IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn
By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The overflowing
congregation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception hardly needed reminding to raise their “eyes to the
heavens” during a dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic Dec. 8.
Before Mass began, all eyes were
already on the newly completed gold dome above the front central section of the
When it was blessed during Mass, incense rose above the
congregation and bright lights were turned on to give a better view of the newly
finished dome that includes the words of the Nicene Creed encircling the base
and a depiction of the Holy Trinity, Mary, the four Evangelists, angels and
more than a dozen saints connected to the United States or the shrine.
During the blessing and before
and after Mass, phones and cameras were held aloft to capture the completed
work more than two years in the making. But it would take more than a few
pictures to capture the details in this majestic work of art described as the
“crowning jewel” of the national shrine during introductory remarks by Msgr.
Walter Rossi, the rector.
The dome mosaic is composed of
more than 14 million pieces of Venetian glass covering more than 18,300 square
feet of the dome’s surface. Its completion marks the final step in finishing the
work of the Upper Church that began in 1955.
The dome was dedicated,
fittingly, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, reflecting the basilica’s
namesake. The dedication Mass was celebrated by Washington Cardinal Donald W.
Wuerl and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for
Laity, the Family and Life, who was named by Pope Francis to be his special
envoy at the dedication Mass.
Other cardinals concelebrating
the Mass included Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of
Washington and Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, along with Cardinal
Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops. They were joined by more than two dozen bishops and 90 priests.
Cardinal Wuerl pointed out in
his homily that the mosaic tiles in the dome are symbolic of the living body of
Christ regularly filling the pews of the shrine and reflecting the church’s diversity.
He urged the congregation of
families, women religious, students and people of all ages and ethnic
backgrounds who filled the pews, the side chapels and stood in the back at the
dedication Mass to always look to this “great majestic dome mindful of our
prayer to Mary” and ask for her intercession.
He said Mary is the model of “what
our faith should be” because she believed that nothing was impossible with
The cardinal said he remembered
coming to the shrine when he was a student at The Catholic University of
America in the 1960s when the walls were simply brick except for the mosaic
image of the Risen Christ at the front of the church.
He also noted that the
completion of the dome finishes a work that began nearly 100 years ago when the
shrine’s cornerstone was placed in 1920.
As construction began on the National
Shrine, as it was then called, Catholics across the country were invited to
contribute however they could. Some donated pieces of gold jewelry and even
precious stones, the cardinal said, which were fashioned into what came to be
known as the “first chalice of the National Shrine” and was used at
the Dec. 8 mosaic dedication.
When Pope Francis was at the
shrine in 2015 to celebrate Mass and canonize St. Junipero Serra, he also
blessed a piece of the mosaic: the words for the beginning and end of the
Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God” and “Amen.”
At the end of the dedication Mass,
Msgr. Rossi thanked the artists and workers, some of whom were seated at the
front of the church, for their work on the mosaic, which was done in Italy and
shipped in 30,000 sections weighing 24 tons. He pointed out that no one was
injured and no damages occurred in the installation.
He also thanked the many donors
who contributed to the dome work and gave to the shrine’s one-time national
collection for the project on Mother’s Day.
“This crowning jewel of Mary’s
shrine is really your work, your gift to the Blessed Mother,” he said.
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