Mary, Mother of the Church

When Fr Henry Fynes-Clinton founded the League in 1913 he first place it under the patronage of Our Lady of Victories, a title ascribed to the Mother of God after the Battle of Lepanto at which the  Ottoman Empire was defeated, securing the freedom of most of Europe from Islamic subjugation. At the same time as European Christianity faced up to this assault from without, it was also facing internal assaults from the Protestant Reformation movements that were undermining the Church's unity from within.

When Pope Paul VI adjourned the Second Vatican Council in 1964, he proclaimed Mary Mother of the Church, noting that this understanding of Our Lady has its roots in the New Testament. The Catholic League for the Unity of Christians and Unitas are placed under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary with this title, since more than any other it provides an interpretatino of her place in the divine plan on which all Christians can agree. It is, therefore, the most ecumenical title for Our Lady and, furthermore, it recognises in Mary the prototype of the Church. So what we see in Mary, we ought to see in the Church: united with Christ at his incarnation, freed from sin by the power of his grace, hearing his word, obeying his will, taking the world to him in prayer, pierced to the heart and redeemed by his passion, raised to new life by his resurrection and ascension into heaven, filled with the power of his Holy Spirit. In his exhortation, Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul put it thus:

The Catholic Church, endowed with centuries of experience, recognises in devotion to the Blessed Virgin a powerful aid for man as he strives for fulfilment. Mary, the New Woman, stands at the side of Christ, the New Man, within whose mystery the mystery if man alone finds true light; she is given to us as a pledge and guarantee that God's plan in Christ for the salvation of the whole man has already achieved realisation in a creature: in her. Contemplated in the episodes of the Gospels and in the reality, which she already possesses in the City of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary offers a calm vision and a reassuring word to modern man. She shows forth the victory of hope over anguish, of fellowship over solitude, of peace over anxiety, of joy and beauty over boredom and disgust, of eternal vision over earthly ones, of life over death.

Father of mercies,
your only Son, hanging on the Cross,
gave us his Virgin Mother Mary to be our Mother also.
Under her loving care
may her children grow daily in holiness,
so that all humanity may see in your Church
the mother of all nations.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church
Pope Pius IX declared St Joseph patron of the Universal Church in 1870. Fynes Clinton chose him as patron of the League because he was thus protector of the Church's integrity in unity and faith, and its defender from schism and separation; from assaults on its liberty and restriction on its pastors, primarily the Pope in his ministry as universal pastor; from theological modernism and relativism; and from atheistic communism, nationalism and secularism.

O most powerful patriarch, Saint Joseph,
patron of that universal Church which has always invoked you in anxieties and tribulations;
from the high seat of your glory lovingly regard the Catholic world.
Let it move your paternal heart to see the mystical spouse of Christ and His vicar
weakened by sorrow and persecuted by powerful enemies.
We beseech you, by the most bitter suffering you experienced on earth,
to wipe away in mercy the tears of the revered pontiff,
to defend and liberate him, and to intercede with the Giver of peace and charity,
that every hostile power being overcome and every error being destroyed,
the whole Church may serve the God of all blessings in perfect liberty.  Amen.

Saint Nicholas
St Nicholas of Myra
St Nicholas occupies in the hearts of Christians of the Orthodox East a place comparable to that of St Joseph in the west as patron and protector of the Church. Coming from the Greek Byzantine world of Asia Minor, but with some of his relics finding rest in southern Italy at Bari,  and others in Venice, partly to do with the estrangement between the Churches of the Latin West and the Byzantine East, and partly with conflict between Christendom and the Ottoman Empire, he is a patron of Christian believers throughout the Church, not least in his guise as Santa Claus, the patron and protector of the young and the poor.

Eternal and omnipotent God,
who gave to us our protector, glorious Saint Nicholas,
from the kingdom of heavenly light in which he enjoys the bliss of your divine presence,
look upon us with your merciful gaze.
Grant us the help and spiritual graces that we need in this life.
Remember your church, your flock, and your shepherds
so that they will be enlightened by your truth and enkindled by the fire of your love.
Through the intercession of our patron saint, Nicholas,
convert those who lead a life in darkness of ignorance and error.
Console the afflicted, provide for the needy, comfort the weak,
defend the oppressed, help the sick and let us receive the benefits
of the powerful intercession of Saint Nicholas on our behalf,
O Supreme Giver of all good. Amen.

With thanks to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Waterbury, Connecticut

Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity
Christian Unity is not currently as fashionable as it was. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s everyone was into Unity, but there has been a great cooling of desire and interest. Cardinal Kasper (Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the Unity of Christians) has called this present time an 'ecumenical winter' and most Christian churches are simply trying to hold themselves together - the Anglican Communion more than most.

But for a peasant girl born in Sardinia ninety years ago, Christian Unity would have meant even less than it does to people now. In her experience, there was just one Church: the Roman Catholic Church. Maria Sagheddu came from a family of shpeherds and is remembered as a child of great fidelity, devotion to duty adn strength of character. As a teenager, she showed little interest in organised religion beyond what was expected of her in the normal course of events as a Catholic girl in a Catholic country. At the age of eighteen, however, a personal encounter with God and a new desire to share his life transformed her. She gave increasing time and energy to prayer, worship and the service of the poor. By the age of 21, she had entered the strictly enclosed Trappist Cistercian convent at Grottaferrata near Rome. That might have been the end of the story, as least as far as a wider public was concerned. But Maria stood out from the crowd even then. Her desire to serve God and to do his will was overpowering in its intensity; but in what specific way was this to be channelled?

