263. Shrines, like churches, have enormous symbolic value: they are icons “of the dwelling place of God among (people)” (Rev 21,3) and allude to “the mystery of the Temple” which was fulfilled in the Body of Christ (cf. John 1, 14; 2, 21), in the ecclesial community (cf. 1 Pt 2, 5) of the faithful (cf. 1 cor 3, 16-17; 6, 19; 2 Cor 6, 16).
Shrines are also human places, and these seven talking points are each well-considered. Think of shrines you readers have visited. Which of these qualities was in evidence? Can you think of seven shrines that stands out for each of these?
To the faithful, shrines represent:
• a memorial to an original extraordinary event which has given rise to persistent devotion, or a witness to the piety and gratitude of a people that has received many benefits;
• privileged places of divine assistance and of the intercession of Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints or the Beati, in virtue of the frequent signs of mercy that have been shown in them;
• signs of cosmic harmony and reflections of divine beauty because of their physical positioning which is often elevated, solitary and austere;
• a call to conversion because of what is preached in them, an invitation to redouble the life of charity and the works of mercy, and an exhortation to follow Christ;
• places dedicated to consolidating the faith, to growth in grace, refuge and consolation in affliction, by virtue of the sacramental life practiced in them;
• particular interpretations and prolongations of the Word of God by virtue of the Gospel message proclaimed in them;
• an encouragement to cultivate an eschatological outlook, a sense of transcendence and to learn to direct their earthly footsteps towards the sanctuary of Heaven (cf. Heb 9, 11; Rev 21, 3).
Personally, I find the setting described in number three above to be most appealing. Sometimes, one feels some of these qualities in places not yet declared as shrines. That is, of course, that way of things. It is the lived faith experience of believers that authentic shrines are uncovered and become revered sites. Institutional declaration alone is not enough.
Our recent sainted pope is cited:
“Christian shrines have always been, and continue to be, signs of God, and of His intervention in history. Each one of them is a memorial to the Incarnation and to the Redemption” (John Paul II, Allocution to the rectors of French Shrines in Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IV/I (1981), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano 1981, p. 138).
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.