Q. 1. What is a Catholic Shrine? Some say it is a Church while others say it is a place of devotion on private properties. Which is accurate? Or are they both accurate?
A. 1. To answer your question, it is important to understand the meaning of a parish Church versus a Shrine. According to Canon Law,
A parish Church is:
Can. 515 §1. "A parish is a certain community of the Christian faithful stably constituted in a particular church, whose pastoral care is entrusted to a pastor (parochus) as its proper pastor (pastor) under the authority of the diocesan bishop."
A Shrine is:
Can. 1230 "By the term shrine is understood a church or other sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimage for a special reason of piety, with the approval of the local ordinary."
While the purpose of a parish Church is to serve the local faithful, the purpose of a Shrine is usually a place of pilgrimage, drawing faithful members of the Catholic Church from throughout the world.
Sainte Anne de Beaupré Shrine in the Province of Québec, Canada, is a perfect example of this. The original Church was built over 360 years ago in thanksgiving to the grandmother of Jesus for savings some French immigrants who were facing a dangerous storm and feared shipwreck.
Fatima (Portugal) and Lourdes (France) are well known for their Shrines in recognition of the famous Marian apparations that were approved by the Catholic Church.
The aforementioned Churches are approved places of worship under the umbrella of their local Bishops.
Then there are "private shrines", never sanctioned by the Catholic Church, that are usually found in back yards and/or on private properties. These are often associated with alleged visions that would be classified as "private revelations" if they are authentic. In most cases, they are the result of unidentified psychological or psychiatric needs.
The following conditions are frequently associated with "private shrines":
- The owner of the "private shrine" will refuse to close it down when ordered to do so by the local Bishop.
- The "alleged mystic," by promoting her "alleges visions" will draw people from miles away, often by the bus loads.
- These shrines will compete against the local Catholic parish Church whereas some of the faithful will prefer to go and pray at the private shrine on a Sunday versus attending Sunday Mass, an obligation of every Catholic.
- Believing that the "alleged messages" are of a Divine origin, the followers will turn against the Church authorities (local and national), placing their trust in the "messages" and/or the "alleged seer" versus obedience and the guidance of the Church.
Catholics are discouraged from associating with "private shrines" on private properties. If a number of faithful wish to gather to pray certain devotions, they are to approach the local Pastor and ask that time be allocated at the local Church for their devotional needs. There is no reason why such a request would not be approved if there is genuine interest.