News Archive

Tuesday 24 August 2021

We ought to surpass all others in our praises and devotions to the Blessed Virgin

Wilton_diptych

Here is Fr Daniel's sermon from last Sunday's feast:

Sermon - Sunday 22nd August 2021

 Our Lady of York

 Today we celebrate Our Lady of York, Mother of Mercy. Of course, our Blessed Mother is the Queen of the Universe; she has been given dominion over all creation by the hand of her Son; but today we remember that she is nevertheless not a remote figure, unconcerned with little local concerns, but rather she is a loving mother, who cares for each of us individually and tenderly. In this place, we venerate her with the special title of 'Our Lady of York, Mother of Mercy'. Mary is the Mother of Mercy because she is the Mother of God. He is Mercy, and so Our Lady is the Mother of Mercy. God so longed to forgive our sins and to show mercy to us that He became man, He took on our humanity, body and soul. To do this, he needed to have a human mother.

He needed a human mother! How wonderful! The Creator, who is and has everything, made Himself needy. He depended upon one of His own creatures, and made Himself subject to her. He lived in her womb. He drew His nourishment from her, He made Mary the ground of his being and the sustainer of His life. More than that, when the angel came to Our Lady, Gabriel waited for her consent before the Word was made flesh within her.  So, we can truly say that without Mary there would be no mercy; all the graces God gives us come to us through her hands; she is truly the Mother of Mercy because she makes mercy possible. In a world full of violence and hatred, Mary is the great sign of hope, the image of love and forgiveness, which alone can overcome evil.

Perhaps we worry that since Our Lady is so far above us, because she is free from sin, that somehow she is unable to sympathize with us in our sinful humanity. Yet it is precisely because she has never sinned that our Mother sees our weakness so much more clearly and reaches out to us with mercy and compassion. A drowning man cannot save another drowning man: he will only drag him down further, but the Immaculate Star of the Sea is the Gate of Heaven and the sure guide to salvation.

In the Gospels we see how this Refuge of Sinners is continually exercising mercy. As soon as she hears that her kinswoman Elizabeth is with child, Mary sets out in haste, hurrying some seventy miles on foot  across the hill country of Judea to go to Elizabeth's assistance. When the wine runs out at Cana in Galilee it is instinctively to Our Lady that the servants turn in their difficulty, and her intercession is effective with her Son. She does this -- causes him to manifest His glory -- even knowing that this is the beginning of the road to Calvary, that it leads inexorably to His hour, when she will lose Him on the Cross. And by that Cross, Mary stands, sharing every drop of her Son's agony. There, she accepted us as her children, in the person of St John. It is Mary who is at the heart of the Church after the Ascension: the disciples gather around her to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

So we cannot be disciples of Christ unless we love His Mother: without being her clients we cannot receive the graces her Son has won for us. Devotion to Our Blessed Mother is not an optional extra to the Christian faith: it essential!

We can never love Our Lady enough, which is why wherever we go in the world we find that those who are closest to Jesus have a special and intimate knowledge of Mary. She reaches out to those who are humble and meek, as at Lourdes, and Fatima, and Guadalupe; she is on the side of those who are oppressed: look at the scars on the face of Our Lady of Czestochowa. She is the first to be attacked by tyrants: consider how Henry VIII had the image of Our Lady of Walsingham burnt at Chelsea.

Every place claims Our Lady as its own, and rightly so, and the varying appearances of her images remind us that she belongs to each one of us, individually, as our own. This realm of England we call Mary's dowry. In 1399, Archbishop Arundel of Canterbury wrote,

"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, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass all others in the fervour of our praises and devotions."

If you go to the National Gallery you can see the Wilton Diptych, which depicts King Richard II, accompanied by St Edmund, King and Martyr, St Edward the Confessor, and St John the Baptist, having given his kingdom as a 'dos', a gift or dowry, to the Blessed Virgin. Her infant Son has accepted the banner of England, and handed it to an angel, and now the king, with outstretched hands, waits to receive it back in order to rule it with Our Lady's protection and as regent on her behalf. This reflects an historical event, when in 1381, Richard faced the Peasants' Revolt. The fourteen-year-old king heard Mass at St Edward's tomb in Westminster Abbey, and dedicated himself before the shrine of Our Lady of the Pew, vowing that if the kingdom were saved he would consecrate England  as Mary's dowry. In the orb at the top of the banner of St George on the Wilton Diptych is a tiny painting, only half an inch in diameter, revealed only in a recent cleaning, of an island with a white tower on it and a boat on a silver-leaf sea. In Shakespeare's Richard II, John of Gaunt speaks of England as "this precious stone set in a silver sea", suggesting a reference to the Wilton Diptych.

This land is not a precious stone set in a silver sea because of trade, or invention, or any human achievement, but because we are Mary's Dowry. What more glorious title could there be for any country? If we are to re-convert England - and we must - how else can we begin but by being converted ourselves, by giving ourselves today to the Mother of Mercy, Our Lady of York? Our shrine stands as a reminder that our Mother cares about us, she wants us to return to her, she longs to embrace us in her maternal arms so that we can experience God's mercy, which endures from generation to generation, and in so doing may lead all her children to do the same. For ought not we, who are so specially blessed, surpass all others in our praises and devotions to the Mother of God?

Our Lady of York, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.

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