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Bishop Burbidge blesses basilica symbols

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This story has been updated. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge blessed the tintinnabulum and ombrellino of the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria during the Mass for granting the title of basilica Sept. 8. 

“How blessed are we to gather together in this basilica church dedicated in honor of Mary to celebrate her birth, for from her arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God,” said Bishop Burbidge during his homily. “At this Mass we, as a diocese and parish, give thanks to God for the special honor given to this church.”

The tintinnabulum, a bell, and ombrellino, a gold and red umbrella, demonstrate a basilica’s connection to the Holy See, said Bishop Burbidge. “Traditionally, they accompanied the pope during his processions in the city of Rome,” he said. “Today, they stand in basilicas such as ours as signs of our trust that Christ himself continues to shepherd his flock in every place.”

Read more about the significance of the new symbols.

Bishop Burbidge encouraged Catholics to rely on God during this trying time in the life of the church. “We must be a sign, an instrument of the Light of Christ in the midst of darkness—so that his light shines in and through us,” he said.  We can only do so if we, like Mary, place our trust in God, with whom all things are possible.”

In addition to welcoming the symbols, a new altar rail framed the sanctuary and Marian relics were displayed. Father Edward C. Hathaway, rector, said the relics are the veil of Mary, a relic from the holy house of Loreto, the robe of Joseph and the relics of Joachim, Anne, Elizabeth and Zechariah — all relatives of Mary. He hopes to create a side chapel for them soon.

The handcarved marble rail is more than a century old and restores the historical look of the church, said Father Hathaway.  “It’s a wonderful addition to our tradition, restoring that heritage that we expect to find in the first Catholic Church in Virginia,” he said.  Parishioners may kneel to receive Communion at the rail, or remain standing. 

The Mass was celebrated on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new feast day of the basilica. “The bishop was able to choose a day as our annual feast day,” said Father Hathaway. “He would’ve chosen the Immaculate Conception but there's a smaller basilica, I think, across the river that’s related to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception,” he joked. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington is the largest church in North America. “This will always be a day of plenary indulgence for those who visit the basilica,” he said.

Many new and longtime parishioners filled the basilica and then joined the party afterward at the Lyceum, where there was a birthday cake for Mary. Michael Dechert and his wife, Ret. Col. Anna Maria Kaczmarski-Dechert, have attended since 1989. “(St. Mary) is large enough to encompass everybody and small enough that everybody feels like family,” she said. “(This is) a special event.”

Her husband added, “Father Hathaway has done a fabulous job preparing the church in the last years, really restoring and upgrading and making the church a more prayerful place, making it worthy of the distinction.”

Parishioner Michael Patrick, an architect, first began attending St. Mary when he and his wife were dating. They were married in the church in 2011 and their child was baptized there in 2012. 

He and Louis Di Cocco of St. Jude Liturgical Arts Studio designed the basilica symbols. The parish is working to add the seal or other basilica symbols to all the church buildings, including the doors of the Lyceum and the metals rails leading up to the church. “We’re creating that Catholic identity, the identity of the church, everywhere we go,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be asked by a parish and a pastor to do something beautiful for God.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018