shrine), this statue has since found its place on the left side of all the daughter shrines. The St. Joseph statue in the Original Shrine was replaced in 1953 with a version showing Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church.

• Statues of Sts. Peter and Paul - sign of Schoenstatt as an apostolic movement (placed in the Shrine in 1935 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Vincent Pallotti’s Catholic Apostolate).

• Images of St. Vincent Pallotti or other saints - particular daughter shrines will have images of other saints, often in the front to the right. Among them is St. Vincent Pallotti, especially in shrines with special connections to Schoenstatt’s Pallottine roots.

The Blessed Trinity is represented in key symbols in the Shrine:

• Crucifix - the Shrine has various crucifixes in its tradition. The best known to the wider public is the Unity Cross, showing Mary with Jesus at the foot of the cross (è 192). Other important designs are the “Inscriptio Cross” of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary (presented 1947) and the “Eastern Cross” reminding pilgrims to pray for the Church in Eastern Europe (presented 1951).

• Holy Spirit Symbol - at the highest point of the sanctuary (a gift of the Cenacle generation of Schoenstatt priests, both Pallottine and diocesan, in 1946).

• Father Symbol (or Father Eye) - usually placed above the MTA picture, this symbol reminds us of God’s ever-present care. The first such symbol was placed in the Daughter Shrine in Nueva Helvetia, Uruguay on Christmas Eve, 1948.

This inscription means: “A servant (or child) of Mary shall never perish”. The expression goes back to St. Augustine of Canterbury and reminds all visitors to the Shrine that those who love Mary and place themselves in her service need not fear the power of death or sin.

This saying was installed in the Shrine shortly after World War I. One of the young men from Schoenstatt’s founding generation, Fritz Esser, wished to show his gratitude to the MTA for protection received in the war by carving a “light frame” for the MTA picture. On it he placed the words “Servus Mariae nunquam peribit” to give courage to all who come.

There are traditionally four “levels of the Shrine”:

• the Original Shrine,

• the daughter shrines (or branch shrines),

• the home shrine, and

• the heart shrine.

Of special importance are also the

• wayside shrines and “MTA Shrines”

which often serve as a place of prayer and for a local Schoenstatt Family without a replica daughter shrine.

There are also the

• pilgrim shrines

which deserve mention as form of outreach of the Schoenstatt Shrine.

There are many other forms of the Shrine which extend the working of the MTA in the many areas of life: room shrines, work shrines, office shrines, car shrines, etc.

The daughter shrines (or branch shrines) are replicas of the Original Shrine. They are not only typical for their trademark form (carefully replicating the physical design and furnishing of the original), but also through the serious spiritual striving that makes each daughter shrine a place of grace in union with the Original Shrine and its stream of life and grace.

The first daughter shrine was constructed in Uruguay in 1943 in the small town of Nueva Helvetia. For years the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary had been trying to transmit to local Catholics the meaning of Schoenstatt. They finally decided to attempt building a replica shrine. Fr. Kentenich, in Dachau at the time, eventually heard of this endeavor and was supportive. After World War II the daughter shrines proved to be the key to establishing genuine Schoenstatt life in totally new places around the world. From that time Schoenstatt has built Shrines in all its significant places, often in conjunction with retreat facilities or training centers.

There are currently over 160 replica daughter shrines in 28 countries around the world (for statistics è 161). Each year, millions of people visit the Schoenstatt Shrine in its daughter shrine, expanding the ability of the MTA to reach the whole Church. One daughter shrine is often designated in each country to be the “national shrine” serving as a place of unity, mission, grace and inspiration for the national Schoenstatt Family.

Even with their accent on replicating the form and spirit of Original Shrine, the daughter shrines all develop different accents in their decoration and activity, becoming a sign of how Schoenstatt inculturates in the many countries in which it is present. Hence the unity symbolized by the replica form is brought together with the diversity of particular symbols, customs, and even the unique mission of each local shrine.

Because the daughter shrines are so central to the life of the Schoenstatt Movement, their construction is subject to criteria which guarantee they will be vibrant places of grace in the long term and not falter after a few years. The responsibility for this decision ultimately rests with the national or regional presidium (è 157), which reviews proposals for building daughter shrines.

The most important criteria for building a daughter shrine are: a large and vibrant Schoenstatt Movement, an appropriate piece of land, the necessary finances, a concept for a training center or meeting rooms, the support of one of the Schoenstatt Institutes, and the approval of the local bishop. In addition, one should have a pastoral concept for maintaining and promoting the Shrine, including questions like: Who will receive visitors? How will the formation activity at the Shrine he coordinated and inspired? Who will take care of the buildings and grounds?

See CCC 1655-1658 (domestic church).

The home shrine is the shrine in “domestic” form. Usually consisting of an MTA picture, a crucifix and other symbols (such as a picture of Fr. Kentenich, of the Shrine, personal symbols, etc.), the home shrine is the place in the home where the graces of the Shrine are localized in a special way.

