At Westminster Cathedral, London, tomorrow, Saturday 18th February 2017, Cardinal Vincent Nichols will solemnly crown the pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima and re-consecrate England to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Since at least the fourteenth century, England has been called ‘the dowry of Mary’ and so this coronation is really a continuation of that strong filial devotion of the nation. Indeed, in 1893 the great Pope St Leo XIII spoke to English pilgrims to Rome and mentioned “the wonderful filial love which burnt within the heart of your forefathers towards the great Mother of God … to whose service they consecrated themselves with such abundant proofs of devotion, that the kingdom itself acquired the singular and highly honourable title of ‘Mary’s Dowry’.”
So why undertake this coronation? It is a simple act of love, respect and honour; it signifies the devotion of the faithful toward the Mother of God, manifested in a tangible and visible way. It is also a way of asking Her maternal intercession for the country and it’s people and for the Church.
And why do it now? Because we are rapidly approaching the centenary of the first Appearance of Our Lady at Fatima, which takes place on 13th May this year. And also because we have great need of Her intercession.
The coronation of images of the Blessed Virgin is a fairly ancient practice, and the first such coronation to take place with the explicit approval of the Pope was in 1631, when the painted image of La Madonna della Febbre was solemnly crowned by Pope Urban VIII.
With regard to Our Lady of Fatima, the practice dates back to 13th May 1946, when Cardinal Masalla, Papal Legate to Pope Pius XII, solemnly crowned the statue at Fatima. The people of Portugal had donated gold – mainly from the wedding rings of the women – and precious stones in order to make this beautiful crown, fit for the Queen of Heaven who had so graciously blessed them with Her presence.
At the same time, Pope Pius had issued a message to the Church regarding Fatima and the coronation, in which he said –
“The faithful Virgin never disappointed the trust put on Her. She will transform into a fountain of graces, physical and spiritual graces, over all of Portugal, and from there, breaking all frontiers, over the whole Church and the entire world”.
Incidentally, Pope Pius XII was consecrated as Bishop on the very day of Our Lady’s first Appearance at Fatima, 13th May 1917, and he would later become known as ‘the Pope of Fatima’.
Today, this same crown also contains the bullet which shot St John Paul II on 13th May 1981; it is visible in the image to the left, just beneath the blue orb.
All of the Popes since then have been devoted to Our Lady of Fatima, have visited Her shrine (other than John Paul I, who visited whilst still Patriarch of Venice), and there have been a number of acts of devotion in Her honour from the Holy Fathers – such as Pope Benedict placing a Golden Rose at Fatima.
In 2013, Pope Francis consecrated the world and his entire Pontificate to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – this was done at his explicit request by Cardinal Polycarp, Patriarch of Lisbon, who prayed –
“Grant (Pope Francis) the gift of discernment to know how to identify the paths of renewal for the Church, grant him the courage to not falter in following the paths suggested by the Holy Spirit, protect him in the difficult hours of suffering, so that he may overcome, in charity, the trials that the renewal of the Church will bring him”.
So there is clearly a very well-established precedent for the coronation of images of the Mother of God.
But what fruits can be expected from such an act?
First of all, an action such as this draws all of us back to the Mother of God, since it places Her very clearly before our eyes and our hearts; it reminds us of our duty toward Her as the Mother of God. And this, of course, draws us back to Her Son – Her sole intention is to lead us to Him. She is not the destination – She is the path that leads there.
Secondly, it is a means of obtaining great graces through the very powerful intercession of this motherly and Immaculate Heart. She will never be outdone is generosity; when we ask Her prayers, we can be assured She hears and answers them. We express this confidence every time we pray the Memorarae –
‘Never was it known that anyone who fled to Thy protection, implored Thy help or sought Thine intercession, was left unaided..’
Blessed Jacinta of Fatima said “tell everyone that God grants graces through the Immaculate Heart of Mary”. This act of coronation is mindful of these words. And these words are nothing more than a modern echo of the Gospel account of the Wedding at Cana, where Mary told Her Son the wedding couple had no wine; He instantly responded to Her concern and performed a miracle. So it is today. He continues to hear and respond to the requests of His Mother.
Whether we live in England, Scotland, Wales, the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, or somewhere further away, may all of us pause on Saturday afternoon and spiritually, in the stillness of our hearts, take part in this very special Consecration to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Fatima; may Her Immaculate Heart be our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.