Our Lady of Unity

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Shine on us, dear Lady, with thy bright countenance, like the sun in his strength, O stella matutina, O harbinger of peace, till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic brow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound or overwhelm, but to persuade, to win over thine enemies. O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfil to us the promise of this Spring.

-Bl. John Henry Newman

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It was 20 years ago that I became a Catholic, and a couple years after that, when I first began attending the parish named after her, that I first came to know the Mother of God as Our Lady of the Atonement.  But even then, it wasn’t until I entered the monastery in Alabama that I actually began to take a greater interest in her.  I think it started with homesickness, and a longing for everything I was missing from Texas.  But then I came to know her story in much greater depth when I stumbled upon a book called Our Lady and Reunion, in the cloister library.  Imagine my surprise when I opened it up to find Our Lady of the Atonement herself, looking up at me from the title page!IMG_6982

It’s been almost 15 years since I’ve read the book, but one thing that that’s always stuck with me is something that Cardinal Newman wrote about Our Lady’s role in the return of England to the Catholic faith.  Our Lady of the Atonement is the Mother of Unity – this is what her title denotes the At-One-Ment of man with God, and with all men in the Church founded by Christ.  It’s all there, even in the beginning of devotion to her under this new title, which began outside the Church with Fr. Paul Watson, an Anglican Franciscan.  Good Mother that she is, she led him and his community safely into the barque of Peter, and the Society of the Atonement, now Catholic, was committed more than ever to working for the unity for which Our Lord prayed at the Last Supper. 91 years later Saint John Paul II established the Pastoral Provision, providing a pathway for Episcopalian clerics coming into the Catholic Church to be ordained priests.  It was through this that the first parish named after Our Lady of the Atonement would come into being, founded by Fr. Christopher Phillips, one of the first priests to enter the Church and be ordained under the Pastoral Provision.  And thirty years later, just over 100 years after Fr Paul, Mother Lurana, and their companions were received corporately into the Church, Our Lady of Unity brought about another amazing miracle, when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated Anglicanorum Coetibus, making permanent what had been flourishing for the last thirty years with the Anglican Use liturgy.

Our Lady is certainly the Mother of Unity, and given a chance she brings home to her Son all who come to her.  This is why she is absolutely necessary for the New Evangelization, and especially for any ecumenical work.  You can’t bring the Body of Christ into unity by removing one of the most important members of Christ’s own family.  There’s an old legend which Sr. Grace Marie told me about, that it’s said England will return to the faith when pilgrims return to Walsingham [the famous Marian shrine destroyed by Henry VII].  Our Lady will bring about the return of England to the faith, and this she is already doing, even if it looks bleak.

Below is an excerpt from Cardinal Newman’s famous sermon on England’s “Second Spring”, which was preached July 13, 1852.  This is what I first read in Our Lady and Reunion so many years ago, and which has always stayed with me as a reason for hope.

Three centuries ago, and the Catholic Church, that great creation of God’s power, stood in this land in pride of place. It had the honours of near a thousand years upon it; it was enthroned in some twenty sees up and down the broad country; it was based in the will of a faithful people; it energized through ten thousand instruments of power and influence; and it was ennobled by a host of Saints and Martyrs…Mixed up with the civil institutions, with king and nobles, with the people, found in every village an in every town,–it seemed destined to stand, so long as England stood, and to outlast, it might be, England’s greatness….

The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. She can, in any time, at her Lord’s will, “inherit the Gentiles, and inhabit the desolate cities.”….”Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come.” It is the time for thy Visitation. Arise, Mary, and go forth in thy strength into that north country, which once was thine own, and take possession of a land which knows thee not. Arise, Mother of God, and with thy thrilling voice, speak to those who labour with child, and are in pain, till the babe of grace leaps within them. Shine on us, dear Lady, with thy bright countenance, like the sun in his strength, O stella matutina, O harbinger of peace, till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic brow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound or overwhelm, but to persuade, to win over thine enemies. O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfil to us the promise of this Spring.

…Can we religiously suppose that the blood of our martyrs, three centuries ago and since, shall never receive its recompense?…[I]n that day of trial and desolation for England, when hearts were pierced through and through with Mary’s woe, at the crucifixion of Thy body mystical, was not every tear that flowed, and every drop of blood that was shed, the seeds of a future harvest, when they who sowed in sorrow were to reap in joy?

You can read the entire sermon here.

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