Many requests have been directed to the United States hierarchy to
establish a national shrine and to designate an already-existing shrine as national. In-response to these inquiries, the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops formed a Canonical Affairs Committee to
develop guidelines for Conference policy on these issues, according to
the requirements of Canon Law, cc 1230-1234. The Canonical Affairs
Committee mandated an ad hoc committee to develop the norms for the designation of national shrines.
In 1989, the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
appointed an ad hoc committee comprised of the following members: Most
Rev. James P. Keleher, Chairman; Most Rev. John Myers; Most Rev. Charles
Chaput; and Rev. Anthony Czarnecki, as the NCCB liaison from the Office
for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees (PCMR).
On March 21, 1991 the Administrative Board of the NCCB/USCC reviewed the
norms and decided to present them to the body of bishops. Subsequently,
the norms were formally approved by the bishops during their national
meeting on June 18, 1992 in Notre Dame, Indiana.
From time immemorial, people have set aside places that have deep
spiritual significance—where God is revealed, honored and worshipped. In the book of Genesis, Jacob describes such a special place in the
following way: "How awesome is this shrine! This is nothing but an
abode of God and that is the gateway to heaven" (Gen. 28:17).
The Ark of the Covenant was enshrined in a temple and therefore
Jerusalem became the most honored Shrine and place of pilgrimage. In the
New Testament, places connected with Jesus' birth, crucifixion and
death have become the most holy sites of devotional pilgrimage. Places
which were associated with the lives of the Saints acquired devotional
significance. 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.
For many centuries the Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate has been an
important part of the Church's pastoral life. Its activities, however,
have not been the subject of extensive juridical regulation of the
Church. The 1983 Code of Canon Law (cc. 1230-1234) outlines the
requirements for shrines. Canon 1230 specifically states, "The term
shrine signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful
make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the
local ordinary." The distinguishing mark of a shrine is that it is a
place to which the faithful make pilgrimages.
Pilgrimages remind us that the journey we take to a place of special
devotion designated as a shrine mirrors the journey on which we are
embarked as the pilgrim people of God, for the Church on earth is a
pilgrim Church (Lumen Gentium VII, 48-51). "In our view", Pope
Paul VI said, "the pilgrimage may well be the expression, the occasion,
and, as it were, the synthesis of all [our penitential] practices, which
have as their crown the celebration of the eucharist. In the genuine
tradition of Christian asceticism pilgrimages have always had devotion
and expiation as their motives. The pilgrimage can still today be
inspired by the same motives . . . . It is essential that the mark of a
pilgrimage, besides prayer and penance, be the practice of love of
neighbor. For that is a clear proof of love for God and it must be
expressed in spiritual and corporal works of mercy towards those most in
need ..." (Iniziandosi ufficialmente, 31 May 1973 AAS 65, 1973).
According to canon 1232 the local ordinary and the Conference of Bishops
have a special responsibility for the shrines. In particular, the
Conference of Bishops is given the pastoral oversight for national
shrines; its approval is required for a shrine to be called national.
The Conference is, moreover, competent to approve the statutes of
national shrines (canons 1231 and 1232.1). Since shrines are an integral
part of the life of the Church in the United States and participate in
its mission, the following norms are established to direct and govern
the approval of national shrines. These norms reflect the requirements
of canon law and respect the traditional autonomy of the shrines in
their pastoral activity. It is hoped that "national" designation will
enhance the significance of shrines and their service in evangelization
in the United States.
Norms for the Designation of National Shrines
- Shrines which have used the title "national" prior to the
First Sunday in Advent 1983 may continue to do so, but are to submit
their statutes to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for
- Shrines established on or after the First Sunday in Advent
1983 are obliged to seek the approval of the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops by submitting their statutes for approval before using
the title, "national shrine."
- Failure to seek such approval will result in a re-examination
of the pastoral ministry by competent Church authority and the possible
loss of the Church's recognition and support.
- The activities and mission of national shrines must be
congruent with the tradition and teaching of the Church. Only shrines
which follow the requirements of canon 1230 can be approved by the NCCB
as national shrines.
- A shrine must already have been designated, implicitly or
explicitly, as a diocesan shrine and place of pilgrimage by the local
ordinary for at least ten years before national designation will be
considered unless the competent authority decides otherwise.
