After years of preparation, England was on Sunday rededicated as Mary’s Dowry “in the eye of the storm” of the coronavirus pandemic.
About 530,000 Catholics are estimated to have taken part in the rededication and some 4,000 private homes, in England and overseas, were registered alongside churches and cathedrals as places where the prayers of rededication were offered.
Because of the lockdown, huge numbers of people attempted to join the rededication via live-streaming services at the Catholic National Shrine and Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk, as well as many parish churches and cathedrals. The online traffic volume was so high by the 12 noon rededication time that Walsingham’s website temporarily crashed, and viewers were redirected to watch the event on YouTube.
The first dedication of England as Mary’s Dowry was carried out in 1381 by King Richard II amid great domestic turmoil, with the intention that the country be set aside for the guidance and protection of Our Lady.
The Walsingham shrine subsequently prospered until it was destroyed in the Reformation. It was rebuilt in the 19th century, prompting the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII, that “when England returns to Walsingham, Our Lady will return to England”.
On Sunday, Mgr John Armitage reflected in his rededication homily that the rededication was taking place “in the eye of the storm”. “When our bishops decided three years ago to undertake this rededication, they could never have foreseen the extent of our need at this time,” he said.
The laity were invited to pray a novena in preparation of the rededication in their own homes, or make a 33-day personal consecration to Our Lady. The rededication prayers were also translated and circulated among the UK’s million-strong Polish community.
Some parishes had planned Marian processions but all of these were cancelled because of the pandemic. It was, in the event, a rededication in lockdown, unwitnessed by multitudes, although some priests nonetheless made the best even of their empty churches.
Fr Wayne Coughlin of the combined parishes of Ss Philip and James and Holy Cross Church in Bedford flew the coat of arms of King Richard II over his presbytery, for instance. “This could be the start of a spiritual revival in this realm,” he tweeted enthusiastically.
Antonia Moffat, the outreach coordinator for Walsingham, said that in the circumstances “it really was the most extraordinary day”. She said: “It was a dramatic response because obviously we are in a time of enormous crisis and probably this response would not have happened if we hadn’t been in this crisis.
“We were beginning to wonder if this was the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII.”