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 January 21, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

The blessing of a Plenary Indulgence
is at hand, Feb. 2-11

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of my earliest memories of our parish church was seeing a heap of big rocks piled up outside the door that led you into the building in front of the St. Joseph altar. (Readers of a “certain age” will already have understood that I mean the right side of the church as one faces the sanctuary; of course, I could also have used an equally dated expression and called it the “Epistle side.”)

Memories of these rocks were woven into the fabric of my experience because my family — like most — always came in and out of the church by that same door, in order to take the pew that I figured we more or less owned, since we never sat anywhere else.

I remember, too, that it was only some years after the rocks appeared that I understood what they were for — a Lourdes Grotto, constructed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the parish.

Bishop Peter Paul Lefevere, the bishop of Detroit, formally established the parish in the small town of Anchorville, on the north shore of Lake St. Clair, in 1853. It has always meant a great deal to me that my family was there from the start. The grandfather of my great-grandfather was a leader in building the first church and provided the first pastor, Father Charles Antoine Chambille, a home until his rectory was ready.

One year later, on Oct. 15, 1854, Father Chambille dedicated the new parish’s church in honor of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception — a title that was to be given solemn dogmatic definition by Blessed Pope Pius IX two months later on Dec. 8.

Only a little more than three years after that — on Feb. 11, 1858 — this title of the Blessed Virgin Mary received a powerful confirmation when she appeared at the grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes to little Bernadette Soubirous and said to her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
So it made a great deal of sense for the parishioners in 1953 to build a Lourdes Grotto, as the cornerstone says, “In honor of the Pioneers of 1853.”

All of this personal history is by way of introduction to help you understand that devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes was central to my upbringing in the Church. What was for some months of my childhood just a mysterious pile of rocks has been for decades the Grotto I have passed every time I went into the church, the Grotto where we stood for our First Communion pictures, where we lined up for Confirmation, and were we had May Crowning every year.

It was not until 2005 that I was able to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes; and, as you will understand, it felt a bit like a homecoming, since our parish grotto had helped to teach me long ago to look to the Blessed Virgin as my mother.

All of these memories and prayers and aspirations — both old and new — filled my heart as I read the news that our Holy Father Pope Benedict has made a special provision for the Lord’s grace and favor to come to those who this year celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes.

He has declared a Year of Jubilee, Dec. 8, 2007, to Dec. 8, 2008, for those who make the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Under the usual conditions these pilgrims can gain a Plenary Indulgence.
This same blessing is available for us who cannot travel to Lourdes, between February 2 and 11. Specifically, the decree of Indulgence says:

“Each and every member of the Christian faithful who, truly repentant, is purified through sacramental confession, restored through the Most Holy Eucharist and offers prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, will be able to gain a Plenary Indulgence daily, which may also be applied, by way of suffrage, to the souls of the faithful in Purgatory. . . . [This Indulgence is available] from the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord on 2 February 2008 until the end of the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes on 11 February 2008, which is also the 150th Anniversary of the Apparition, [if the faithful] devoutly visit a blessed image of the Holy Virgin Mary of Lourdes in any church, chapel, grotto or other suitable place in which it is solemnly displayed, and in the presence of that image perform some pious act of Marian devotion, or at least pause to reflect for an appropriate length of time, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer, some legitimate form of the Profession of Faith, and the Jubilee prayer or some other Marian invocation.”

And, as is only appropriate for such an anniversary, special provision is made for the sick:

“The elderly, sick, and all those unable to leave home for a just cause, if they consciously reject all sin and have the intention to fulfill the above-mentioned conditions as soon as possible, are likewise able to obtain — at home or wherever they may be — a Plenary Indulgence, if, between the days of 2 and 11 February 2008, they complete a ‘spiritual visit’ (to the aforementioned places) in the desire of their heart, recite the prayers indicated above, and trustingly offer the pains and discomforts of their own lives to God through Mary.”

(For those readers who want to understand better the meaning of indulgences, I regret that space here does not permit me to offer that explanation. For such I would direct you to “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” nn. 1471-1479. You can find a wealth of information about the history and meaning of Lourdes at the official website for the shrine: www.lourdes-france.com. Just click on the British flag to get the English version.)

The spiritual exercises called for in order to gain this Indulgence are a wonderful opportunity for the members of the Church to foster our filial attachment to the Blessed Virgin, and thereby come closer to her Lord and ours, her Son Jesus — who came into this world to deliver us from all our afflictions, both spiritual and physical.

I conclude with a particular suggestion about where you can make that visit to an image of Our Lady of Lourdes which is a condition for the Indulgence. There is a beautiful depiction of Our Lady of Lourdes on the façade of the parish church of that name here in Oakland at 2808 Lakeshore Avenue, just a couple of doors to the west of the Chancery.

This would be a wonderful pilgrimage destination for your family or prayer group, or just come on your own.

And, Father Seamus Genovese, the pastor, has asked me to invite you to join with the parishioners as I celebrate there the 11:00 a.m. Mass on Feb. 10, the Sunday nearest the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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