The origin of the home shrine has its roots in the Schoenstatt work with families, who instinctively wanted a “Schoenstatt corner” in their home. In 1962-63 while Fr. Kentenich was in Milwaukee, families who felt a strong helplessness in raising their children Catholic raised the question of whether their homes could become shrines. This resulted in the development of the home shrine as a form of Schoenstatt Shrine.   In fact, the first home shrines were blessed by Fr. Kentenich himself, who took a great interest in this new form of activity of the MTA in the family.

The home shrine is a place of prayer and spiritual encounter for the family at home. If a family is interested in having a home shrine, they normally work their way first into the covenant of love, then into the preparation of their home to be a shrine of the MTA. This eventually leads to the dedication of the home shrine, which is normally done by a priest who also blesses the home. Traditions associated with the dedication of the home shrine are giving it a name and having each member choose a personal symbol to represent him- or herself in the home shrine; these symbols are then presented at the time of the home shrine dedication.

A home shrine can also develop its own unique life, including lifestreams or its own symbols. The MTA picture can be crowned, symbols of one’s Schoenstatt group, or certain family customs can revolve around the use of the home shrine. These can help foster the atmosphere of prayer in a family or promote the sense that everyone has a place in this special corner dedicated to God and the MTA. In that sense it is a marvelous manifestation of the “domestic church.”

A house blessing is a general form of blessing involving the home of any Christians who desire to have their house blessed. A home shrine dedication involves the invitation of the MTA to come and dwell in the home in conjunction with the graces of the Schoenstatt Shrine. It is not a “one-time event” but implies an ongoing effort on the part of the family members to bring their contributions to the capital of grace and assist the MTA in making their home a shrine.

The heart shrine is the dwelling of the MTA in one’s heart with the same graces as the Original Shrine, through our personal connection to Schoenstatt’s covenant of love. Through the baptismal covenant we come to share in the life of grace which makes us a dwelling place of God and temple of the Holy Spirit (see Rom 5,5 and 1 Cor 3,16). Because the covenant of love is a Marian form of renewal of the baptismal covenant, it also gives new meaning and vitality to our own selves as persons dedicated to God.

The dedication of the heart shrine can be implicit or explicit. It takes place implicitly when we make the covenant of love with the MTA, for it is then that we join personally with the stream of life and graces from the Shrine. It may also take place explicitly as an act of dedication in its own right, such as various families and lay people who did so in the presence of Fr. Kentenich in his last months in Milwaukee in 1965. This can be inspired by a time of growing appreciation for Mary’s action in one’s heart as a shrine, by a time of heartfelt need to invite her explicitly to dwell there, or by a time of other spiritual growth, usually involving the unique character of one’s heart and mission.

Wayside shrines can range in size from simple roadside or garden markers to small chapels. The smaller versions often express the desire of a person, family or group to make the MTA more visible in their neighborhood or area. They remind visitors and passers-by of God and prayer. Larger wayside shrines often serve as local centers for clusters of groups or a local Schoenstatt Family without a replica daughter shrine. Such a shrine (it may be a small chapel with an MTA picture, or an MTA picture at a side altar in a parish church) acts as the place of spiritual unity and attachment and if often the gathering place for meetings and the monthly commemoration of the 18th as Covenant Day.

“MTA Shrines” are chapels with a special history dating to the years before the daughter shrines. In this time the desire to have a local shrine did not yet come together with the idea of building an exact replica. Instead, some other chapel was acquired or built and an MTA picture installed. For the local Schoenstatt Family, the graces of the shrine are associated with this MTA Shrine, and some have since installed replica altars, but maintain the unique exterior form. Most are found in Germany and Switzerland.

The Pilgrim MTA is the unique, portable image of the MTA used by the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign. It is framed in such a way that it can easily be carried from family to family and place to place to bring the blessings of the Schoenstatt Shrine to many people. Its origin goes back to John Pozzobon of Santa Maria, Brazil. In 1950 he began to visit families with this pilgrim MTA image, promoting the rosary. His work blossomed into a full-scale international rosary campaign starting with the commissioning of 25 Pilgrim MTAs for Argentina in 1984. Over 150,000 such images presently circulate in over 80 countries all over the world, reaching millions of Catholics each month.

The Pilgrim MTA has proven it faithfully brings the three pilgrimage graces to those it visits. For instance, many receive the grace of a home in Mary as she comes to visit them. Many graces of inner transformation are received by individuals and families as well. Indeed, the Pilgrim MTA has inspired many to new acts of apostolic fruitfulness.

Pilgrim MTAs are normally blessed at a local Schoenstatt Center and sent out from one of the daughter shrines in the care of a coordinator or promoter. Each year all pilgrim shrines are invited to a recommissioning day at one of the daughter shrines (or a local wayside shrine if the distance is too far) to emphasize their connection with the place of origin. Larger “auxiliary shrines” visit parishes and local centers to cultivate the unity and spiritual vitality of the Rosary Campaign.

Although the Pilgrim MTA is the most prominent form of “pilgrim shrine,” there are other forms used on a smaller scale by individuals, groups or local families. Essential to their effectiveness is a living connection to the stream of life and graces coming from.



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