- The statutes must be approved by the diocesan bishop before
submission to the NCCB, even if the public juridic person which has
established the shrine is of pontifical right. Also, any subsequent
changes in the statutes should be approved by the diocesan bishop and
- The shrine should be easily accessible, with appropriate facilities for pilgrims.
- The shrine must be dedicated to promoting the faith of the
pilgrims 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. A
national shrine should nourish the spiritual lives of pilgrims by
fulfilling the following requirements.
- A shrine should be a center for worthy and exemplary
celebrations of the liturgy, especially celebrations of the Eucharist and penance (c. 1234).
- Those who administer the shrine are encouraged to develop and
utilize some form of common prayer, such as the liturgy of the hours and
celebrations of the word of God (SC 35.4).
- Liturgical and devotional celebrations should faithfully
observe their respective norms and promote the active participation of
the Christian faithful, with due consideration for associations that
have been approved by the Church.
- The various elements required for liturgical celebrations
(altar, ambo, presidential chair) should be situated according to the
requirements of the reformed liturgy (see General Instruction of the
Roman Missal, nos. 253-280).
- Great care must be given to the observance of the principal
celebrations of the liturgical year and to the ministry of preaching,
both in liturgical homilies and in connection with popular devotions.
- A sufficient number of liturgical ministers should be available
to provide adequate pastoral care for pilgrims, especially for various
- To enhance active participation of the entire assembly of the
faithful, liturgical worship should be accompanied by sacred music which
"adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds and confers greater
solemnity upon the sacred rites." (C.S.L. VI, 922)
- Shrines will strive to welcome and serve various ethnic and language groups. In particular, the shrine's administration should:
provide sacramental celebrations in various languages;
- alert shrine personnel to the needs and attitudes of such groups.
- In addition to the requirements of canon 1232.2 (statement of
mission, authority of the rector and administration of goods), the
statutes should determine the accountability of the administration of
the shrine to the diocesan bishop.
- Non-parochial shrines should not function as parishes.
Ordinarily, baptisms, weddings, funerals and other parochial functions
should not be celebrated at a shrine, unless the diocesan bishop makes a
- Shrines should promote forms of creative art which heighten
popular piety and perpetuate the Christian experience of faith (cc.
- Although the person entrusted with the care and administration
of a national shrine may be designated in various appropriate ways, it
is understood that he holds the canonical office of rector.
- There may be more than one national shrine dedicated to a
particular saint or mystery if the NCCB considers it important for the
Church or a group of people.
- In fund-raising and similar activities, shrines which are
governed by religious institutes shall observe the norms established by
the NCCB and the Major Superiors of Religious. "Major superiors of
religious institutes should as a moral duty provide the Ordinary of the
place where the fund-raising originates with significant information
about the fund-raising programs and the apostolates they support"
(NCCB Fund-Raising Guidelines November, 1977).
- The Administrative Committee of the NCCB can revoke national designation for a just cause.
- Any request for privileges from the Holy See by a national
shrine must first be communicated to the NCCB so that it may jointly be
presented to the appropriate office of the Holy See.
- In virtue of c. 1287, an annual report on pastoral and
financial activities should be made by the national shrine to the
diocesan bishop. If a shrine is governed by a religious institute, norm
fifteen should be followed. It is fitting that a shrine which has
disposable income from the generous gifts of pilgrims should designate a
portion of that income for the care of the poor.
- Any facility or service controlled by or affiliated with
persons or entities that manage or supervise the shrine must be included
in the annual report to the diocesan bishop.
- Shrines that are seeking the title "national" should commit
themselves to fulfill all the requirements expressed in the above norms.
- The National Conference of Catholic Bishops authorizes its
Administrative Committee to grant the title national shrine and approve
the statutes for the same.
- The NCCB's ad hoc Committee on Shrines will deal with the various issues concerning the designation of national shrines.
- A copy of the statutes of the proposed national shrine, along with the application must be submitted to the NCCB.
- Application for designation as a national shrine may be initiated by the local diocesan bishop or by the rector of the shrine.
- If the application is made by the shrine, written approval of
the diocesan bishop must accompany the petition, even if the shrine is
under the jurisdiction of a public juridic person.
- The votum of the bishops of the ecclesiastical province should be included with the application.
- Pastoral activities and schedule of liturgical services should be presented to the NCCB.
- An on-site visit by representatives of the NCCB is an integral part of the process of obtaining the title, "national".
- Every ten years the statutes of every shrine designated national by the NCCB will be reviewed.