“Dowry’’ has a strange, medieval ring about it. I first heard the word in the Prayer for England at Sunday evening Benediction, and in the Lourdes Hymn. Perhaps that’s why it evokes the Catholicism of my grandparents’ generation; the Catholicism, too, of the remnant who kept the faith when the state claimed rights over the nation’s conscience, the authorities vandalised shrines and sacraments, and what we would now call the institutional Church more or less disappeared from sight.
There was a romance about this because it reminded us that ordinary people are capable of doing heroic and dangerous things for love, and that when they do so inspired by fidelity to God and his Church they show that the faith will only survive where there are those who are prepared to live it with passion, with their life-blood.
From the first it was about Incarnation, and Christ’s incarnation is only possible to the extent that He and His Mother surrendered their will to the will of the Father. If Christ is to be born in us, the same is true. By definition, it will not be predictable, safe or conformed to the standards of the world. We too must conceive the likeness of Christ within us through his Spirit.
This is not some metaphysical ideal or aspiration. It’s about sanctifying the things of everyday, it’s about how I live in my body, not just my thoughts and aspirations. That surely is the message of Walsingham, England’s Nazareth.
Richard II’s declaration of England as Mary’s Dowry explains: “The contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation has drawn all Christian nations to venerate her from whom came the first beginnings of our redemption. But we English, being the servants of her special inheritance and her own dowry, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions.”
It is timely, then, that our country should be rededicated to the powerful intercession of the Mother of God at a time of crisis. But if this is to be something more than nostalgia, we ought to be finding ways in which a renewed fervour of praise and devotion can be the active concomitant of this rededication. A ‘‘dowry’’ which acquiesced to another six months in which the faithful were without the sacraments, without trying to find creative solutions to the problem in ways proportional to risk, would be a moth-eaten thing indeed.
The concept of dowry is an anachronism to those who claim it reduces womanhood to chattel status, but in some ways the dowry helped to establish a woman’s rights. It meant the bride had a stake in the setting up of the matrimonial home. In the event of her husband’s decease, she would be provided for, and if the marriage remained childless, the dowry was forfeited.
To rededicate England surely means to rededicate the Church in this country to praying and striving to defend virginity, motherhood and the unborn. It means proclaiming to our society that marriage and family are the bedrock of society and not one lifestyle choice.
Rededication must be expressed in encouragement for vocations to priesthood and religious life and a properly catechised, courageous laity who look to express their faith in the world, fired by the certainty that nothing is impossible to God when we say yes to his Word.