Homily of Cardinal Justin Rigali
Solemnity of Corpus Christi
Enthronement of the Image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Blessing of New Shrines
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Dear Friends in our Lord Jesus Christ,
On this solemn feast, we celebrate the inestimable gift of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist is both the Sacrament of Thanksgiving and the Sacrament of Unity. This evening, here in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, here in the mother Church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we demonstrate and celebrate with gratitude the unity we share within the Sacrifice of the Mass. We demonstrate our unity also in the blessing of four new shrines in honor of Our Blessed Mother Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John Neumann and Saint Katharine Drexel.
The shrine to our Blessed Mother first of all offers for veneration the statue of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, as she appeared in 1830 in Paris to Saint Catherine Labouré―a devotion long fostered among the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by the Vincentian Fathers, represented here this evening by the Provincial, Father Michael Carroll. This devotion is actually a devotion that honors the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
In addition, this evening we have the solemn Enthronement of the sacred image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help―another devotion so dear to the piety of people throughout the world―a devotion that honors the Motherhood of Mary in relationship to Jesus and to all of us. On this happy occasion we demonstrate our unity, coming together from different parishes in our Archdiocese, together with our priests and deacons, together with our consecrated Religious, to proclaim our gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist and for the abundant blessings which flow from that Most Blessed Sacrament.
With gratitude, I acknowledge the presence of Bishop DeSimone, Bishop Cistone and Bishop McFadden, as well as the presence of my brother priests who are with us this evening. I express special gratitude to the Redemptorists who are present, including Father Patrick Woods, the Provincial, and Father Alfred Bradley, the Assistant to the Provincial. For almost two centuries, the Redemptorists have been great collaborators with the Bishops and Archbishops of Philadelphia in the pastoral care of souls. Typified in the ministry of our fourth Bishop, the Redemptorist Saint John Neumann, the Redemptorist priests and brothers have given faithful witness to the Passion and Cross of Jesus, and have proclaimed to the poor the love and mercy of God. Since 1865, the Redemptorists at the Church of Saint Alphonsus, in Rome, have been entrusted with the care and veneration of the precious icon and have fostered devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On behalf of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul and the entire Archdiocese, I am grateful to the Redemptorists for donating a venerable image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which is to be enthroned at this liturgy. Furthermore, I thank the Redemptorists and the faithful of the former Saint Boniface Parish, for donating the altars in honor of Our Lady and Saint Joseph. They replace the original side altars. These magnificent gifts are an expression of the unity which all parishes and all the faithful enjoy in relationship to the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese.
I extend a warm welcome to Monsignor John Savinski and parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Morton for their demonstration of solidarity as we enthrone the sacred image which has such great meaning for the life of their parish.
My gratitude goes likewise to Monsignor Michael McCulken, Rector of the Cathedral, and to all of the parishioners of the Cathedral Parish. I thank you for your support of these projects and for the enthusiasm with which you awaited these renovations. Not only do these shrines enhance the beauty of our Cathedral, but they will also inspire for many years to come all who come here to pray in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord and to seek the intercession of Our Lady and the Saints. It is then with great joy that we dedicate the new shrines in honor of Our Lady and the Saints.
All of this has been made possible by the extraordinary generosity of a faithful member of the Archdiocese, Mr. Peter Carlino, who, in memory of the piety of his beloved wife Betty, has supported the entire project of the shrines that we inaugurate today, and to whom we express deep appreciation and esteem. How fitting that this event takes place on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi! Mary, whom the Servant of God Pope John Paul II referred to as “the Woman of the Eucharist,” helps us to grow in our love for Christ, whom she conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pope John Paul II reminded us that “Mary can guide us toward this most holy sacrament, because she has a profound relationship with it” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 53).
In dedicating the shrine in honor of Saint Joseph, we honor the chaste Spouse of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Foster Father of the Son of God, Patron Saint of Workers and Protector of the Universal Church. Saint Joseph, by his example, constantly draws us to love ever more deeply Jesus and Mary. In every aspect of his life, Saint Joseph invites us to pray fervently, to work diligently, to trust unwaveringly in divine providence, and to live faithfully that, like him, we may die in the embrace of Jesus and Mary.
