Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for Us Sinners
Once upon a time, England was a Catholic country with a tremendous devotion to Our Lady. Indeed, she was home to one of the greatest Marian shrines in all of Europe.
A medieval noblewoman had been visited by Our Lady and instructed to build a model of the house in Nazareth where the Holy Family had lived. That house became the center of great pilgrimages from all over Europe, since the Holy Land was cut off from the Catholic lands by Islamic occupiers. People went to the Holy House to honor Our Lady under the title "Our Lady of Walsingham."
Then the Protestant Reformation came to England in the form of King Henry VIII, who ordered the Holy House burned down. Since the time of Henry's daughter Elizabeth, any remaining devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham went underground, for public Catholic devotions were banned in England for many years.
Centuries later, after the law prohibiting public Catholic devotions was relaxed in the mid-1800s, another wealthy English woman bought the ruins of the shrine and began to restore it. Pilgrimages gradually began again, and both an Anglican and a Roman Catholic shrine grew up, until Our Lady of Walsingham once more draws pilgrims from all across Europe.
Our Lady of Walsingham, whose feast we celebrate on Sept. 24, is a symbol of what was, what is, and what will be.
What was: Once, England was called "Our Lady's Dowry," a land of living Catholicism and abiding Marian devotion.
What is: We continue to endure the divisions within Christianity wrought by the wars and strife between Christian brethren at the time of the Reformation. The Anglican Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, established by Pope Benedict XVI, offers Anglicans a way to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church while still retaining much of their liturgical heritage.
What will be: The Mariologist Dr. Mark Miravalle likes to say that ecumenism must work through Mary, can only work through Mary, because within her womb, the two most different realities of all are united: the Creator and His creation. Within her, divinity and humanity are united in Jesus. And so through her intercession and maternal love, the most disparate things can be brought together and form a living whole.
She gives birth to the Church. She gives birth to Christians. She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit, and so where the one acts, there also the other acts. Where there is Mary, there is the Holy Spirit, and vice versa.
So look at the world. Look at the wars and rumors of wars breaking out all over. Look at the culture of anti-Catholicism, of opposition to Christianity and her teachings, of the culture of death and all its works. Look, and see, and remember: Every human being is meant to be a member of the family of God, of the Body of Christ. Every human being is a child of God and of Mary, whether they are faithful or prodigal, whether they know it or not. Every human being. This is why we pray for our enemies: because our neighbor is our brother, our sister, our family. This is why we love our enemies: because there but for the grace of God go I.
Our Lady of Walsingham brought Protestants and Catholics together when St. John Paul II went to England in 1982. The Protestants hadn't acknowledged the existence of the Catholic shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham, and vice versa — not, that is, until that visit, when the director of the Catholic shrine and the administrator of the Anglican shrine processed around Wembley Stadium with a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. At the Holy Father's insistence, it was placed on the altar for the duration of the Mass. Our Lady brought together her children that day — a small reconciliation, but significant nonetheless.
And so we must turn to our Mother, our Queen, Our Lady, and ask her intercession for ourselves and everyone around us. We must ask Our Lady of Walsingham to pray for the reunion and reconciliation of Protestants and Catholics, of all Christians everywhere, so that we may someday share "one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all" (Eph 4:5-6) in full, and so that the Body of Christ may meet the challenges of the present age united. Let us ask her intercession for peace in the world, for enemies to come to love one another as brothers, for all humanity to enter together into the civilization of love.
If you consecrated to Jesus through Mary or completed the Consoling the Heart of Jesus retreat, we'd love to hear your story. Please take a moment and share your journey below. If you have pictures, we'd love to see them, too. Just email them to HAPP@Marian.org!