‘Mary’s Dowry’ Invokes a Most Timely National Act of Piety
Rededicating England to Our Lady of Walsingham comes amid pandemic.
On March 29, 2020, a rededication is to take place in England’s cathedrals, churches and other venues. This national rededication is both a personal promise by today’s English Catholics and a renewal of the entrustment vows made by King Richard II in Westminster Abbey in 1381. His was the first documented dedication of England to Our Lady and the first formal occasion when England was described as “Mary’s Dowry,” although the title is believed to be of an even earlier origin.
“Mary’s Dowry” means that England was “set aside” as a gift for Our Lady. Of this national rededication, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury told the Register: “It would be hard to underestimate the spiritual significance of this rededication taking place, not so much in great ceremonies as in the hearts of Catholics across the land. It is both a renewal and rediscovery of England’s deepest spiritual identity.”
The first dedication to the Mother of God by Richard II came at a time of national crisis, Bishop Davies said, “The rededication today takes place amid a deeper crisis resulting from the rapid de-Christianization of British society and in the bright hope of a New Evangelization. I have asked the faithful to make use of the daily Angelus to entrust our families and our nation once more to Our Lady who invites us to share her fiat — her ‘Yes’ to God’s plan — in the face of the many challenges and opportunities of this moment in our history.”
The rededication comes at a time of unprecedented public disquiet over the threat of coronavirus. There is a recognition by the national organizers of the rededication that government restrictions on gatherings due to the advancing pandemic may mean that the event is one that is now more personal than public. Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth hopes that, despite the current crisis, that the rededication “will stir hearts to a richer devotional life.” He said: “I hope it will spur us to a more energetic work of New Evangelization. I hope, too, it will give Catholics a greater courage to be countercultural people, free from fear, yet people always full of love for others, dedicated to their service.”
England’s Walsingham Shrine, founded almost 1,000 years ago, is one of the oldest shrines in the world dedicated to Our Lady. In pre-Reformation times, it ranked with Jerusalem, Rome and Compostela as one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Christendom. On the orders of King Henry VIII, the original shrine was destroyed in 1538.
However, the shrine began to be restored in the early 20th century. This restoration was as much an initiative of local Anglicans as Catholics. There are today both Anglican and Catholic shrines in the Walsingham area dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham.
Father Gerard Mary, a member of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, lives in Walsingham village. Each day, he and his brother friars minister to pilgrims who come to the Catholic shrine from all parts of England and beyond.
Speaking of the importance of Marian devotion, he told the Register: “The very reason — the only reason — we have a heartfelt devotion to Mary is because God himself has chosen, from her Immaculate Conception onwards, to bestow upon Mary the most wondrous prerogatives pertaining to the saving mission of Jesus Christ and has duly given to her the highest honors that have ever been bestowed on a creature, either in heaven or on earth. Marian devotion, in short, is nothing other than obedience to the word of God, both written and handed on. As Mary conceived God in her womb by the Holy Spirit, so she was betrothed to him, making her Daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Spouse of God the Holy Spirit.”
Father Gerard Mary went on to observe that the rededication of England to Mary “is a truly beautiful and historic moment in the life of our country.” He said: “On this day, we will be honoring, in a remarkably fitting manner, the cardinal virtue of justice, for we will be rendering to Mary Immaculate that which is already rightfully hers: England is Mary’s Dowry! As justice comes before charity — meaning that, before we can love someone fully, we must be prepared first to give them what is their right — this rededication opens the doors for this country coming to a true love of Mary again. We will have now reaffirmed the gift of our country to Mary.” He concluded: “Let us now make a total gift of our hearts to her!”
Tour of England
In the last two years the “Dowry Tour,” organized by the Catholic National Shrine at Walsingham, has brought the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to every Catholic cathedral in England. Bishop Egan sees the rededication this month as the culmination and climax of this national spiritual preparation.
