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Star of the Stormy Sea

Star of the Stormy Sea

“I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the Stormy Sea.”

– Pope Francis

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, never fails to recommend us to the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor to recommend that we approach Her with simplicity and with confidence, like little children. After all, that is precisely what we are – the children of Mary. And no child should ever hesitate to approach his or her mother, particularly at moments of great need.

Pope Francis leads by example. Before every one of his foreign trips, he goes to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and prays silently before the ancient Icon of Our Lady which is called ‘Salus Populi Romani’ (Salvation of the Roman People). And as members of the Catholic Church, every one of us is part of the ‘Roman people’ and so this Icon is for every one of us. And at his extraordinary ‘Urbi Et Orbi’ given from the Vatican on Friday evening, the Holy Father had this Icon brought to the Basilica, where it was prominently displayed. Before adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the Pope venerated this Icon – a picture of that moment is at the top of this page.

Our present Holy Father, at the beginning of his papacy, consecrated his own Petrine ministry to the Mother of God under the title of Our Lady of Fatima. He follows in the footsteps of all the Popes who have preceded him, and who were similarly devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Benedict was deeply devoted to the Mother of God; and few will have forgotten that St John Paul II was a shining light of deep and authentic Marian devotion, his own example lighting a fire in the hearts of a great many of the faithful across the world.

Indeed, the Church herself similarly recommends all of us to be devoted to the Mother of God. The Catechism tells us –

“The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship. The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs..” (Catechism, para.917)

The great Church council of our times, the Second Vatican Council, spoke at length about Marian devotion; the eighth chapter of ‘Lumen Gentium’, the ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’, speaks very eloquently about Her. Beginning this chapter, the Council Fathers wrote –

“Wherefore this Holy Synod, in expounding the doctrine on the Church, in which the divine Redeemer works salvation, intends to describe with diligence both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body, and the duties of redeemed mankind toward the Mother of God, who is mother of Christ and mother of men, particularly of the faithful.”

It is notable that the Catechism tells us that Marian devotion is ‘intrinsic to Christian worship’, and the Council Fathers speak of our ‘duty’ toward the Blessed Virgin – put another way, it is something we should all be doing, for this is the will of the Eternal Father; He very deliberately chose that the Saviour would come to us through Her and by doing so, He made the entire plan of salvation for mankind dependent upon Her acceptance of that plan through Her consent to become the Mother of God .

In other words, Marian devotion is not something we should consider ourselves free to choose or to decline; rather, it is expected of the redeemed people of God, for God wills that it be so.

You can read the entire text of Lumen Gentium here.

Writing on the fiftieth anniversary of the first appearance of the Mother of God at Fatima, Pope St Paul VI wrote a beuatiful and prophetic Apostlic Exhortation called ‘Signum Magnum’ (The Great Sign). Addressed to the Catholic Bishops of the entire world, this Exhortation deals with Marian devotion, looking particularly at what constitutes authentic Marian devotion. It is an exceptionally beautiful document and I heartily recommend you to read it. At it’s conclusion, the Holy Father noted his hope for the Church –

“..We express the trust that, thanks to your encouragement, the clergy and the Christian people entrusted to your pastoral ministry will respond in a generous spirit to this exhortation of ours so as to demonstrate toward the Virgin Mother of God a more ardent piety and a firmer confidence. Meanwhile while we are comforted by the certainty that the glorious Queen of Heaven and our most sweet Mother will never cease to assist all and each one of Her sons and will never withdraw from the entire Church of Christ Her heavenly patronage.”

Likewise, so very many of the great Saints of the Church have heartily encouraged us to be devoted to the Blessed Virgin, both by their example and by their words. Indeed, it is difficult to find a Saint who was not so devoted. And that is as it should be.

In these days when such heavy gloom has descended upon the entire world, still the Blessed Virgin is placed before us by the Church as that luminous and radiant figure who so clearly reflects the Light of Christ, in the same way that the moon reflects the light of the sun; and whose task it is to do all in Her not inconsiderable power to lead us safely, like ships tossed about on the stormy seas, to the safe port of Heaven. She is the compass that will get us there.

Throughout these days – and far beyond – let all of us to go our Heavenly Mother without fear or hesitation, knowing with the confidence of little children that She will take us by the hand and lead us to the Lord.

