Shrines: places to meet God and grow in the spiritual life

By | October 11, 2009

However, shrines, like parishes, are places where we encounter God and grow in our spiritual life. As the U.S. Bishops have said about shrines, “In our Judeo-Christian tradition, a shrine is considered a place where divine grace is manifested in a very special way — a place where the human and divine world intersect.”

The word “shrine” comes to us from various words tracing to the Latin “scrinium” which referred to a chest, most often one that carried books. Interestingly, one of the ancient Hebrew shrines was Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant resided before David moved it to his new capital of Jerusalem. The ark was said to contain the stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

Jerusalem itself became a form of a shrine, not only for Jews, but later for Christians — since the sites of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery took place there — and, still later, for Muslims. Other shrines have developed over our 2,000 years of Christianity at places where saints were martyred (such as Rome), where relics of saints have been placed (such as Assisi where St. Francis and St. Clare are buried), and where apparitions of saints, the Lord or the Blessed Mother have been reported.

According to Marianist Br. John Samaha, who often writes about Catholic traditions, as many as 80 percent of Catholic shrines today are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. These include Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Czestochowa in Poland and Guadalupe in Mexico. And, of course, our own Chapel at Robinsonville is dedicated to Our Lady of Good Help.

In 1983, the revised Code of Canon Law addressed the issue of shrines, dealing with matters of authority and administration, designation of local, national and international shrines, and any privileges that might be granted to shrines. The code also reminds us that at shrines, “the means of salvation are to be more abundantly made available to the faithful: by sedulous (diligent) proclamation of the word of God, by suitable encouragement of liturgical life, especially by the celebration of the Eucharist and penance, and by the fostering of approved forms of popular devotion” (can. 1234).

In 1992, the U.S. bishops issued guidelines for shrines in our country. The bishops said that the devotions to particular shrines were to be distinguished by promoting the faith by centering on:

  • a mystery of the Catholic faith;
  • a devotion based on authentic church tradition;
  • revelations recognized by the church;
  • or the lives of those in the church’s calendar of saints.

Devotions at the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help focus on Christ through the life of Mary. What is important to remember about any shrine is what the experience of being at a sacred spot does for us. Adele Brice found her vocation in life at Robinsonville. And she devoted the rest of that life to teaching children about their faith.

When we visit any shrine, we must ask ourselves how our encounter with God at this sacred spot will directly affect our lives. As Pope Paul VI was quoted by the U.S. bishops as saying about visits to shrines — besides prayer and penance — spiritual and corporal works of mercy are the fruits of encounters with God at sacred sites.

Sources: 1983 Code of Canon Law; Encyclopedia Britannica; USCCB “Norms Regarding the Designation of Shrines as National Shrines”; “The Mission of Shrines” at; The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism; The Chapel at Robinsonville; and The Catholic Encyclopedia

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