William Davage continues his series on Marian devotion in the CofE
The Catholic Movement in the Church of England has come a long way since the 1830s; but however much we revere the founders of our Movement, we may be a little surprised that they did not have quite the same view of Our Lady that Anglo-Catholics generally hold today. The saying of the Hail Mary is to us today a perfectly natural prayer and invocation – simply part of what it is to be an Anglo-Catholic. Its use in the Church of England is not confined to Anglo-Catholics; and it is so much part of our liturgical and devotional fabric that we tend to forget that it was not always so. The use of the prayer does not appear as a majoritem of discussion in the Tractarian literature of the early part of the nineteenth century. It is true that John Keble used the salutation Ave Maria in his poem on the Annunciation, and advocated the recitation of the first and scriptural part of the salutation; but in his Anglican days Blessed John Henry Newman specifically rejected the Hail Mary in Tract 75 (1837) as encouraging ‘that direct worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints, which is the great practical offence of the Latin Church.’1 Meanwhile, the use of the Rosary survived in England in the recusant families, and was brought by Irish, Italian, and other Catholic immigrants: but it did not gain much of a footing with Tractarians for some time.
Although the Tractarians themselves were rather reserved about particular devotions to Our Lady, they had no such reservations about her part in the Incarnation, and her position of particular and special honour. The emphasis on the theology and the doctrine of the Incarnation was the basic groundwork upon which Marian devotion of a later generation in the Church of England came to be built; and without that pioneering theological work there may have been little or no Marian piety to enrich our spiritual lives. As the Oxford Movement began to infuse parish life and to alter the thinking of parish priests and their congregations, there arose a need to interpret and to translate theology in terms of colour, ceremony, signs, and symbols to which people could respond on a sensory level as well as on an intellectual plain. The members of the second generation of the Oxford Movement were more radical in their liturgical and ceremonial innovation than the founders had been. Pusey, for example, did not wear a chasuble until 1874. Young Turks like Fathers Mackonochie, Stanton, Lowder, Tooth and others pushed the boundaries further. This second and ritualist phase of the Movement was, however, firmly rooted in the academic and intellectual work that had gone before.
Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, Marian devotion seeped back into English Church life so that those devotions became one of the defining features of the character of Anglo-Catholicism. The use of the Hail Mary, the recitation of the Rosary, the Anthems to Our Lady, and the Litanies of Our Lady became commonplace. Her several titles were used in her invocation, churches were dedicated to her honour, offices such as Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary were introduced, manuals were written, tracts were issued, and societies, confraternities, and guilds were formed. In his splendid and splenetic book The Secret History of the Oxford Movement Walter Walsh gave several notable examples of what he considered to be Mariolatry. ‘The Society of S. Osmund has shown itself a warm friend to Mariolatry,’ he wrote. ‘Mr Athelstan Riley transcribed for it the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, according to the Sarum Breviary and also the Mirror of Our Lady – in which we find: Our Merciful Lady is the star that succoureth mankind in the troublesome sea of this world, and bringeth her lovers to the haven of health, therefore it is worthy that she should be served and praised at Mattins time. When all other succour faileth Our Lady’s grace helpeth. Compline is the end of the day: and in the end of our life we have most need of Our Lady’s help, and therefore in all these hours we ought to do her worship and praising. It is reasonable that seven times each day she should be worshipped and praised.’2 As well as Athelstan Riley there were others who provided manuals of devotion and material for Marian study and prayer: perhaps the most popular such publication was the book Catholic Prayers for Church of England People compiled by Father Harris and Father Stanton and published in 1891 – by 1930 it had sold some 100,000 copies. It contains an impressive range of Marian material, and suggests that the Feast of the Assumption should be regarded as of obligation. Another significant publication was the Centenary Prayer Book, issued in 1933 – with a forward by Lord Halifax – to mark the hundredth anniversary of John Keble’s Assize Sermon. The Manual of Catholic Devotion is still an invaluable resource on many bookshelves, in many homes, and in many clergy stalls; and the Manual of Anglo-Catholic Devotion compiled by Andrew Burnham, formerly of this parish, is an excellent modern equivalent.
The Catholic Revival in the nineteenth century saw the burgeoning foundation of numerous pious societies, confraternities, leagues, and associations. Again, the medieval influence of guilds can be felt as their inspiration. In 1880 the Confraternity of the Children of Mary was founded with the aims of extending the honour due to Our Lady and reparation for past neglect. In 1903 this was renamed the Confraternity of Our Lady to avoid confusion with the Roman Catholic Society of similar name. In 1920 this Confraternity merged with the Union of the Holy Rosary, which had been founded in 1886. A new Marian society was founded in 1901 or 1902 3 called the League of Mary, and it was the League of Mary and the Confraternity of Our Lady that amalgamated on 1 June 1931 at St Magnus the Martyr to form the Society of Mary. Under Our Lady’s title ‘Help of Christians,’ the objects of the Society were ‘To set forth the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation by promoting the honour due to the Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ: to invoke Our Lady and the Saints for the extension of the Faith and the uprooting of heresy: to strive after purity of life in honour of the perpetual virginity of Our Lady: to make reparation to the Holy Mother of God for neglect and insult.’4 These remain essentially the same and are expressed today as ‘To love and honour Mary: to spread devotion to her in reparation for past neglect and misunderstanding, and in the cause of Christian Unity: to take Mary as a model in purity, personal relationships and family life.’5 The other, and later, Marian society that has proven exceptionally successful in furthering Marian understanding across denominations is the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and – although it could not be described today as an Anglo-Catholic organization – the Mothers’ Union historically put forward Mary as the ideal example of wife and mother. All these societies had more than merely local significance. They had national and sometimes international significance; but more widespread perhaps were the Guilds of Mary that sprang up in many parishes. They would have meetings, devotions, observances of Marian feasts, and a banner to be carried in processions. These were the true heartbeat of Anglo-Catholic Marian devotion at the parish level, and are now represented by wards of the Society of Mary or Cells of Our Lady of Walsingham.
To be continued.
1 Tract 75: On the Roman Breviary as Embodying the Substance of the Devotional Services of the Church Catholic London: J.G. & F. Rivington (1837), 10.
2 Walter Walsh, The Secret History of the Oxford Movement, London: Swann Sonnershein (1898), 243.
3 The late Fr John Milburn, in his lecture given to the Mariological Congress in Rome in 1975, gave the date of foundation as 1902. See The Mariological Lectures of Fr John Milburn published by The Society of Mary in 1998. The date 1901 is given in the information about the Society in its magazine, Ave. The exigencies of time have not resolved the conflict.
4 File copy of “Agreed Form of Constitution” mentioned in Resolution of First Joint Meeting of the League and Confraternity of Our Lady. Society of Mary Papers: Pusey House, Oxford.
5 Ave, Assumptiontide 2003.