Walsingham Today and Tomorrow

The Holy House

The image of the Holy House is pivotal to the understanding of our spirituality. It represents for us:

(i)  the individual soul, which needs to be emptied of self so as to be filled with God’s love. This is the object of our formation: to enable each person to arrive at a true spirit of docibilitas where one is totally surrendered to the Father’s action in the events and reality of one’s life. Our goal as pilgrims is to come to Mary’s house to stand symbolically where she has stood and to utter ‘yes’ in the context of our life. It is to be, as St. Elizabeth of the Trinity says, ‘another humanity wherein Christ renews all his mystery’; it is to be like Mary at the Annunciation, opening oneself to the work of the Spirit who forms Christ again in the body and soul of the person who listens and adores. It is a question of configuration to Christ, being of the same mind as Him, a work that is never finished. Formation will, in the living of our lives, stimulate and nourish the movement of conversion begun in the novitiate.

(ii)  The local community and family, where relationships will model as far as humanly possible those that existed between Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Nazareth. Spiritual wisdom, which is principally a fruit of prayer and purity of heart, is to be desired more than abstract knowledge. To this end, the Community will organise seminars for its members, with the aim of growth in faithfulness to one’s calling. Everyone is responsible for formation by living with joy and gratitude the gift of their vocation because vocation is a response, not an initiative of the individual: it is to be chosen, not to choose. The lives of sisters, brothers, priests, parents and children is to witness to the happiness, full of thanksgiving, that Mary sings in the ‘Magnificat’.

Mary’s Dowry

England has been known as the Dowry of Mary ever since King Richard II formally offered his realm to Our Lady as her dowry in 1381 – so wonderfully represented in the Wilton Diptych. The country’s devotion to Mary was vast and English theology and piety reflected this in pre-reformation England.

‘O England, you have every reason to be glad that you are compared to the promised land of Sion. This glorious Lady’s grace and favour attest that you can be called everywhere the holy land, Our Lady’s Dowry, a name given to you from of old. This title is due to the fact that here is built the house of new Nazareth in honour of our heavenly Queen and her glorious Salutation. As Gabriel hailed her with an ‘Ave’ in old Nazareth, so here that is daily remembered with joy.’

From that time onwards, all pilgrims who devoutly visit this place of England’s Nazareth come with trust in receiving the grace they implore from the Blessed Lady.

Today, we use the word “dowry” to mean the money that a bride brings to her marriage, but the medieval meaning in England was different. It was the portion of money that a man set aside on his wedding day for his wife, to provide for her always, even in widowhood. Thus the mother, as the heart of the home can continue to care for and guide the family. The word essentially referred to something “set aside”: Hence, England has been “set aside” from the rest of the world as a gift to Mary. As King Richard II, when offering England to Our Lady said, “This is thy dowry, sweet Virgin; do thou rule it, O Mary!” As the king asked her to rule over England and in the hearts of all English people, so we ask Our Lady to rule over our minds, hearts, wills and bodies so that we offer ourselves in union with her to God. In that way, through Mary, we offer our human will (our dowry) as a gift to the Lord God, in exchange for his Divine Will (Appendix 5). This is precisely the meaning of the Lord’s prayer: ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” wherein the whole of the Christian Life is summarised as this mutual gift, or dowry exchange, of our human will with the Divine Will. It is the wedding of the English people through Mary to the Will of God.

The prophecy of Pope Leo XIII in 1893, ‘when England goes back to Walsingham, Mary will return to England’, strengthens our hope that the spread of the spirituality of Walsingham will help our country return to its deepest identity as a Christian nation.

At Walsingham we remember with joy and gratitude how Mary and her Divine Son Jesus transformed a joyless and sinful world into a place of joy can be found by an ever closer union with the Divine Will. Likewise, our own lives become joy-filled when we consent to growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ and in that wisdom and maturity which the world cannot give. The Fiat of Mary holds the secret of this, and it is on her Fiat that we aim to model our lives in each of our particular vocations so that “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.