Our Lady of Walsingham
September 24th in England
Lord God, in the mystery of the Incarnation Mary conceived your Son in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb. As we, your pilgrim people, rejoice in her patronage, grant that we also may welcome Him into our hearts, and so, like her, be made a holy house fit for His eternal dwelling. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. +Amen.
Our Lady of Walsingham
by Raven Wenner
Our Lady of Walsingham Church
In AD 2000, The Holy Father John Paul II decreed that the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham, mediaeval patroness of England, and in modern times patroness of all English-speaking peoples, is now celebrated on September 24th in England. It is a solemnity for all parishes in any part of the world named for Our Lady under this title.
Our Lady of Walsingham was formerly celebrated on March 25th, "Lady Day" (Feast of the Annunciation), but for ecumenical considerations was moved to September 24th. (September 24 in England had been the feast of Our Lady of Ransom, who was entreated for the re-conversion of England, "Our Lady's Dowery".
The feast of Our Lady of Walsingham was celebrated for the first time on the new date in 2001. The feast of the Annunciation is increasingly celebrated as a pro-life feast, considering children in the womb; Our Lady of Walsingham's feast asks us to contemplate the joy of the Incarnation in the simple family life of the Holy Family at Nazareth. The new date and emphasis on this feast is timely considering how family life is under attack in Western culture.
Our Lady of Walsingham
by Joanna Bogle
Voices' Contributing Editor
Walsingham is England’s national shrine to Our Lady, and a major place of pilgrimage and prayer. It is in Norfolk, a few miles from the North Sea, and is a small village set in the green countryside characteristic of this corner of Britain. The shrine dates back to the 12th century, when the local lady of the manor, Richeldis, had a vision of the Holy House the home of the Holy family at Nazareth on this spot. For centuries, pilgrims visited here and Our Lady of Walsingham was honoured with countless processions and prayers. Springs of water they still exist today were said to have healing powers. A great priory drew men who devoted themselves to the religious life. At the shrine itself, the image was always surrounded by candles, flowers, and gifts left by grateful pilgrims who had knelt there in prayer.
In the early 16th century, among those who came were the young king Henry, and his wife Catherine. They were praying that God would grant them a son. England had seen terrifying wars in an earlier generation as the houses of Lancaster and York battled out their struggle for supremacy, and now stability was needed for the new ruling house of Tudor. It was not to be. Catherine bore several children, but all died in infancy except one daughter, Mary. Henry, angry and disappointed, decided to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. He sought an annulment of his marriage through the Church, but failed to obtain it. Divorcing Catherine unilaterally, he married Anne who by then was carrying his child and announced himself head of the Church. The Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, and the Bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, were beheaded at the Tower of London in 1534 for refusing to affirm him in his claims, maintaining instead that only the Pope, the successor of Saint Peter, could hold that office. . Needing funds, Henry turned on the Church and crushed monasteries and priories. On the excuse of its being idolatrous, the shrine at Walsingham was destroyed and the statue burned. For some 400 years, there were no more pilgrimages, processions, or signs of devotion to Mary in this quiet village.
The shrine was revived in the early 20th century an Anglican vicar researched the history and re-created the Holy House in a new shrine, and a Catholic lady obtained the old “Slipper Chapel” just outside the village and this became the revived Catholic centre of devotion. Today, there are pilgrimages throughout the summer and the Catholic shrine has its own large church built of attractive local stone. Pilgrims pray and sing as they walk the “Holy Mile” traditionally barefoot from the village. Schools, parish groups, Catholic organisations all come with their banners and their choirs, their sandwiches and their children, to greet Our Lady at a place which combines the pleasures of unusually beautiful countryside with an atmosphere of real devotion and joy. Some groups stay for days a local farmer rents out fields in which large groups of young pilgrims and families can camp and in recent years Walsingham has seen a revival of Eucharistic adoration and confession, promoted by “Youth 2000”, a major initiative of the “John Paul 11 generation”.
When Pope John Paul visited Britain in 1982 the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was brought to London where it was the centrepiece of a major rally attended by the Holy Father. Many Catholic families, churches and schools, have copies of the image: it is an unusual one in which Mary is seen seated, as a dignified queen wearing a simple Saxon-style crown and carrying the Christ-child seated upright on her lap. Honour to Our Lady of Walsingham is linked to prayer that the people of England may once again return to the practice of the Catholic Faith: Our Lady of Walsinghan, pray for us!
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