Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Annunciation and Walsingham

The Pynson Ballad (an extract of which appears below) relates that Our Lady asked Richeldis to build the Chapel in Walsingham ‘where shall he had in memorial the great joys of my salutation.’ The picture of Mary listening and responding to God’s call coming to her through the angel has inspired art and poetry throughout the ages, and a spirituality which is at the heart of the Faith. When a devout woman in the crowd, overcome with the preaching of Jesus, raised her voice to shower praise on his mother, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked,’ Jesus recalled her to the secret of his mother’s blessedness, and invited her to share it. ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ (Luke 11:27-28).

A little earlier in the Gospel Jesus had commented, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put into practice.’ (Luke 8:21). Mary exemplifies all the faithful who respond to the call of the prophets to ‘hear the Word of the Lord.’ The Shrine at Walsingham exists to recall Mary’s total surrender to the word and will of God, and her willingness to believe it. Pilgrims come to Walsingham to share in this, and many seek the will of God to find their vocation or a new direction in life.

It was Mary’s attentiveness to God, and her obedience, that made possible the incarnation of the Son of God. The Word was made flesh in her, but in as much as she is our pattern, the Word is made flesh, in a sense, in all believers. Through the ‘incarnate’ life of Jesus, God entered into the world and is visibly seen by those with eyes to see him, especially amongst the sick, the poor, the rejected and the ‘sinners’. Nowhere is the incarnation more visible than in the lives of men and women who hear and respond, as did the first disciples, to the call to ‘leave everything behind and follow him.’ Some Jesus calls to sell everything they own and give to the poor. Others respond to his call to leave ‘house, wife, brothers, parents of children.’ (Luke 18:29). Unsurprisingly, Geoffrey de Favarches wanted a community of men, who lived this kind of life, to care for his mother’s Chapel in Walsingham. For centuries there were Augustinian canons in Walsingham, and Franciscans, till all were swept away. But they were bound by the power of this place to come back.

A noble widow, sometime lady of this town,
Called Rychold, of full virtuous life,
Desired of Our Lady a petition
To honour her with some work bounteous,
This blessed virgin and lady most gracious
Granted her petition, as I shall after tell,
Unto her worship to edify this chapel.

In spirit our Lady to Nazareth led her
And showed her the place where Gabriel greeted her:
‘Lo daughter consider’ Our Lady said to her,
‘Of this place take accurately the measurement
And another like this at Walsingham set
To my praise and singular honour;
All that beseech me there shall find help.

Where shall be held in memory
The great joy of my annunciation,
The first of my joys ground and original
Cause of mankind’s gracious redemption,
When Gabriel announced to me
To be a mother through humility,
And God’s son conceive in virginity.’

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

Picture: panel of engraved glass, designed by Sally Scott, in the Chapel of Reconciliation.
Text © St Pauls Publishing, taken from Walsingham: Pilgrims and Pilgrimage by Fr Michael Rear.