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Today in History: The National Shrine’s First Public Mass

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the first public Mass held at the National Shrine on April 20, 1924, in the area which is now the Crypt Church. Only six months prior, construction had first started on “America’s Catholic Church,” and the space bore all the signs of this work in progress, with bare concrete floors and exposed support beams throughout. The Marian colors of blue and white were draped around, as well as color prints of the image Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States by Dom Raphael Pfisterer.

Our Lady of Washinton
The patronal Our Lady of Washington painting

Remembering the First Mass

There were no pews yet – only wooden folding chairs, though the designated sanctuary space was decorated with a splash of flowers and palms, as well as American and papal flags. Amongst the other decorations included: the Construction Cross, which had been hung over the site during building; and the oil painting Our Lady of Washington, which was commissioned by the National Shrine. Up until the arrival of the Immaculate Conception mosaic in 1930, this painting was the National Shrine’s patronal image.

Many of the items used in the Mass held special importance. The altar, a historic piece from 1774, had been used by the first Catholic bishop of the United States, Bishop John Carroll. It was also one of the first gifts donated to the Shrine and was used for the first Mass publicly said in honor of the National Shrine in 1917, as well as the dedication of the foundation stone on September 23, 1920. The Missale Romanum used to sing the High Mass had once belonged to Archbishop Michael A. Corrigan of New York.

The Beginning of 100 Years of Worship

The Mass featured a sermon from Bishop Shahan, as well as a performance from the 108-voice Sulpician Seminary choir. Even amidst the makeshift conditions, about 3,000 people were in attendance, including diplomats from the Washington, D.C. area, making a joyous beginning for liturgical life at America’s Catholic Church.

Since that day, over 800,000 public Masses have been held at the National Shrine. We’re so grateful to have had 100 years of worship and hope the next 100 years are just as blessed.


Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. “Celebrating 100 Years of Worship.” Mary’s Shrine, vol. 85, no. 1, Spring/Summer 2024, pp. 6-9.

Make a gift today in honor of the Centennial

Fireworks over Basilica

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Masses being celebrated inside the Basilica. Please consider making an offering today to help us reach another 100 years of worship at Mary’s Shrine.

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