CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Cardinal Donald Wuerl dedicates the National Shrine’s newly completed Trinity Dome Mosaic during a Dec. 8 Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Cardinal Donald Wuerl dedicates the National Shrine’s newly completed Trinity Dome Mosaic during a Dec. 8 Mass celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the principal celebrant of a Dec. 8 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and to dedicate the National Shrine’s newly completed Trinity Dome Mosaic.

“As your faithful people look at the images contained in the Trinity Dome, may they become of one mind with Christ,” Cardinal Wuerl prayed during the dedication of the 89-foot in diameter dome mosaic.

In dedicating the dome mosaic, which depicts the Most Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, 17 saints, 1 blessed, the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and two choir angels, Cardinal Wuerl also prayed that God would “trace in their hearts the pattern of Mary’s holiness, and follow the example of the saints who stand in your presence to intercede for us.”

In addition to the dome mosaic, the complete work includes four curved triangles of vaulting called pendentives, each featuring one of the four evangelists – Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and their symbols. There is also a drum encircling the base of the Trinity Dome includes the full text of the Nicene Creed.

In total, the work is 26,046 square feet covered in nearly 15 million pieces of Venetian glass.

“This mosaic honors, above all, the truth that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “The eternal Son of God, who came down to the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the sign and sacrament of God the Father.”

Joining Cardinal Wuerl at the Mass were retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the archbishop of Galveston-Houston; Cardinal Justin Rigali, the retired archbishop of Philadelphia who served as chairman of the National Shrine’s iconography committee overseeing the Trinity Dome Mosaic; and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States.

In addition, Cardinal Kevin Farrell – the former bishop of Dallas and a former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington who now serves at the Vatican as prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life – served as Pope Francis’s personal envoy at the Mass and dedication. Also concelebrating the Mass were nearly two dozen bishops, including Bishop Michael Bransfield of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, who formerly served as rector of the National Shrine; and Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s current rector.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary is the patronal feast day of the United States and the National Shrine.

Plans for the National Shrine date back almost 100 years. Its foundation stone was laid in 1920. In the 1950s, an iconography committee established an “icon scheme” for the shrine and its seven domes, and the shrine was dedicated in 1959, with its only interior decoration then being the monumental Christ in Majesty mosaic behind the main altar.

Four of the domes – The Descent of the Holy Spirit, The Glorification of the Lamb, The Last Judgment and The Creation – were completed between 1966 and 1970. Work was completed on the fifth and sixth domes – the Redemption Dome and the Knights of Columbus Incarnation Dome – in the last decade. With the dedication of the Trinity Dome Mosaic, the National Shrine has been completed according to its original architectural and iconographic plans.

“What we celebrate today, what we dedicate and what we consign to the ages to come is the completion of the basilica represented in the adornment of the entire interior … culminating in the presentation of Mary with her title of Immaculate Conception under the radiant image of our triune god, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

Referring to the National Shrine as a “temple dedicated to the glory of God and the honor of God’s holy mother,” Cardinal Wuerl said “the myriad tiles in so much color coming together” in the Trinity Dome Mosaic is also reflected by the diversity of Catholics “in the pews of this National Shrine – the living members who make up the Body of Christ.”

“All we have to do is look out across the thousands of people gathered for Mass and we see the face of the world,” he said. “We look across this great Church of God and see out of so many (people of varying ethnic backgrounds) one great faith family.”

 “May we always look to this great majestic dome, mindful of our prayer to Mary the immaculately conceived Mother of God that she will always intercede for us,” the cardinal prayed.

During the Mass, Cardinal Farrell read greetings from Pope Francis. The pope, in his message, urged those at the Mass “to give thanks for all the benefits received from our merciful God” and to have a “diligent observance of His commandments, most especially as regards the promotion and defense of human life and the dignity of the person.”

The pope also urged that those who “gaze upon the Mother of the Redeemer … may, with new vigor and ardor of charity, show forth special love for the Church of Christ and the Gospel.”

When he visited the National Shrine on Sept. 23, 2015, Pope Francis blessed the first segment of mosaic fabricated for the Trinity Dome containing the beginning and the end of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God” and “Amen,” which now adorns the drum encircling the base of the dome with the rest of the words of the Creed.

In his personal reflection, Cardinal Farrell said, “I come to you bearing witness for the Holy Father’s solicitude for the Church in the United States and this sacred place of worship.”

He asked the faithful “to spend some moments in considering the great honor and the great gift we have received from the Lord,” and urged them to “raise our eyes to our Blessed Mother, the model of virtue to the whole community.”

At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Farrell also imparted an apostolic blessing of Pope Francis, and prayed that the faithful would “carry away the gifts of spiritual joy and heavenly rewards.”

Several thousand people attended the Mass, including Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, other civic and government representatives, men and women religious and members of various Catholic organizations. Overflow crowds filled side chapels where they could follow the Mass on closed circuit television monitors or stood in the aisles and walkways of the shrine’s Great Upper Church.

Msgr. Rossi, called the Trinity Dome Mosaic “the crowning jewel of Mary’s Shrine,” and called the dedication a time to “raise our voices in praise of the Holy Trinity and in thanksgiving for the Virgin Mary.”

At the end of the Mass, Msgr. Rossi thanked donors and everyone who worked on the Trinity Dome Mosaic. He called the effort “collaboration at its best.”

He had a special word of thanks for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who as archbishop of Washington is the chairman of the basilica’s Board of Trustees. “If not for Cardinal Wuerl’s support, guidance, enthusiasm and interest, we would not be here this afternoon,” Msgr. Rossi said.

He also thanked the basilica’s iconography committee, the designers, artisans, architects, structural engineers and contractors who worked on the dome mosaic.

He also thanked all the benefactors of the Trinity Dome Mosaic for their generous support of the project. This past Mother’s Day, Catholics from across the United States contributed to a special collection to raise funds for the completion of the Trinity Dome. The donors are remembered beneath one of the dome’s windows, which has a mosaic inscription on its window sill reading, “Please pray for the benefactors of the Trinity Dome.”

“This crowning jewel of Mary’s Shrine is really your work – your gift to the Blessed Mother,” Msgr. Rossi said. “Thank you for your goodness, may God bless you.”