History was made on Saturday, when a woman who risked her life to practice her Catholic faith in 17th century Protestant England and was then imprisoned for being a heretic by the Catholic Church, was honoured by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at a special Mass in Westminster Cathedral.
In December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mary Ward to be 'venerable', the first step on the path to canonisation.
More than 1,200 people, including Catholic and Anglican bishops, MPs, the Mayor of Westminster and the Deputy Mayor of St Omer in France attended the service celebrating Mary Ward and the 400th Jubilee of the Congregation of Jesus (CJ) and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IVBM) which she founded.
During his homily, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said Mary Ward "was truly a woman of Europe" equally at home in Austria, Italy and France.
Mary Ward walked to Rome three times. "Picture her shoes" Archbishop Vincent said. "You can tell a good deal about a woman from her shoes. Hers were tough and durable, in soft leather which fitted her individuality," Archbishop Vincent said.
Praising her 'glorious vision', Archbishop Vincent said that Mary made three spiritual journeys in her life. Her first was to discern what God wanted her to do. Her next journey was to live closely to God - her motto was 'Go close to him'. Her final journey was into the church, Archbishop Vincent said. In spite of suffering great difficulties, he said, Mary always showed loving respect for the Pope.
Dr Rowan Williams also paid tribute to Mary Ward. In his address, he said: "Mary Ward’s stubborn courage in following her calling through the most difficult of circumstances has, over the centuries, made a massive difference to the lives of countless people throughout the world, especially women.
"At a time when so many pressures combined to encourage the Church to retrench and to avoid risks, she kept a door open for a gospel-based vision for the renewal of religious life. Critical, loyal, brave and imaginative, she is a figure for all Christians to celebrate with gratitude."
Speaking of her 'Eucharistic simplicity', Dr Williams said Mary Ward's influence on the Church was like that of the Desert Fathers, St Francis of Assisi, and Theresa of Avila and even some Reformation figures disapproved of by the Catholic Church, who helped to bring renewal.
Her "verity, sincerity and transparency" had been seen as dangerous at the time. Mary Ward had actually tried to visit the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams noted. He was out but she scratched letters on a window pane of Lambeth Palace,
Dr Williams said that as a "divided and confused church" we must pray for renewed simplicity. "The more we worry about shortages of vocations to religious life the less we will be renewed." he concluded - to loud applause.
Choirs and musicians from St Mary's Ascot, St Mary's Cambridge, St Mary's Shaftsbury and Loreto College St Alban's performed during the Mass.
During the Offertory there was procession of pupils in historic costume carrying symbolic gifts to show what women have done through the centuries since Mary Ward's time: Mary carrying a pilgrim staff; Jane Austen with a book for the gift of education; Florence Nightingale, who laid the foundations of modern nursing carrying a lamp and a Land Army girl carrying a hat for the gift of service.
At the end of the Mass, Sr Jane Livesey, CJ, Provincial Superior, said: "At last the prophet has been honoured in her own country."
Note: Later this week we shall be publishing the text of Archbishop Nichol's homily and the address by Dr Williams.
Tags: Mary Ward
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