 

The Old In The New

The Old In The New

“Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Batholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus..”

– Acts 1:13b-14

It feels like an unusual day. Never before have I “live-streamed” a Catholic Mass in the place of being physically present at it.

Whilst sitting at home in Scotland, I am watching a Mass being offered at the very same moment in the Vatican, and I am fully a part of that Mass. I am deeply grateful this opportunity is open to me and that technology allows me to do this – but it feels odd, unusual.

It feels odd only because it is not what I am used to. It feels odd because I am at home and not in a Church. It feels odd because I am physically alone instead of having everyone else around me.

The reality is a little different, of course.

I am not alone. In participating in this way, I am truly united to the entire Church. Across the world, some people I do know and many more I have never met, are all doing precisely the same thing at the same moment. And in this way, we are all connected – not one of us is truly alone, not in a spiritual sense. And that connection encompasses the entire Communion of Saints – for all of them are paticipating in this Mass along with us, and praying for us.

I am in Church; it’s just that the location of the Church has changed for now. I have moved to the ‘domestic Church’. It is the same Church in which, so many years ago, I originally learned the very Faith I now practise; the real work took place in this domestic Church even if the Sacramental and liturgical part took place in the ‘actual’ Church.

And although it is not what I am used to, I am reminded that this is how it was once, so many centuries ago when the Church was just beginning. 

In the Aposotolic Era, as the words above from Acts remind us, the ‘Church’ consisted of small groups of the faithful, gathered together in each other’s homes; there, they would pray together and break bread and remember the Lord. And this is essentially what so many of us are doing across the world today, even if we each do so alone – yet still we are Church and still we are united together in what we are doing.

This evening, the Diocese of Motherwell has asked the faithful to light a candle and place it in the window, as a sign of our faith in Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. I have an image of so many little flickering lights across the entire Diocese, each representing faith and hope in these days.

I also have an image that in some little – but still very powerful – way, we are reflecting something of the light emanating from the Upper Room where the Apostles gathered with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and where the Church was first born.

In this day, as on that, may the Holy Spirit descend upon us all. And may He give us the grace to see the old in the new..

 

As part of the National Day of Prayer, the Diocese of Motherwell has asked the faithful to burn a candle in the windows of our homes as a sign of our faith and hope in Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

Pandemic and Prayer

Pandemic and Prayer

O Mary, You shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to You, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross, You participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that You will provide,
so that, as You did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.

– Prayer of Pope Francis

In these days, as the coronavirus spreads, the effects of it’s presence are being ever more keenly felt.

One such effect is that our perception of the world around us is changing to some degree – and we are looking differently at those things we perhaps take for granted. As time passes, we are told to consider self-isolation where that is appropriate; in some places, schools and colleges, shops and workplaces have already been closed; travel is affected; and even entire nations are in a state of ‘lockdown’.

It is entirely possible that in days to come, we may feel a very real effect upon our ability to publicly practice our Catholic faith.

There are already calls in some places for public acts of worship – and especially the Catholic Mass – to be suspended for a time, for fear that large gatherings of the public may prove to be an effective means of spreading the virus. Already in my own Diocese, the Holy Water fonts have been emptied, we can no longer receive from the Chalice, nor can we offer the Sign of Peace; and today, some previously-planned large scale Masses have been cancelled. All these things are, no doubt, only temporary measures – but they are disconcerting regardless of that.

So what does all this suggest to us?

 First of all, we should not panic. Rather, we should listen to, and follow, the advice given to us by the civic authorities.

 Secondly, remember that the illness will – for most people – be relatively simple and short-lived.

 Thirdly, remember that a time such as this offers us the opportunity to practice a number of the Works of Mercy – and we should most certainly do so.

 And fourthly, perhaps it will remind all of us to give thanks for what we already have – particularly the Church to which we belong, and the ability to practice our Faith.

But what of the practice of our Catholic Faith? It may be that for a while, our practice will change in terms of location and form.

The location may move from the parish Church to the ‘domestic Church’ – that is, our home.

And the form may change from liturgical gatherings and worship, to prayer practiced at home. Of course, we should already be practising prayer at home – our Faith does not exist and show itself only at Mass; and if it does, perhaps it is more habit than faith.