He told the Register, “I remember the statue coming to our own cathedral here in Portsmouth for a triduum, or three days, of prayer, in April 2018. It was remarkable to see the response from the faithful who came in great numbers to this cathedral over the three days to invoke the prayers of the Blessed Mother. The rededication makes a fitting devotional finale to this. However, we can also place this act of entrustment in its historical perspective.” He went on to reflect that the original dedication in 1381 took place at a time of great political turmoil and upheaval. In 1381, across England the Peasants’ Revolt took place. The first great popular rebellion in English history, the immediate cause was the imposition of an unpopular tax. However, long-standing economic discontent had been simmering for some time, the main grievance of which had been an attempt to limit the maximum wages that both agricultural laborers and urban working classes could earn, imposed due to labor shortages caused by the Black Death. Bishop Egan sees in our own time a modern parallel. “King Richard II went to pray at the shrine of Our Lady in Westminster Abbey. In thanksgiving for prayers answered, he dedicated England to her as ‘Mary’s Dowry.’”
“To me, this rededication of 2020 is opportune and timely for a number of reasons,” he continued. “Over the last decades, England has largely thrown off its Christian patrimony, and many, many people have adopted secularism, atheism and indifference. Souls are spiritually adrift, without the Good News of Christ. In addition, leaving aside the current challenges of the coronavirus emergency [which is serious], many people are struggling materially and mentally from all the demands of modern living. There is a sense of breakdown in family and social relationships and a growing and general lack of hope.”
Bishop Egan senses, therefore, that now is a moment for “something spiritually significant.” For him, “The rededication fulfils this. It joins us with God. It connects us once again with our Christian patrimony. It spurs us all to find a deeper faith and hope in the Lord. It is an appealing and inviting witness of faith to wider society.”
Catholic laywoman Antonia Moffat has been involved with organizing the Dowry statue pilgrimage as it makes its journey around England. Speaking of the forthcoming rededication she told the Register that it “is but the beginning of a new realization of what we, the Catholic Church, need to do. A task,” she said, “that will be greatly aided by the daily praying of the Rosary.” Given the circumstances of the recent crisis in which the rededication is taking place, she added: “Our British Isles are in turmoil over Brexit, the coronavirus and much more! The nations of the world are in chaos, and some are on the verge of war and annihilation; the Church is in need of purification; the Church is persecuted; God’s commandments are trampled upon, the moral law ignored as irrelevant; wars, drug-fueled wars and gang warfare, confusion everywhere — the list is endless … We need to listen to what our Blessed Mother has asked of us down the centuries to the present day.”
Moffat sees the forthcoming “momentous day” of rededication as a moment to “herald a renewed understanding of the grace and privilege of the spiritual authority that this ancient title of Our Lady’s Dowry has, prophetically and spiritually, in God’s providence, granted England.” For Moffat, therefore, this moment is that opportunity for all Catholics in England to give back to Our Lady “our beloved England, her Dowry, [but] more resplendent than it ever was before!”
At Home With Mary
English Catholics now living abroad also sense the spiritual import of this moment for their homeland. Author and Catholic convert Sally Read, speaking from her home in Italy, subject to the strict coronavirus lockdown there, told the Register: “It seems to me that England, in a special and particular way, has need of Mary. We’re a spirited, questioning people — and that can be a good thing! At the same time, it seems a hard thing for an Englishman to get to his knees and receive. The strange journeys of Reformation and feminism have ended up by all but ditching what is essentially feminine — and it is the feminine trait of receptivity that is central to all believers in their relationship with God. Mary teaches us this.” She went on to add, “For centuries, we, as a country, have behaved as though we are motherless, as though the truly female presence doesn’t count. We need to be returned to the Mother of God in order to be closer to Him — and through Him to know our true destiny.”
Fellow author and Catholic convert Joseph Pearce spoke to the Register from his home in North Carolina. He said: “I cannot stress enough how important were my frequent visits to Walsingham on my own path to conversion. Without the graces gained for me be Our Lady of Walsingham’s intercession, I would still be wallowing in the quagmire of the secular wasteland. Since this is so, I rejoice at the forthcoming rededication of England as Mary’s Dowry. May it prove to be the dawn of a revival of the faith in a land which was once united in its veneration of the Mother of God.”