Catholics are preparing for the historic rededication of England as "Mary's Dowry" in the hope that it will spur the re-evangelization of their country.
The English bishops decided to rededicate the country at a meeting in November 2017 and are now encouraging Catholics to pray the Angelus daily ahead of the March 29 National Day of Rededication.
The event involves English Catholics making a personal "Angelus promise" to God in union with the "yes" of Mary at the Annunciation.
The original dedication of England was carried out in 1381 by Richard II. With the title of "Mary's Dowry," the intention of Richard was that England and her people would be set aside for the special guidance and protection of Mary.
At noon March 29, communal acts of entrustment will be made in cathedrals, renewing the vows of dedication made by King Richard. Schools are invited to join the rededication March 30.
Pope Francis has supported the rededication by blessing an icon of Our Lady of Walsingham ahead of the event, and it will go on a permanent tour of English parishes. The devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham focuses on the Annunciation and the willingness of Mary to carry out the will of God.
The image by Amanda de Pulford, an English Catholic iconographer, was taken to Rome in mid-February for the blessing. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, told Catholic News Service the pope's blessing was "a great encouragement to us all as we prepare for March 29 and our act of rededication."
In a subsequent pastoral letter, Cardinal Nichols said: "There is much for us to learn about being the Dowry of Mary and the love which is expressed in that title. It is rich in history, even if not contemporary in language. I hope we can use these coming weeks to deepen our knowledge of this ancient and lovely devotion."
"Mary will always lead us to her Son," he added. "She will take us to him so that he can show us his love and mercy."
The Marian icon depicts Our Lady of Walsingham dressed in Anglo-Saxon clothing and holding up the child Jesus.
It includes the coat of arms of St. Edward the Confessor, an Anglo-Saxon patron saint of England, and it depicts Lady Richeldis de Faverches, who built a replica of the "holy house" of Nazareth in the English countryside following an apparition.
The image also shows a frog in the place of the serpent, following a traditionally old English telling of the book of Genesis.
The icon is made in a traditional way, using egg tempera on gesso mounted on a birch panel, before a layer of varnish was added for protection.
The original dedication of England as "Mary's Dowry" coincided with the growth of the Walsingham shrine into one of the major pilgrimage destinations of medieval Europe.
The original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was burned by Protestant reformers in the late 1530s, during the reign of Henry VIII, but the shrine was rebuilt on the same site in Norfolk by Catholics and Anglicans in the 19th century.