How, then, do we practice our faith at home? A small home altar may be the solution.

A simple home altar

In days past, it was almost expected that every Catholic home would have some form of devotional area, where the family would pray together. This area is where the prayers of the Rosary would be recited, or the Bible read together. The presence of such an altar said something about the people living there – their faith, their beliefs, their value system, their unity. It is certain that God, Who “looks with favour on the humble” smiles upon such small places where people gather together in His Name to offer their prayers to Him.

Today, the idea of such a place within our home may have fallen out of favour, such that it is no longer as common as it once was. And yet, the idea of a visual representation of our beliefs is not so different to keeping photographs of loved ones – looking at them, we are reminded of those we love, and from our hearts issue sentiments of love and tenderness, or longing, when those depicted are far from us or have already gone to their eternal reward.

It does not matter if the altar is small or large, ornate or simple. Indeed, simplicity is generally better here as it is in so many areas of life. Whether it is comprised of a shelf, a table, a corner of the dresser or the desk – it makes little difference.

What is important is that there is an area which is specifically set aside for prayer and devotion, a place dedicated to the Lord and which lifts our hearts and minds to Him, where we can be with Him in a particular way, and where the common distractions of life can be put to the side, even for just a little while. And in the context of the present situation, it will also be a special place where we can explicitly pray for all those affected by the coronavirus pandemic – those who have died, those who are ill, and all caring for them and sharing their suffering; as well as all those yet to be affected.

Perhaps the basics of such a home altar are these – a Crucifix, that central symbol of our faith, accompanied by an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whether a picture or a statue; the New Testament or Bible; a Rosary; and a candle. Together, these items can help to keep us focused on what really matters.

Ultimately, our goal in setting up a small home altar is to try to establish ourselves in the habit of prayer. But how do we make prayer a daily part of who we are and what we do? How do we cultivate the habit of prayer?

The first thing we need is the grace of God. We might think prayer is our move toward God – in reality, it is our response to God’s move toward us. It is a reaction, rather than an action; a response, rather than an initiative. The very desire to pray is a gift of the Lord, Who seeks us out. I think He is particularly generous with this grace – He calls so many souls to enter into a deeper conversation with Him, to listen quietly to His voice speaking in the silence of our hearts.

And this word ‘conversation’ is key here. Prayer is nothing more – and nothing less – than the conversation between two hearts, or ‘an intimate sharing between friends’, as the great St Teresa of Avila describes it. She also says this – ‘Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed.. all that is needed is the will to love’.

And so this is the next thing we need – desire, or the will to pray, and to continue praying. Our will opens the door to God’s grace – and it can close that door just as easily. God will never force us; He will always respect our ‘yes’ or our ‘no’.

Assuming, then, that we are responding to God’s grace in having the desire to pray, how do we actually develop prayer into a habit?

Habits are formed by repetition. By doing the same thing at the same time or in the same place, we might develop a habit. And so when it comes to prayer, the same principles apply; we need to make a time and find a place.

To strengthen and support our prayer life, that small and special home altar which we associate with – and set aside for – the habit of prayer, is very beneficial. In the same way that we associate one place with eating, or another with sleeping, perhaps there is a place somewhere at home which we can use specifically for prayer, where we have the devotional objects to assist us in this task, as suggested above. Writers often have a favourite desk at which to write; Saints often have a favourite little corner where they like to pray. Perhaps we can follow their example.

As far as possible, this time and this place should be free of distractions, particularly if (especially in the early days) our mind is likely to wander.

At least to begin with, perhaps it is sensible to keep our goals attainable. It is better to commit to five minutes of prayer and to do this consistently and well, than to promise we will pray for an hour and quickly give up altogether because we don’t manage it. Perhaps begin simply, with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be; after all, what matters more is the quality of the prayer, not the quantity. You may well find that as the habit of prayer develops, your heart yearns to pray more – this, too, is the grace of God at work.

Cultivating the habit of prayer becomes something of a discipline. Most of us lead busy lives and it can seem difficult to make time for prayer, but make it we must, if we are to succeed – otherwise, we will probably find that we quickly lose the habit and our efforts come to nothing.

