It seems that it is impossible to have a conversation about anything other than the Coronavirus pandemic at the moment. I’ve noticed that my own habit of turning to social media to relax has had its effect reversed, with it only streaming more anxious voices into my life.
And yet, as I write this, the phrase ‘Mother of God’ is trending on Twitter in the UK (with 3,771 tweets according to Twitter). They are pretty varied as tweets go. From sweeping response to the latest estimates of the spread of the virus, ‘Mother of God! These are scary figures. #coronapocolypse’ to those watching the stock market plunge and reacting ‘Trading has reopened and… Mother of god’, to the trivial, ‘Mother of God!!’ purely about the BBC suspending filming for, ‘Line of Duty’, a popular police drama here in Britain.
Simplest among them is, ‘”Mother of God” is trending from no particular source. That’s probably not good.’
Before the virus was dominating our lives though, here in England the Church was preparing for the Rededication of England to Mary, something with great historical significance, as it was first dedicated to her by King Richard II in 1381. The Rededication was always set to be and remains on March 29th. Now, however, the Rededication here has a sobering new context, as it becomes something deeply spiritual happening at a time of not just national but global crisis.
But even before Twitter decided to talk about her today, Mary has been a part of the coronavirus conversation for some time now. Over the last week, I have been following along as many of our faith leaders increasingly directed us towards Mary.
On Wednesday, March 11th, only two days after a national lockdown was imposed over Italy, a video message was broadcast of Pope Francis marking the Diocese of Rome’s day of prayer and fasting for the coronavirus emergency. This mostly consisted of Pope Francis, before the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love, asking for her intercession. Seventy-Five years ago, Pope Pius XII prayed before the same statue of Our Lady as Nazi troops withdrew from Italy during World War II. The Pope prayed, ‘We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick. At the foot of the Cross, you participated in Jesus’ pain, with steadfast faith.’
Two days after this, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a reflection and prayer from their president, Archbishop José H. Gomez, praying for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. Archbishop Gomez prayed, ‘Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas … We fly to you today as your beloved children. We ask you to intercede for us with your Son, as you did at the wedding in Cana.’
Then just the next day, last Saturday, Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Primate of All Ireland tweeted that on March 25th the whole of Ireland and its people are going to be consecrated ‘to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for protection from #coronavirus’ inviting his brother priests and bishops and all the faithful to join him.
Since then, on Tuesday the 17th of March, as the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes was closed for the first time in history, the Bishops of France called the French faithful to pray a Coronavirus novena to her. The prayer concludes, ‘Mary … we pray to you and entrust our lives to you at a time when so many men and of women fear for their health. Assist the sick and caregivers, welcome those who are dead, and be comfort for families’.
Pope Francis has since also made pilgrimage on foot through the empty streets of Rome to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, to offer a prayer to the Virgin Mary in her title of ‘Salus Populi Romani’, meaning health of salvation of the Roman people. Now on Thursday March 19th, he is calling the world to a global Rosary. I genuinely don’t think I have ever seen the Church talk more about Mary.
I’m sure there are more examples of Catholic leaders around the world turning to Mary in this historic moment so that was by no means an exhaustive list. But by the announcement of the consecration of Ireland just days ahead of the Rededication of England to Mary, I started to feel that there was something worth saying here.
Perhaps the only positive coming out of this crisis is a deep sense of unity, beyond even nations, a global sense that we are truly and unavoidable all in this thing together. In this spirit, it seems that Mary is uniting the Christian family. Although it can seem that Mary is a divisive figure between different denominations of Christians, in his book ‘Hail Holy Queen’ Dr Scott Hahn, a former former Presbyterian who converted to Catholicism, encourages us that without understanding Mary as our mother, we can never understand the fullness of the gospel message.
‘This is not something optional for Christians. It is not something ornamental in the gospel. Mary is – in a real, abiding, and spiritual sense – our mother. If we are to know the brotherhood of Jesus Christ, we must come to know the mother whom we share with Jesus Christ. Without her, our understanding of the gospel will be, at best, partial. Without her, our understanding of salvation can never be familial.’
It is worth noting too that Mary was given to us as a mother by Jesus at the foot of the cross. It was in the midst of excruciating pain that Jesus said to John his beloved disciple, ‘Behold your mother’, which has long been understood to extend Mary’s motherhood to all followers of Christ, to you and I today. We received Mary as our mother in a time of great suffering, and she is still here with us now, with her son who suffers with us.
In England we have special bragging rights on our history with Mary as in the Medieval days England was known as ‘the Dowry of Mary’ – meaning it had been given to her as a gift, set apart for her among the nations. Recently, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, our spiritual leader in England and Wales called us to bring the ‘Dowry of Mary’, our Marian heritage in England, to life. To play our part in this great living tradition in this time of struggle.
‘What can I contribute to that Dowry? It will be different for each one of us. It might be our patience, our dependency on God and on others that I can offer; Or, the skills and efforts of my work. Or I may make a special gift to her of my best attempts at prayer, or at the service I give to those in need. We are Mary’s Dowry! Please enrich that Dowry by offering to her the best that you can give. She will stretch her protective mantle over our land and over all who live here.’