Antonia Moffat reflects on the pilgrimage to Walsingham

3 08 2011

Here are the personal reflections of Antonia Moffat, the Pilgrimage organiser for the Pilgrimage of Reparation & Consecration to Walsingham, which this year was led by Mgr Keith Newton and attended by members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

This year’s Pilgrimage of Reparation & Consecration to Walsingham had the added grace of being led by Mgr. Keith Newton and heralded the first visit of the Ordinariate to its ‘Spiritual Home’ of Our Lady’s Shrine in Walsingham since its inauguration and foundation by His Holiness Pope Benedict XV1 on January 15th 2011.

This Pilgrimage in Walsingham was accompanied in a union of prayer and pilgrimages by the prayers of those attending similar pilgrimages in Marian Shrines through out the UK. For 18 years now these pilgrimages have taken place in July in commemoration of the Great Cross Carrying Pilgrimages to Walsingham of 1948 and the subsequent Act of Marian Consecration made by Cardinal Griffin and the Bishops of England and Wales on July 16th 1948 in the Priory Grounds in Walsingham.

I write this reflection as a cradle Catholic and as the one who had the privilege of organising this Pilgrimage on behalf of the Ordinariate. The themes at all the Shrines this year reflected the prophetic and visionary gesture of Pope Benedict XVI and it was with thanksgiving and deep gratitude to God that we set the Mass Intention: ‘In Thanksgiving for the graces of the State Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the British Isles and for the Foundation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman.’ Pope Benedict himself chose the name of the Ordinariate and as one present in Westminster Cathedral when it was announced I could not help but draw a parallel with the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII when he signed the re-script for the re foundation of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in 1897 – ‘When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England’. In this moment my entire body was alive with awe, gratitude and deep awareness of the continuity of grace and prayer of intercession of successive Popes in their love and concern for England, Mary’s Dowry. The naming of the Church’s very first Ordinariate demonstrated the Holy Father’s profound understanding and acknowledgment of Our Lady of Walsingham’s evangelistic, missionary and reconciling role for the Conversion and Re-evangelisation of these Isles and beyond and for Christian Unity.

Saturday the 16th arrived with torrential rains, thunder storms and cloud bursts amidst surprising arrays of glorious sunshine. I was aware that my carefully worked out programme for the pilgrimage would need to be flexible and adapt to the very changeable weather conditions. This was the lot of the organizers at the other shrines too. ‘Man proposes and God disposes!!’

By 11 am the scenes in the Chapel of Our Lady of Reconciliation in Walsingham were a joy to witness. A Walsingham wide flower festival ensured that the Chapel was adorned flowers from floor to ceiling and it has never looked more beautiful. A festival of flowers enshrining the glory and welcome of God and his Holy mother provided the back drop of welcome for the Ordinariate.

Groups belonging to the Ordinariate and other pilgrims were beginning to arrive. The big difference from previous years was that we had 30+ priests newly ordained for the Ordinariate and 4 Diocesan Priests who were to concelebrate the Pilgrimage Mass. The congregation too was made up of the many hundreds of Ordinariate members who were recently received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. What a sight – and for me so moving – as but for the faith and visionary prayer of Pope Benedict, their presence would have been unthinkable even a year ago. How can any of us fathom the mind of God or the gifts he has in store for us? I had 7 priests to hear Confessions before Mass – a thing unheard of (sadly) at Our Lady’s Shrine usually! And the silence and the prayer of the priests and people as they in contemplation prepared for Mass was commented upon by many and deeply touched me. What a witness of profound prayer and Christian expectation!

The Procession of clergy begun to wend its way to the altar and what a sight of so many concelebrants….all in white chasubles– the Ordinariate in their own – a gift from the Holy Father himself and the other priests in those of Our Lady’s Shrine. A new springtime, a new hope for the Church and Our Lady’s Shrine here in Walsingham shone forth as each priest kissed the altar. Fr. Alan Williams, the Director of the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady here in Walsingham extended to the Ordinariate a warm and heartfelt welcome.

Mass began with the rousing hymn of Immortal, Invisible, God only wise…..which set the scene for the wonderful singing of the Pilgrimage Day. This is but one of the great gifts of the Anglican Patrimony which Pope Benedict has invited us to honour through the embracement of the Ordinariate. How great it was to hear too the sound of so many male voices in complementarity with the female ones! It seems there was a balance and cohesion in the singing which one rarely experiences. It was spiritually strengthening and personally affirming to behold the wonder of this. Mgr Newton read out the Papal Blessing in which Pope Benedict affirmed his spiritual closeness to our themes of prayer for bishops and priests, whilst also making reparation for the sins of disunity in the Church, and in reparation for the breakdowns in family life and peace among nations. Pope Benedict particularly invited us, in accordance to our Baptismal calling and mission, to be examples of faith in public, but also to put the case for the promotion of faith’s wisdom and vision in the public forum…’

The Mass setting was that of the Missa de Angelis and the Mass was that of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The Gospel was beautifully intoned in plainchant form by Deacon James Bradley from Sevenoaks. His voice enabled the words of the Gospel to penetrate our hearts in a deep way. Mgr. Newton gave a powerful sermon on the significance of the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel for today and movingly affirmed for us the importance of the intercessory role of Our Lady for these times. His words reflected his own faith, love and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary. He spoke with prayerful humility, perception, faith, clarity and Christian hope. The thanksgiving and gratitude to God for the graces received of coming into full communion and of the graces of his Ordination to the Catholic priesthood were tangible to me in all that he said and in every gesture.