For some, first thing in the morning may suit best for praying; while for others, the evening may be better, after the work of the day is done and our minds can begin to quieten a little. Whichever time of day suits you best, try to pray at the same time each and every day – this develops the habit of prayer more easily and more concretely, and it gives us a fighting chance to succeed.

For me, I pray the Rosary late each evening, when the cares of the day are already passing and I can concentrate better on my prayers, particularly as it is much quieter at that time; evening prayer also allows me to go over my intentions of the day, which have increased as the day has gone on.

And this leads on nicely to the next point – what are we praying for?

Our first reason for praying is to give praise to God, Who deserves our praise and our adoration. He also deserves our thanks for all the blessings He grants us each and every day – beginning with the fact that we are alive, and then becoming more specific as we look at our lives and all they contain, including the people with whom we interact each day.

As human beings, we all have needs – and that might be the next focus of our prayers. We may pray for our own personal needs, whatever they are, as well as the needs of others – they have needs, too. After all, if we stop at ourselves, we have missed the point of acquiring and developing the habit of prayer. As much as the Scriptures tell us to pray, they also tell us to pray for each other – remember, the Lord gave us the Our Father, not the My Father. Prayer is communal; we lift up each other in prayer, and prayer gains even greater power when we pray in company. If we feel we are short of ‘intentions’ for which to pray, try to listen carefully to every person we meet in the course of the day; if our heart is attuned, we will very quickly find more than enough intentions to keep us busy in prayer.

Pope Francis tells us that “prayer is all powerful” and he goes on to say that “miracles happen – but prayer is needed; prayer that is courageous, struggling and persevering, not prayer that is a mere formality”. In other words, our prayers – whatever form they may take – should come deeply from the heart, and they should cost us something of ourselves.

St John Paul also spoke often about prayer, as on this occasion – “often the most powerful prayers are the unspoken acts of mercy we choose as intercession for a specific person, intention, or global need .. prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history”.

He went on to say that his favourite prayer is that of the Rosary, which he called “a storehouse of countless blessings”. He said – “the Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christ-centered prayer.  It has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.  It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, Her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in Her virginal womb”.

Perhaps, then, this is a further crucial element we need in order to acquire, develop and maintain the habit of prayer – a model in prayer.

We have so many holy models to choose from and to imitate – they are called Saints, each with a particular slant on prayer, it’s form and it’s type. The Church has placed these people before us precisely for this reason – that we, like them and following in their footsteps, might seek to become holy; and we cannot achieve this at all if we do not pray.

There are many who will tell us what prayer is, of what it consists, and recommend various ways of doing it – and that is all well and good. In the end, though, the important thing is not really that we know about prayer, but that we actually pray.

The model above all others is surely that of the Mother of God, the Woman of prayer of the Gospels, Who “kept all these things and pondered them in Her Heart”.

And that, surely, helps to describe the habit of prayer.

In this time of present coronavirus pandemic, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has specially written a prayer which beautifully captures the feelings which will be in many hearts; perhaps this prayer is a good and timeous one with which we can begin –

 

Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

Centenary – St Jacinta of Fatima

“Tell everybody that Gods grants us graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; that people are to ask Her for them; and that the Heart of Jesus wants the Immaculate Heart of Mary to be venerated at His side. Tell them also to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for peace, since God has entrusted it to Her. If I could only put into the hearts of all, the fire that is burning within my own heart, and that makes me love the Hearts of Jesus and Mary so very much!”

Over the last few centuries there have been several great Saints who can be accurately called ‘Apostles of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’  – such as the great Saint John Eudes. One in particular, however, stands out for a number of reasons – she was very young in years (though greatly advanced in wisdom); she lived in a deep spirit of reparative suffering, and her sanctity was profound in it’s depth. One hundred years ago today, that child died; her name was Jacinta Marto.

Jacinta was born on 11 March 1910. She was one of the three children who saw the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima; the other two were her brother, Francisco Marto, and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos. Each of the three had a particular role following the appearances of Our Blessed Lady. Lucia was to be the emissary or messenger – she would faithfully transmit the message given by the Lady from Heaven. Francisco would spend long hours before the Tabernacle, adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and making reparation for those who leave Him abandoned there. Jacinta’s function was to make reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on behalf of sinners, by means of prayer and deep suffering.

