Emmitsburg Council of Churches

What is the Grotto?

Father John J. Lombardi

Scurrying down the Grotto path a man appeared to me out of nowhere and asked, point blank: "What is a Grotto?" I responded from my etymological studies, that it means, "vault, as in the cave-vault up there. " I pointed to our

Grotto candle-cave area just above where we were talking. I then added: "It's an outdoor prayer place."

That's all true, but the Grotto is more than that as following faith stories will illustrate.

This past Sunday a Senegalese group visited, some of them coming all the way from New York City, others came from Washington and Baltimore and elsewhere. They converged at one of their favorite places on earth; Our Lady's Grotto. They visit several times a year to beautifully demonstrate what the Grotto is.

They arrived just in time for Mass and sang the Communion meditation, and as I distributed Holy Communion my soul swelled with joyous gratitude that this East African group was present, adding to the reverent festivity with their melodic love in song. I felt myself swaying a little to their soothing and comforting music. It intuitively reminded me of my pilgrimage to Africa last year and all the great singing I heard there and how much I missed it.

The Grotto is not only a "noun, "i.e. a place, but also a "verb." In this case it was an inspiriting action of praising the Eucharistic Lord and Virginal Lady through beautiful music.

At the end of Mass we crowned the Blessed Virgin's statue in the Glass Chapel and the Senegalese group began singing a Marian song in their native French. They began gently clapping according to the African custom, along with swaying. Many other visitors in the Chapel began clapping along. A little girl from their group, Alyssa, with beautiful bright eyes, rich-chocolate skin and elegantly dressed, lifted the flowery crown up and placed it on Mary's head.

The song continued and it truly felt like a celebration, an international one. As I looked around hundreds of people were smiling, singing, praying, clapping and praising the Lord and Lady together.

Our Grotto is a multicultural mystical expression and experience of the Lord's Love.

After the festivities ended I began blessing pilgrims as they came forward for healing. Spontaneously, the Senegalese group began singing meditation songs. Once again I was instantly comforted by their music-as I was growing a little weary by this point. They would sing "call and response" songs, a leader singing jubilantly and choir responding in festive fashion reaching a crescendo of musical joy and rapturous delight. All the worshipers were listening in rapt meditation. Our excellent cantor, Mary Singleton was enjoying it all by leaning over the organ for a long time listening, glistening, praying, and being, absorbing.

These Senegalese pilgrims were visiting the Grotto for prayerful purposes; to seek the Lord's favor and help others.

After this service I joined them up on our parking lot for a sumptuous banquet picnic in the bright sunshine. It was a celebration, they offered me food and drink; kids were playing and laughing. Lots of folks were simply enjoying catching up with each other in ebullient conversation. I've discovered that's the way of Africa, ya' know.

The group was at the Grotto for fellowship and fun, too.

After they picnicked the group went back into the Chapel to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Pilgrim groups are about prayer and the Grotto is a refuge of prayer, mercy and peace.

Eventually, the group processed up to the Grotto to end their day with a Rosary. Above all, the Grotto is a place dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Rosary especially in this Month of the Rosary.

Before they left the leader asked: "Father please give us your blessing."

The Grotto reminds us that we are all pilgrims and God's creatures and we need His blessings.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi