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Ringing from on High


Alton J. Pelowski

The massive bronze bells inside the Knights Tower Carillon call to prayer visitors to the National Shrine.


On Sunday, Sept. 8, several thousand Knights of Columbus traveled to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for a special Year of Faith pilgrimage. Filling the Great Upper Church of the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine, Knights and their families listened as music from the 56-bell carillon of the Knights Tower called them to prayer.

The pilgrims joined Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, together with other K of C leaders and guests, at “America’s Catholic Church” to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Knights Tower Carillon and to reconsecrate the Order to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

An honor guard of approximately 500 Fourth Degree Knights led the opening procession for the solemn Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Lori and concelebrated by Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix of Québec, primate of Canada, among others. Immediately following Mass, a prayer program commenced that included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, a Marian meditation led by Archbishop Lacroix, recitation of the rosary, remarks by the supreme knight, and an act of reconsecration led by the supreme chaplain and supreme knight.

In his homily, Archbishop Lori noted the relevance of Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading, which seemed “tailor-made for this occasion”: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” (Lk 14:28).

The supreme chaplain went on to say that the 329-foot Knights Tower, which was funded by a $1 million grant from the Order and completed in 1957, has a symbolic purpose: “I would submit that the Knights Tower should be seen as a tower of faith that rises in our midst as sign and symbol of the Church’s faith.”

Citing Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), Archbishop Lori listed several ways that the Knights Tower is “an apt symbol for the faith that we profess.” For instance, it is built on a solid foundation, just as Christians are called to establish their faith firmly on the truth (cf. LF, 23). While “faith knows because it is tied to love” (26), the tower also represents the Knights’ works of charity as they “bear witness to the truth of God’s love.” Moreover, just as faith involves seeing and hearing (cf. 29), the Knights Tower “directs our gaze and lifts our spirits upward,” and “the bells open our ears to the Word of God.” Finally, the “structural unity and integrity” of the tower evokes the unity and “communion of the Church” as well as the “interconnected elements” of the faith (cf. 38, 46).

After Mass, Archbishop Lacroix led the congregation in prayer and meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. The recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary followed, with state deputies from throughout the East Coast leading the decades.

In remarks delivered following Mass, Supreme Knight Anderson echoed the sentiments of Archbishop Lori. “Just as the carillon of the Knights Tower sends beautiful music into our nation’s capital and reminds all who hear it of this place of God, our lives as Catholics and as Knights of Columbus must also reach out to enrich others and remind them of Our Lord’s presence among us,” Anderson said.

The supreme knight also spoke about the significance of Mary’s title as the Immaculate Conception, which he said is reflected in the patronage of not only the National Shrine, but also in the home parish of Venerable Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus.

“Our Lord sees and loves and saves Mary before she had free will; before she could speak; before she could breathe; before her parents were even aware of her existence,” Anderson said. “And thus Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the paragon of human dignity. Because, in reaching out to Mary with extraordinary grace while still in the womb, God reminds us that our dignity comes to each of us as a gift from the Creator.”

The supreme knight further noted that a two-year Orderwide Marian Prayer Program dedicated to the Immaculate Conception was inaugurated Aug. 7 at the 131st Supreme Convention in San Antonio. The program features a painting of Our Lady that hangs above the main altar in the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec, the primatial church of Canada. A large reproduction was on display at the foot of the National Shrine’s sanctuary during the pilgrimage.

Before the final benediction, Archbishop Lori prayed an act of reconsecration, placing the Knights of Columbus again under Mary’s protection. In part, the prayer read: “O Mother of the human family, Mother of America, and Mother of the Knights of Columbus, we confidently entrust ourselves and our families to you. … Obtain for us strong faith and the grace of eternal salvation. Pray that we might be dedicated entirely to your Son. We pray that by your motherly care our Order and our hearts, newly consecrated, and belonging totally to God, may be a special portion for him, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

The largest bell, or bourdon, of the 56-piece carillon is known as the Mary Bell. It sounded after Supreme Knight Anderson led the congregation in the Sub Tuum Praesidium, a prayer to Mary from the first Christian centuries. Weighing 7,200 pounds, the Mary Bell features fleurs-de-lis, the emblem of the Order, and the inscription: “MARY IS MY NAME / MARY IS MY SOUND / BELOVED MOTHER / QUEEN OF HEAVEN AND EARTH / QUEEN OF THIS DEAR LAND / FOR KNIGHTS TO GOD AND COUNTRY BOUND / AND ALL WHO HEAR MY VOICE / I SING THE PRAISES OF GOD.”

Finally, Archbishop Lacroix invited everyone to consider making a pilgrimage to his home diocese of Québec in 2014. Next year will mark the 350th anniversary of the historic parish of Notre-Dame de Québec, the mother parish of Canada and the United States.

Among the special guests and dignitaries present for the pilgrimage was Cardinal William Baum, a former archbishop of Washington. It was Cardinal Baum’s predecessor, Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle, who presided at the inauguration of the Knights Tower Carillon on Sept. 8, 1963, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On that occasion, Cardinal O’Boyle declared, “To the members of the Knights of Columbus, in the name of all the bishops of the United States, I say we are deeply grateful for this wonderful gift. Long after we are gone, this tower and these bells will be paying honor to God and to his Mother.”

Indeed, although the Year of Faith Pilgrimage was a special occasion of prayer and celebration, the bells of the Knights Tower Carillon sound numerous times each day, welcoming pilgrims from near and far to Mary’s House.

ALTON J. PELOWSKI is editor of Columbia.