What was once known as the St. Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria will now be known as The Basilica of Saint Mary. The Holy See designated the first permanent parish in Virginia as a minor basilica.
This amazing announcement came from Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington during his sermon at Mass on January 14th. Bishop Burbidge received this news from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; this is the official body of the Roman Curia that handles most affairs relating to liturgical practices of the Latin Church.
Burbidge went on to say that “Within our Catholic Church, this is indeed a great news, and it’s a very thorough process,” and was accompanied by Fr. Hathaway saying, “We are overjoyed and humbled by the recognition of St. Mary’s as one of the major churches in the world,” said Fr. Hathaway.
As of January 14, 2018, there were four major basilicas and 1,758 minor basilicas in the world. Of these 1,758 minor basilicas, three have the title of the minor papal basilica and four the title of pontifical minor basilica. Source: “Basilicas in Italy, Vatican City State, San Marino”. www.gcatholic.org. Retrieved 2017-07-17.
Privileges previously attached to the status of basilica included a certain precedence before other churches, the right of the conopaeum (a baldachin resembling an umbrella; also called umbraculum, ombrellino, papilio, sinicchio, etc.) and the bell (tintinnabulum), which were carried side by side in procession at the head of the clergy on state occasions, and the wearing of a cappa magna by the canons or secular members of the collegiate chapter when assisting at the Divine Office. In the case of major basilicas, these umbraculae were made of cloth of gold and red velvet, while those of minor basilicas were of yellow and red silk, the colors traditionally associated with both the Papal See and the city of Rome. Source: Herbert Thurston, “Basilica” in Catholic Encyclopedia 1907
Basilicas have an obligation to celebrate the liturgy with special care and require that a church for which a grant of the title is requested should have been liturgically dedicated to God and be outstanding as a center of active and pastoral liturgy, setting an example for others. It should be sufficiently large and with an ample sanctuary. It should be renowned for history, relics or sacred images, and should be served by a sufficient number of priests and other ministers and by an adequate choir. Source: 31, The Editors December; 2007 (2007-12-31). “Domus ecclesiae”. Adoremus Bulletin. Retrieved 2017-07-17.
The Basilica of Saint Mary becomes the 84th in the US and is the first diocese of Arlington, which is 10 miles from Alexandria. Saint Mary’s was founded in 1795, and President George Washington gave a donation to the Church on behalf of his close aide, Col. John Fitzgerald who was a Catholic. During the American war of Independence, Catholicism was restricted in Virginia and Catholics were not allowed to vote or hold public office.
The old church was moved in 1810 to its current location and rebuilt and dedicated in 1827. The cemetery is the site of the old parish.
Since Saint Mary’s is now a Basilica, it has to conform to the regulations that are set by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and that includes adding the umbraculum, a tintinnabulum and provide a seal. The seal of Saint Mary will include the umbraculum and the papal keys and its moto will be Omnes cum Petro ad Jesum per Mariam, which translates to “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary.”
Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America, Dr. Chad Pecknold told ‘Morning Glory’ radio host and listeners that “It was exactly a year from the beginning of our application to the end, of a great result.” he continued saying “It shows our special connection to the See of St. Peter.”
The Basilica of Saint Mary celebrates its 223rd anniversary this year.