The fourth annual Latin Mass Society pilgrimage to Walsingham took place last weekend (the 23rd to the 25th of August) and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. My boss is totally used to me harping on about Catholicism and pilgrimages and Venerable Fulton Sheen and given that I had done some overtime, I was allowed time off to attend this pilgrimage. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to it. I would sit in church in the weeks preceding the pilgrimage and just long to be on pilgrimage, witnessing an old rite mass. That’s not to say that I don’t love mass, no matter what form it’s in (because it is a chance to be with Our Lord), that I don’t appreciate that the mass is valid and that it fulfils my Sunday obligation, but, as I’ve said before, often it just makes me sad and I don’t enjoy staring at the ground, pretending that the ‘Eucharistic Ministers’ are not slurping away at the Precious Blood. I feel terribly guilty about this sometimes when I consider all those persecuted Catholics who cannot get to mass and here I am moaning about abuses in Novus Ordo masses, but it’s just not right and I don’t think it’s wrong to lament that awful situation, though I should appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to get to mass at all.
Anyway, Walsingham did not disappoint this year! It was so much fun from start to finish and I wish it could have gone on for much longer (I was well into post-pilgrimage blues about an hour after leaving the mini bus to go home). See the full set of photos from the pilgrimage here.
I travelled up to London as soon as I had finished work on the Wednesday (they always start walking on the Friday morning of the Bank Holiday weekend) and stayed the night with a very kind friend of mine who was also walking the pilgrimage (we had been texting each other about this pilgrimage for oh, I don’t know….3 months! Basically, we had been talking about this since we finished Chartres in May!). With a bit of a trek with our giant rucksacks and numerous other bags full of snacks we made it to St Bede’s, Clapham Park, to catch the mini bus. There we met (for the first time) someone who has become one of my favourite priests ever: Fr Michael Rowe, who had come all the way from Perth to do the pilgrimage. This is the sort of priest you have always wanted to meet: he is traditional and totally orthodox whilst being funny and laid back (well, he is Australian, so it almost goes without saying…), very importantly he wears a cassock at all times (except when he’s playing Aussie rules rugby! Yes, that’s right, he has played about 300 games and broken all his fingers playing rugby, all while he’s been a priest as he entered seminary at the age of 17!), he is totally open to talking about controversial subjects that other priests shy away from e.g. what it was like being in seminary and being traditional and he just made you feel that you could talk to him about anything, which is a part (though, of course, not the main part) of what priests are for, I suppose. So often, I feel like a burden when I ask a priest about something. Almighty Father, You did good with this one. To anyone reading this, please pray for this priest.
Now, all the priests on this pilgrimage were awesome and I’m not just saying that because if I didn’t like them, I would just saying nothing. Really though, you couldn’t hope for better priests than Fr John Cahill, Fr Thomas Crean and Fr Bede Rowe. I mean, any priest who will walk 55 miles in a cassock through sun, wind and rain is going to be pretty special, do you know what I mean? They celebrate the old mass and then they go on pilgrimage with us, celebrate mass along the way, hear our confessions, give us spiritual advice and share a few pints with us down the pub. I’m not sure what else you could ask for? Well, you couldn’t ask for more but God did give us more because on top of all that they’re kind, funny, approachable and extremely learned priests. Spoilt we were, spoilt!
To get back to the pilgrimage, it was everything it was last year (and last year was excellent, hence why I returned) except there were more people and we had better weather, which makes such a difference. I also feel like the mood of the pilgrimage was even better. We had 3 seminarians with us and more families than last year, I think. There were some people from last year but also lots of new faces and of course one of the best things about any gathering like this is meeting other people who think like you and being reminded that you are not alone. I think it’s quite good to be around Catholics who think you’re a nutcase because it does not do to get too comfortable. It’s important for us to remember that gold is tested in the fire and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation (Ecclesiasticus 2:5). Nonetheless, it is nice to get a little ‘boost’ every now and again…we are only human after all.
For me, it was physically easier than last year. I think Chartres is quite tough but this is not a bad pilgrimage as a sort of introduction (as it was for me last year) to pilgrimages (and you neeeed to be doing pilgrimages. I don’t know how Catholics get through life without them!). I don’t think that I’m any fitter than I was last year but two things I did do this year which were vital to the maintenance of blister-free feet (yep!) were buying Smart Wool Socks (worth every penny) and getting fitted with a proper pair of walking boots. Do not skimp on these things!
Of course, the walking was tiring but that is sort of the point. This is not supposed to be easy, but as I pointed out last year, you have a goal in mind and that is the conversion of England and Wales.
Mass at the Slipper Chapel at the end of the pilgrimage on the morning before we left to go to home was particularly magnificent. All the chairs had been removed from the chapel so that we could get the maximum number of people in and Fr Michael Rowe had a good number of servers with him for mass.
I wish everyday could be a pilgrimage like this one but unfortunately we have to go back to daily life and that is a pilgrimage of its own, isn’t it. Everyday is a struggle and if you try your best to keep God’s commandments, you are a (albeit imperfect) witness to God’s truth. One of the best moments was when we walked the Holy Mile barefoot, carrying banners, flags and Our Lady of Walsingham whilst singing the rosary and hearing it reverberating around the village. We saw two nuns (probably Anglicans actually) who looked as if they might die of joy they were so happy to see us. That was wonderful. Moments like that are so rare but the real challenge is to make our lives as striking as we were that day when we were all together and spiritually strengthened by the pilgrimage. It’s so tempting to think that we are unimportant, living our mundane lives, and to feel as if we are not achieving much at all, but we are. As Blessed John Henry Newman famously wrote,
“I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling”
We have our boosts through pilgrimages, now we must go out and use this extra energy to live our Faith to the full!