It is most appropriate, too, that it is on this great feast of Corpus Christi that the new shrines in honor of Philadelphia’s beloved Saints, John Nepomucene Neumann and Katharine Drexel are dedicated. In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “The first and fundamental mission that we receive from the sacred mysteries we celebrate is that of bearing witness by our lives. The wonder we experience at the gift God has made to us in Christ,” continued the Holy Father, “gives new impulse to our lives and commits us to becoming witnesses of his love” (no. 85). How vividly this sentiment is reflected in the lives and witness of Saints John Neumann and Katharine Drexel. Motivated by their loving encounter with Christ in the Eucharist, these saints sought to bring that love to all. Saint John Neumann established within our Archdiocese the annual Forty Hours Devotion, a time of renewal through Eucharistic Adoration for each parish. This devotion remains a steadfast sign of the love which the faithful of our Archdiocese have for our Eucharistic Lord. Saint Katharine Drexel, Foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was transformed by the Eucharist and sought to bring to our nation’s most oppressed people the love and hope which flow from the Eucharist. We are pleased that some of the Sisters are present with us this evening, including their President, Sister Patricia Suchalski. Mother Katharine’s beautiful sentiment to the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament continues to inspire us today: “Ours is the spirit of the Eucharist, the total gift of self.”
The Liturgy of the Word for this celebration of Corpus Christi places in perspective this spirit of the Eucharist as we look at the Sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus gave Himself completely for us on the Cross and He gives Himself completely to us in the Eucharist. This Sacrifice is prefigured in the sacrifices of old and in the sprinkling of the blood of slaughtered animals upon the people. God sealed His covenant with His People in blood. On the night before His death, Jesus, at the Passover meal, gave new meaning to the ancient rites so sacred to the memory of Israel. Jesus Himself is the Paschal Lamb. Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life. It is the Blood of Christ Himself which seals God’s new and everlasting Covenant with His People. The Letter to the Hebrews explains the meaning and emphasizes the power of the sacrificial and precious Blood shed by our Savior on the Cross: “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Heb 9:14).
This evening, as we give thanks for the gift of the Eucharist, we necessarily contemplate the Passion of Christ, for in the Eucharist we recall and enter into the mystery of the death of Jesus. At the heart of our dedication ceremony is today’s Enthronement of the Image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which draws our attention to the Passion of Christ. In this revered icon, we behold the tender strength of the Mother of God as she draws her Divine Child into her embrace. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel are depicted bearing the instruments of the Passion: the Cross, the nails, the lance, and the reed with the gall-soaked sponge. As the Christ Child beholds the instruments which will be used in his painful Passion and Death, he is filled with anguish. With haste, the Christ Child throws Himself into the arms of His Mother, running so quickly that the sandal is loosened and dangles from his foot.
Dear friends: as Our Mother embraces and comforts her own Christ Child, so she gazes upon the human race to bring all of us constant help and loving solace. She offers us her Divine Son, Jesus Christ, to be our hope. As we enthrone the Image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in our Cathedral, let us enthrone this image and all that it represents in our hearts. In the midst of our pains and trials, in the face of our anxieties and fears, Mary is with us to comfort us and to offer us the gift of her Son, especially in the Holy Eucharist. He who endured the pain of the Cross will give us grace to endure whatever crosses God may place upon our shoulders. Remember also that, while enduring the agony of the Cross, Jesus gave us His Mother to be our Mother. The stirring words of Jesus, “Behold, your Mother!” (Jn 19:27), remind us of the loving and merciful woman who always intercedes for us, her children, before the throne of God, and who is indeed Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary, who stood beside the Cross of Christ, stands by us always and directs us to Jesus. Mary beckons us to trust in Jesus, and she instructs us to love Him who gives Himself completely to us in the Most Holy Eucharist. It is this Holy Eucharist, the true Body of Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, that we honor and adore in a special way today on this vigil Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Amen.