Writing in her first Memoir, Sister Lucia described the character of her little cousin. She wrote that from the first appearance of Our Lady, Jacinta was particularly impressed by the thought of making reparation for sinners; she would reflect at length on the reality of Hell and it’s eternal nature. Even in the middle of a game, Jacinta would stop and reflect on the eternal fate of sinners – “Poor sinners, we have to pray and make many sacrifices for them!”. Lucia explained that Jacinta never let any opportunity be lost in offering sacrifices for sinners – from giving away lunch to poor children, to taking no water all day long, despite the intense heat of the Portuguese summer sun.

Another intention very dear to the heart of Jacinta was that of the Holy Father, the Pope.  Her love for him was such that at the end of every sacrifice for sinners, she would add – “and for the Holy Father”.

Jacinta always prayed for the intentions given to her by others. One such person touched her deeply – a soldier who had received order to go to the war front, leaving behind a sick wife and three young children. Meeting Jacinta, he cried piteously and asked her prayers that ether his order would be changed or his wife would be healed. Jacinta told him – “Don’t cry. Our Lady is so good! She will certainly grant you the grace you are asking”. Some months later, the soldier came to see Jacinta again – he told her that the day before his departure, he had been struck down with a fever and his orders were cancelled. Also, his wife was cured as he had prayed. Jacinta never forgot her soldier and at the end of every Rosary thereafter, she always added one extra Hail Mary for his intentions.

From the beginning of the Appearances of the Blessed Virgin, Jacinta and Francisco had stated quite openly that the Lady had promised She would take them to Heaven ‘soon’. They were delighted at this, needless to say. Perhaps, then, it was of little surprise that the health of the two younger children quickly began to fail – first, Francisco, and then Jacinta. Both would soon be dead, as the Lady had predicted.

After the public appearances at the Cova da Iria had concluded, Jacinta and Francisco were privileged to be visited by the Blessed Virgin on a number of occasions. After one of these, Jacinta told Lucia –

“Our Lady came to see us. She told us She would come to take Francisco to Heaven very soon, and She asked me if I still wanted to convert more sinners. I said I did. She told me I would be going to a hospital where I would suffer a great deal; and that I am to suffer for the conversion of sinners, in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for love of Jesus.”

In the company of her aunt, Lucia was able to visit her cousin in the hospital at Ourém. Alone in the hospital room, Lucia asked Jacinta if she was suffering a great deal. The little one replied – “Yes, I am. But I offer everything for sinners and in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. Speaking of the Lord and His Mother, Jacinta went on –

“Oh, how much I love to suffer for love of Them, just to give Them pleasure! They greatly love those who suffer for the conversion of sinners”.

Lucia was able to visit Jacinta once more in the hospital and this is what she said to describe that visit –

“I found Jacinta as joyful as ever, glad to suffer for the love of our Good God and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for sinners and for the Holy Father. That was her ideal, and she could speak of nothing else.”

Jacinta was able to return home from the hospital for a while, with a large open wound in her chest which had to be dressed every day. There, the Blessed Virgin visited her again. She told Lucia what Our Lady had said –

“She told me that I am going to Lisbon, to another hospital; that I will not see you again, nor my parents either; and after suffering a great deal, I shall die alone. But She said I must not be afraid, since She Herself is coming to take me to Heaven.”

Before leaving for the hospital in Lisbon, Jacinta continued to suffer greatly – and especially at the thought of never seeing her cousin and her family again, and of dying alone. Lucia told her not to think about all this but Jacinta replied –

“Let me think about it, for the more I think, the more I suffer, and I want to suffer for love of Our Lord and for sinners. Anyway, I don’t mind. Our Lady will come to me there and take me to Heaven.”

Kissing a Crucifix, Jacinta would exclaim –

“O my Jesus! I love You and I want to suffer very much for love of You.. now, You can convert many sinners, for this is a very big sacrifice.”

As he had became more ill, Jacinta’s brother, Francisco, would spend all his time not at school – he said there was no point – but in the Chapel, close to the Tabernacle, praying in order to console Jesus, so often left there alone and abandoned. Francisco died in April 1919, of the Spanish influenza which was sweeping the world at that time. Jacinta missed her brother terribly after his death and Lucia would often find her weeping and, when asked what was she was thinking about, the child would reply – “Of Francisco. I would give anything to see him again.”

