William Davage concludes his series on Our Lady and the Catholic Revival
Despite the Catholic Movement’s successes mentioned last month, not everything was plain sailing in the twentieth century. There was still resistance to Marian devotion in the Church of England: there were still battles to be fought, and victories to be won. At the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1923 there was a memorable spat. This series of Congresses, leading to the huge celebration in 1933 of the centenary of the Movement, has some claim to be the high watermark of Anglo-Catholicism. Everything seemed possible; everything seemed within our grasp. The range of speakers and their academic, intellectual, and pastoral standing was unsurpassed; but they had not conquered all before them.
The President of the Congress in 1923 was the Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, who was largely sympathetic to Anglo-Catholics. However, he took exception to the Marian hymns that had been included in the literature and which were going to be sung during public worship. When his views were made known to the assembly there were no doubt mutterings. The knives may well have been out, and defiance was in the air. However, the great Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar – a lost leader of the Movement – pointed out that Our Lady was the Queen of Courtesy, and out of courtesy the hymns should not be sung. The Hail Mary was said and Weston gave a classic defence of Our Lady: ‘if we invoke the saints and give special honour to Our Lady, it is because we see them in the heart of Jesus. It is to Mary within the heart of God that we sing our hymns, and all of us are of one mind in this, that you cannot invoke the saints outside the heart of Jesus.’1
Another episode of conflict arose in 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Our Lady, body and soul, into heaven as a matter of belief for the faithful. In the Papal Bull promulgated on 1 November 1950 – Munificentissimus Deus – no position was taken on whether Our Lady died or not; but the faith of the Church was declared that Mary, in the fullness of her historical personality, now lives in union with the Risen Christ, her Son. Mary had been given to us as the example of ‘the exalted destiny of both our soul and body’.2 Very similar arguments were marshalled against the dogmatic definition, and many similar arguments were marshalled in its favour. They had been rehearsed and had marked the debate over the Immaculate Conception almost a hundred years earlier. However, the Assumption seems to have been rather more readily accepted that has the Immaculate Conception within the Church of England, at least insofar as the Church of England calendar designates 15 August as the principal feast of Mary. We know what feast it is, and one day so will they: there is still work to do.
No survey, however cursory, of the growth and development of devotion to Our Lady and Marian piety in the Church of England can ignore the significance of her Shrine at Walsingham. Part of the reason for the revival of Roman Catholic devotion to Our Lady may well be attributed to her appearances at Lourdes and Fatima, which achieved widespread publicity and interest and generated their rapid growth as sites of pilgrimage. The Society of Mary has made a tremendous ecumenical contribution with its regular pilgrimages to Lourdes and its intimate association with the Shrine, and now also with its links with Fatima. In comparison with these two shrines with the millions of visitors, that of Walsingham is domestic in scale. That, of course, is not insignificant, because at its heart is the Holy House of Nazareth, the domestic setting of Our Lord’s upbringing.
From its small beginnings, when Alfred Hope Patten set up an image of Our Lady – based on the depiction of Mary on the seal of the ancient abbey of Walsingham – in the parish church, the numbers of pilgrims has steadily increased. Quite early the numbers on pilgrimage outgrew the Shrine that Fr Patten built, and they have subsequently outgrown the extensions that were added. The accommodation has been expanded and improved, and the domain has become extensive. That alone indicates as a measure how far we have come.
As the Christian life is ever a work in progress, there is still work for us to do to give the fullest honour due to Our Lady in the setting in which we find ourselves, to extend devotion to her, to invoke her aid, protection and prayers, to deepen our own love and devotion to her, and to pursue under her patronage as Mother of the Church the reunion of Christ’s Body. In Marialis Cultus Pope Paul VI wrote that ‘Catholics are united with Anglicans, whose classical theologians have already drawn attention to the sound scriptural basis for devotions to the Mother of Our Lord, while Anglicans of the present day increasingly underline the importance of Mary’s place in the Christian life.’3 But let the last word go to Fr Stanton:
Brethren, fancy, we keep the feast of the Lord’s Mother [the Annunciation]. What a beautiful idea! We have the Lord’s Day, the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Cross, the Lord’s Book, the Lord’s Mother. We cannot help but to love her.4
1 Church Times, 13 July 1923.
2 J. B. Midgley, The Feasts of Mary, London: Catholic Truth Society (1999), 36-37.
3 Marialis Cultus, 32.
4 E. F. Russell (ed.), Father Stanton’s Sermon Outlines: From his own manuscript, London: Longman, Green, & Co (1923), 235.