When the community was contacted by the French priest, Paul Couturier, who was seeking their prayers for the unity of the Church and especially for the Church of England, Maria's aim and purpose became clear: she was to pray for Unity. Indeed, she went further and offered here very life to God to serve the cause of Reunion. At almost the same time as this offering was made, Maria fell ill with tuberculosis and before long it became clear that the offering which she had made would be consummated sooner, rather than later. During her illness, Maria was bed-ridden and unable to share in the community's liturgical worship; but she still found ways in which to pray and to praise. After her death, a small Bible was found by her bed adn it was noted that the pages containing Jesus' own prayer for Unity from St John's Gospel were worn and stained by constant use. Here was the food for the prayer which was offered during those long months of sickness. Her fellow nuns also recognised other signs that God had accepted and blessed her offering. Maria died on 23 April 1939, the Sunday of the Good Shepherd and the feast of the Patron Saint of England, for whose separated Christian brothers and sisters she had prayer. And the gospel for that day's Mass read, 'I have other sheep as well that are not of this fold. I must lead these also so that there will be but One Shpeherd and One Flock.'Some months earlier, the Anglican Benedictine monastery at Nashdom (now Elmore) had learned of her offering for Christian Unity through Father Couturier. One of the monks, Dom Benedict Ley, began to correspond with the Abbess of Grottaferrata. A spiritual pact was formed between the two communities at a time when the law of the Church forbade Roman Catholics even to say the Our Father in common with other Christians. That pact is still in place to this day, working and praying for Unity. Dom Benedict, as the originator of these contacts and plans, did all he could to strengthen the praying link between the two communities, offering to say the Divine Office on Sister Maria's behalf when she became too ill to say it herself. When he was sent a photograph of Sister Maria on her death-bed, he was deeply inpressed by the peace and resignation of her appearance. He wrote in reply,
The photograph taken of Sister Maria Gabriella after the consummation of her sacrifice will teach me to accept whatever sacrifice the Lord may ask of me. In this way she will help me to enter in that unspeakable Unity that is the term of our Christian vocation, the Unity of the Blessed Trinity.
The community now lives at Vitorchiano, near Viterbo, north of Rome, and honours her remains in its Chapel of Unity. On 25 January 1983, Pope John Paul II beatified her, and requested that she should be known for ever as Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity.

O God, eternal Shepherd,
who inspired Blessed Maria Gabriella, virgin,
to offer her life for the Unity of Christians,
Grant that, through her intercession
the day may be hastened,
in which all believers in Christ,
gathered around the table of your Word and of your Bread,
may praise you with one heart and one voice.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Priest and Martyr

In 1534, the Augustinian priory at Walsingham was one of the first religious houses to sign the Oath of Supremacy recognising Henry VIII's union with Anne Boleyn, in spite of the Pope's refusal to grant him an annulment of his previous marriage,and accepting Henry as head of the Church in England. This schism from the See of Peter marks the beginning of the English Reformation, subsequently leading to the abolition of the Religious life and numerous changes to aspects of the Church of England's teaching, sacramental and liturgical life.

A number of English Catholics would not consent to the threat to the Church's unity posed by defiance of the Church's just spiritual authority in matters of faith and moral life. Few desired there to be a breach with the Holy See and expected it be repaired soon. Some, like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, saw that the Oath, vesting the Church's headship in the king rather than in Christ in whose name the Pope governed the Church as a mystical, universal and not merely local body, constituted a formal repudiation of Catholic faith and unity. Far from being a temporary ploy, it was a permanent division, designed to facilitate reforms at variance with the faith of the universal Church.

Among those thus unable in conscience to assent to the Oath of Supremacy, were key leaders in various monasteries facing Dissolution. Despite the decision of the Prior and Convent at Walsingham to go along with the King for the time being, the Sub-Prior, Father Nicholas Mileham, refused. He was tried, deposed, imprisoned in a cellar opposite the Priory with a layman who was also vocal in his opposition to the king's Oath. Both were executed in the Martyrs' Field at Walsingham in 1537. Nor was the monastery spared. The community signed the Deed of Surrender to King Henry's Commissioners on August 4th in 1538. The Shrine was closed, the Holy House burned down, and the statue taken to Chelsea in London to be burned with other images associated with now abolished pilgrimages. The Shrine and the Priory church were destroyed.

In 2004, the Cellar which served as Nicholas Mileham's and George Guisborough's cell was restored. It is beneath the Sue Ryder House in the High Street. In it can be seen the entrance to the former tunnel linking it to the Priory opposite, and the rings for the chains in which the martyrs were bound. The Catholic League commissioned an altar to be constructed in memory of Geoffrey Wright, an outstanding Secretary of the League for many years who laboured intensively for the recovery of Unity between Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church. The altar now stands in honour of Nicholas Mileham and his companion in martyrdom, George Guisborough, as an act of reparation for the sins and past suffering caused by the separations among Christians and in furtherance of the objects of Unitas, especially the visible Unity of all Christians with the See of Peter in the Catholic Faith. The Blessing of the Nicholas Mileham Altar and the opening of the Martyrs' Cellar as an Ecumenical Chapel and a place of prayer for reparation and reconciliation took place on 17 April 2004. It was conducted by Fr Robert Farmer, Director of the Catholic League, assisted in the Rite of Blessing by Fr Norman Banks, Anglican Vicar of Walsingham, and Fr Michael Rear, representing the Roman Catholic parish of Walsingham.

See the New Memory page for further details.

Almighty, ever-living God,
you gave your martyrs grace
to lay down their lives for Christ.
Help our weakness too;
give us the strength to live for you,
even as they did not shrink
from dying for your sake.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.