Dying alone was the greatest fear of the child but still she accepted this as another means of offering sacrifices on behalf of poor sinners. She had endured an operation to remove two ribs and drain the pleural cavity, which was badly infected – this being done with only local anaesthesia because her little heart would not have withstood general anaesthesia. She accepted the operations even though she told the doctors it would make no difference as she would die regardless. She never complained once. The day before her death, Jacinta asked the hospital Chaplain to bring her Holy Communion in Viaticum, stating she would be dead ‘the next day’. The Priest told her she was not that ill. He was wrong.

Jacinta died of the same influenza which had taken her brother. She died on 20 February 1920, at the tender age of 9 years – she died in hospital and alone, as the Lady had foretold. The Lady had been right – She had promised to take these two to Heaven ‘soon’. At the start of the Appearances, the light of God shown to the children depicted the two little ones ascending to Heaven, while Lucia was in the light being poured out upon the earth – she would remain ‘some time longer’, as the Lady of the Rosary had said. And in those years that followed, Lucia would write much about her little cousin, Jacinta.

The body of little Jacinta was exhumed in 1935, at which time her face was incorrupt; at a second exhumation in 1951 in preparation for the transfer of her remains to the Basilica at Fatima, she had begun to decompose.

In 1937, Pope Pius XI had determined that the causes for the canonisations of children should not proceed – except in the case of martyrs – as he thought they were not able to understand or practice virtue to an heroic degree. Naturally, this impeded the causes of canonisation of both Jacinta and Francisco. However, in the late 1970s, the Bishop of Leiria-Fatima wrote to all the Bishops of the world, asking them to petition the Holy Father to make an exception to this rule in favour of Jacinta and Francisco; around three hundred Bishops did just that, noting the clear example of their lives and also the favours received through their intercession. In 1979 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints met in a general assembly, to determine if it was possible for young children to live lives of heroic virtue. They determined it was indeed possible. Ten years later, Pope John Paul II declared the two siblings ‘Venerable’. On 13 May 2000, at Mass in the Cova da Iria, Jacinta and Francisco were declared ‘Blessed’ – also on that day, the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima was revealed by the Holy See, at the express instruction of the Pope.

Finally, on 13 May 2017, exactly one hundred years to the day after the first appearance of the Lady of the Rosary to Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, the little brother and sister were declared Saints of the Roman Catholic Church by the Holy Father, Pope Francis – and at the very spot where the ‘Lady from Heaven’ had appeared. Jacinta is the youngest child ever to have been canonised without having died a martyr.

Sanctity is not something we earn or achieve; rather, it a is a grace given by God to whom He wills and in the degree He wills. And in the case of Saint Jacinta Marto, it is a grace that was given most abundantly. The charism of the holiness of this little, but very great, Saint is prayer and suffering offered reparatively on behalf of sinners, for love of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; it is a charism all of us would do well to emulate. If such a life and such grace are possible in the short life of one so very young, then it is possible for every one of us. And in this quest, may we be assisted greatly by the prayers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and of Her little confidante, Saint Jacinta Marto.

Saint Jacinta Marto, little daughter and great apostle of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

The Dowry of Mary

The Dowry of Mary

“the wonderful filial love which burnt within the heart of your forefathers towards the great Mother of God … to whose service they consecrated themselves with such abundant proofs of devotion, that the kingdom itself acquired the singular and highly honourable title of ‘Mary’s Dowry’.”

– Pope Leo XIII

I remember, as a child at school in the south of England some fifty years ago, that we were particularly dedicated to Our Lady of Ransom, and to the idea of England being the ‘dowry of Mary’. Even as a young child in those days, I thought this was a beautiful thing although I had very little sense of what it really meant. Of course, it expresses the notion that the Blessed Virgin regards England with a particular fondness, that She is our special protectress and patroness.

The notion that England is the ‘dowry of Mary’ goes back as far as 1051 according to some sources, even though there is no certainty over the actual origin of the title. In 1381, King Richard II dedicated England to Mary, setting it apart for Her. And the title finds itself written down around the year 1400, when Archbishop Thomas Arundel noted that –

“we English, being ..  Her own dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions..”

