Ed Matyjaszek examines here the meaning of this phrase familiar to English Catholics
For Catholics, the search for England’s heart brings to mind the phrase, “Dowry of Mary”. To understand why this phrase is so important, we must go back to the beginnings of our nation. Legally speaking, there was no England until the 10th century, when official documentary recognition appeared.
However, all history proclaims that there was an England before this. It was an ecclesial England, a spiritual entity and reality. Schoolchildren still learn of the Synod of Whitby A.D. 665/6, which ensured that the Roman, rather than the Celtic method of church administration prevailed.
In 673, Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury summoned all the bishops of the seven English kingdoms, – East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex, – and established common canons and Church disciplines. This means that the Mass, the priesthood, the scriptures and the prayers were the same. Hence, England became an ecclesial realm before it was a physical kingdom. Its spiritual identity pre-dates its political existence. Thus, England existed in the before it took flesh.
This “procession” from spiritual to material is amalogous to the Annunciation. As the catechism states: “Our Lady was invited to conceive”. Vatican II says similarly: “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined Mother”.
Hence, Mary had the liberty of choose. Her choice is the single most critical act of any human being throughout history. And what has England pre-eminently defended throughout her history, in her laws, her institutions, in those great epochal points where she has put her powers, her possessions “in the breach” of human liberty in 1588, 1805, 1914 and supremely 1940? It is the “cause of freedom”. This was Churchill’s great cry. For without that how can God be honoured by our choice of life over death? That’s what he sets before us, as scripture says.
If we have no human freedom, how can we assent as his Mother did? And it is his Mother’s land, which above all, has defended this at all cost. Just as justice took form in Magna Carta and the Common Law; so, peace is gained by the resolution of conflicts through debate in the chambers of Parliament. So, change is achieved through votes of a free people who are governed by their consent, not by imposition of diktat. Is this not the story of England at its best, taken to America to root and to flourish there?
If the Mother of God is to have is to have a country of her own, would it not be one that upholds, defends and proclaims the values of her Son? To make incarnate in its very institutions the principles of the Gospel, of the peace and justice and love between people that are the focus and purpose of Christ’s kingdom? England is only England, is only true to herself, if she does this, if she is Christian, if she is faithful.
Our task now is to step out without fear to reclaim our fellow countrymen and women for Christ. Our beloved country can regain its role pf past centuries, and take the message of the Gospel to a Europe that has lost its way. That, I believe, is the meaning of the Dowry of Mary in our time.
The greatest years of England lie ahead.