Thursday August 24th: Come and See
August 24, 2023
Friday August 25th: Delving deep
August 25, 2023

Our Lady of Montserrat Shrine restored

By Kaelanne Jordan

“She not looking bad for an old lady, eh?…”

“When I last saw the church, it was not like this. There was wood everywhere, things were upside down, boards out, this, that and look at her now! And it’s more than a coat of paint, plenty, plenty more than a coat of paint.”

So said Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon at the rededication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat, Tortuga, Tuesday, August 22.

The restoring of a church is “a very important thing”. It’s not just part of the history and culture; it’s “a wonderful act” both of piety and of hope. ‘Piety’, because it is a devotion to God and ‘Hope’ because the community is no longer what it used to be in former times.

Our Lady of Montserrat, the Archbishop said, stands as a symbol of a time and architecture gone by. He referred to the adage ‘outside of the ark, there is no salvation’.

“And we have the upside-down ark here and we find salvation as we come into the ark and into the church and it is a place where if you remember your Penny Catechism: prayer is a raising of the mind and heart to God. And as I came into this building my mind and my heart were raised to God…” the Archbishop said.

He referred to the First Reading (Neh 8:1–4a, 5–6, 8–10), where the people wept because they had not heard the Word of God for 70 years.

The parallel between the restoration of the church and the restoration of the congregation’s souls came into sharper focus. Just as the external temple was being restored, the internal temple – the heart and spirit – required renewal. The Archbishop likened this process to the Liturgy of the Word, where the Word of God can touch and transform hearts, much like Nehemiah’s reading of the law.

“They wept because while they’re restoring the physical building and all that that required, they had not been restoring their soul and their heart and their spirit…. And I pray for the day when the Word is being read, people will weep because they hear God and experience that encounter with God from within,” Archbishop said.

He commented on the Second Reading (1 Pet 2:4–9) where people are the living stone within the living temple which highlights that symbol of the church as the devotion and hope of the Christian people, a living symbol of that sacred sense.

“And remember the old-time people know only too well you pass a church, make the sign of the cross because God dwells there,” he said.

Our Lady, the Archbishop asserted, is everything the church is destined to become. Our Lady was the first sacred vessel to contain that which is most precious, Jesus Christ. In the theology of the Church, Our Lady is the ark of the new covenant. The old ark contains three things: the manna, the tablets containing the law, and the rod of Aaron, the priest.

Mary, the Archbishop pinpointed, contain the law and the giver of the law. “…and that’s why the Church gives her honour by dedicating a beautiful church like this to her, Our Lady of Montserrat. Her body containing Jesus is a mirror image of this church. Because in a short while, we’ll have a beautiful procession where we take the sacrament and instal it in the high altar in the tabernacle and then this church too, her body, contains Jesus Christ,” he said.

Archbishop Gordon added Our Lady looks over all her children and prays that none will be lost. In a similar way, the Church looks over all praying that none will be lost.

He hoped as faithful recognise the dignity given to the building of the church, that they contemplate the dignity given to each of them as the living stone that makes up the living body of Christ here on Earth.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat is the only wooden church in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and the only church named after Our Lady of Montserrat in the English-speaking Caribbean. It is also a Grade 1 National Heritage Site and one of the three Catholic shrines in T&T.