As the Archbishop described the title as being ‘commonly’ used, it is not surprising that the imagery associated with the title can be found in a several religious artefacts of that period, including the Wilton Diptych; in this, King Richard is seen kneeling before the Virgin and Child, while an Angel bears a staff upon which is the flag of Saint George – patron of England – and a map of the country.

In 1893, the title received Papal recognition when Pope Leo XIII addressed English Catholics on pilgrimage to Rome; he said –

“the wonderful filial love which burnt within the heart of your forefathers towards the great Mother of God … to whose service they consecrated themselves with such abundant proofs of devotion, that the kingdom itself acquired the singular and highly honourable title of ‘Mary’s Dowry’.”

The Wilton Diptych: image © National Gallery

Mindful of this very long history of a particular devotion to the Mother of God, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have determined that this year, England will be re-dedicated as the Dowry of Mary.

The dedication will take place on Sunday 29 March 2020, in every Cathedral in England and Wales, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in all the parish Churches taking part and in the homes of many of the faithful.

A 3 day triduum of prayer will take place immediately prior to this, between 26 and 28 March, consisting of prayers of reparation and the Litany of the Saints and Martyrs of England, together with the prayer of the holy Rosary.

This will see the conclusion of two years of spiritual preparation – a nationwide Novena of prayer for England and a tour of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham to every Cathedral in England.

At the personal level, the Catholics of England and Wales are being encouraged to begin their own period of spiritual preparation, starting on 21 February and ending on the feast of the Annunciation with a personal consecration to Jesus through Mary using the formula of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. Written materials supporting this personal consecration have been made available by the organisers, Behold2020, who note –

“History shows us that when people pray this prayer of absolute surrender to God’s will for their lives, society is transformed. By taking up this personal dedication in 2020, you can be a part of the renewal of this nation, drawing ourselves closer to the will of our loving God, through Mary.”

More information is available on the Diocese of Westminster website.

 

 

A Heavenly Garden

A Heavenly Garden

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death..”

The Blessed Virgin Mary has a great many titles, each one representing some honour or some facet of Her motherly intercession on our behalf. She is the Ark of the Covenent, the House of Gold, the Help of Christians, the Refuge of Sinners, the Queen of Peace, the Queen of the Holy Rosary and much more besides.

Every single one of these glorious titles is like a heavenly rose offered in Her honour. However, there is one single title which surpasses them all and which is the fragrant garden in which all of those heavenly roses, the other titles, blossom and give forth their heavenly fragrance; and it is this title – Mother of God.

Everything else rests upon the foundation of this single title.

Mary is truly the Mother of God, because Her Son, Jesus Christ, is both true God and true Man in one divine Person. And in this sense, the title says more about the Lord than His Mother; He is the reason for everything She is. The Catechism tells us –

“Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion..” (Catechism, para.964)

In their ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council expressed it in these words –

“The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since She has by Her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.” (Lumen Gentium para.53)

And in a discourse given in November 1964, Pope St Paul VI very succintly said –

“Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”

And so, if Mary truly is the Mother of God and also our Mother, that places repsonsibilities upon Her; She has a duty of care toward each and every one of us, doing all in Her maternal power to help us to reach Heaven. However, it also places responsibilities upon us, Her children; we are obliged to honour Her as the Mother of God and as our Mother. And like any good child, this means we should go to Her in all our needs, with all the confidence of little children, certain that Her motherly love for us will never cease. She is the most loving and the most powerful advocate we have before the Lord, and She pleads for us to Him constantly and unceasingly. Perhaps She had some sense of this when, in the Gospel of Saint Luke, in praying Her ‘Magnificat’, She said –

“All generations will call Me blessed.”

The Church reminds us that –

“By Her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to His Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus She is a ‘preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, She is the ‘exemplary realization’ (typus) of the Church.. Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way She cooperated by Her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason She is a mother to us in the order of grace’.. 

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which She loyally gave at the Annunciation and which She sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven She did not lay aside this saving office but by Her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (Catechism, parae.967-969)

On this great solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, let us confidently approach this sweetest and most immaculate of mothers, with the full confidence of children, and place our own causes at Her feet, asking Her to present all of our needs to the Lord, Her Son.