When Henry VIII broke away from the universal Catholic Church and the authority of the papacy, all that changed. Henry ordered Mary’s shrines destroyed – even Walsingham, where he had travelled on pilgrimage. Soon the altars on which Her Son was worshipped and adored were torn down.
The people who wanted to worship Jesus and honor Mary as they and their ancestors always had could feel very alone. The parish churches they once attended looked different, without the altar, or candles, or statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist was gone, too.
They would rather pay a fine every month than attend the new services in those churches. They might have to wait months before the young Jesuit or Franciscan priest, wearing a disguise because he was considered a traitor to the state, came back to the local Catholic noble’s house to offer the Sacraments.
What could they do? They could pray the Rosary. They didn’t have to use beads; they could use their fingers.
Praying the Rosary they meditated on the Catholic Church’s teachings on the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, the Sacraments, Mary’s special role, and the Communion of Saints. If they were thrown into prison for not paying their fines, they could recall Christ’s Passion and offer their own discomforts, cold and hunger. As they witnessed the dreadful execution of a Catholic priest, they would pray for him as he suffered.
Nathan D. Mitchell describes the significance of the Rosary for English Catholics in this era in the fifth chapter of his book The Mystery of the Rosary. Like oppressed Catholics throughout the world today, they prayed the Rosary for strength and consolation.
Decades passed and finally Parliament in England allowed Catholics to worship freely, build churches, follow their vocations, vote, and hold public office.
The Catholic Church welcomed many converts, including John Henry Newman from Oxford, who joined the Catholic Church in 1845. He developed a great devotion to Mary and to the Rosary.
Years after his conversion Newman spoke to some young boys and reminded them to pray the Rosary:
Now the great power of the Rosary lies in this, that it makes the Creed into a prayer; of course, the Creed is in some sense a prayer and a great act of homage to God; but the Rosary gives us the great truths of His life and death to meditate upon, and brings them nearer to our hearts. And so we contemplate all the great mysteries of His life and His birth in the manger; and so too the mysteries of His suffering and His glorified life. But even Christians, with all their knowledge of God, have usually more awe than love of Him, and the special virtue of the Rosary lies in the special way in which it looks at these mysteries; for with all our thoughts of Him are mingled thoughts of His Mother, and in the relations between Mother and Son we have set before us the Holy Family, the home in which God lived. [source]
Newman lived to be a very old man; once his sight had failed, he prayed the Rosary instead of reading the Breviary. Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Henry Newman last year in England and proclaimed his feast day as October 9.
On September 24 this year both Catholics and Anglicans celebrated the 950th anniversary of the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and Catholics are welcoming groups of former Anglicans into the Catholic Church in the first Ordinariate as announced by Pope Benedict. The name of the Ordinariate is Our Lady of Walsingham and it is under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman.
England just might be Mary’s Dowry again.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.
image credit: Wikipedia
Stephanie A. Mann is author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation (Scepter Publishers). She is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.