I led the bidding prayers; the same ones used at all the other uniting shrines. It was my privilege to be able to bring all the themes of our pilgrimage before the Lord at this moment in the Mass. My heart was bursting with joyous thanks and my especial love for the Holy Father in this moment knew no bounds.

The Offertory Procession was led by the sisters of the Ordinariate and with the usual bread and wine they also presented a box containing the names of thousands of Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lollards, Huguenots, Quakers, people known and unknown, men and women, who down the ages who had given their life for their love of Jesus and their Christian beliefs and faith. There were thousands more of martyrs of more recent centuries. This was a symbolic gesture of remembrance to include everyone of what ever Christian background. As Catholics it is so easy for us to remember our own and for Protestants to remember their own….but do we ever in love and humility remember everyone?

The moment of consecration when bread and wine became the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ was all the more poignant and contemplative for me as I was in union with the profound gratitude of the Ordinariate priests concelebrating saying Mass as a body here at Our Lady’s Shrine …their spiritual home! It was as if the entire court of heaven was celebrating and the Halleluiah Chorus was crescendo-ing in both my ears and heart! What more can I say! A Mass of thanksgiving and joy that I personally will never forget. Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias! Deo Gratias!

The deluge of rain continued which meant we had to rearrange the programme and sadly make the decision not to process with the Blessed Sacrament into Priory Grounds. A great coming down to earth after the spiritual heights of the Mass just celebrated!

Lunch was had by all huddled under umbrellas or huddled in numerous coaches, mini buses and cars. Memories of the Papal Mass in Cofton Park of the Beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman came to my mind…as we had spent several hours through the night into the early hours experiencing the same torrential rain!

Following the lunch break we had a time of gentle Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The altar was adorned with candles and supported by two beautiful angels and Jesus was enthroned amidst the glory of candles and flowers. However the greatest joy of his Eucharistic Heart was the love he received from each pilgrim’s heart in these precious moments of adoration and contemplation of his presence among us. Sweet Sacrament of Peace, dear home of every heart! Mgr. Newton led us in acts of Adoration of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in acts of Reparation for sins of dishonour of the Holy Eucharist and for disunity among Christians and in acts of Intercession for the grace of Christian Unity, peace in family life and in the world.

A profound moment followed when we prayed ‘Father we have sinned against Heaven and against You and we no longer deserve to be called your children..’ This was followed by a haunting ‘Lord Have Mercy’. In this moment we acknowledged before God our sin as a Church, and as individual Christians which have led to the disunity we know sadly so well in our time. Sometimes we just need to say it as it is…. excuses are meaningless and who did what …we live with the reality in today’s church…and only God’s Mercy and grace will bring us to the day when ‘All may be one’ as Jesus himself so lovingly prayed.

Solemn Benediction followed and we were then ready to pray the Act of Consecration of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and the whole World to Our Lady of Walsingham, the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Within this Act of Consecration, the Personal Ordinariate was specifically consecrated to Our Lady of Walsingham, the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I personally expect and believe in faith, that this Act of Faith in the intercessory power of Our Lady of Walsingham as the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary will bring God’s choicest blessings and graces upon the Ordinariate.

Pope Benedict himself had recently encouraged us to make our own the Acts of Consecration of his predecessors. He said, ‘I believe that now it is important to internalize this act, to let ourselves be penetrated, and to bear it in ourselves…At the moment it seems more important to me to live it, to make it real, to enter into this entrusting so that it might truly be our own…’(Good Friday Question Time 2011)

An Act of Consecration of a Country or Group is an Act of Faith in the power of God and the intercession of his holy Mother rather than in the resources of man. Mgr. Newton led this Act of Consecration before the Icon of Our Lady of Walsingham with all his priests (like a flock of angels) kneeling behind him and pilgrims all kneeling behind.

This Act of Consecration was based on the momentous Consecration and previous ones led by Blessed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on March 25th 1984. This Act of Consecration heralded momentous changes across Europe and within the Church as a whole. Blessed John Paul II was a giant of a Pope and man of faith…and his trust in the intercessory power of Our Lady and his deep love of Her as his heavenly Mother were what touched the Father’s heart to dispense the graces to bring down the Iron Curtain, the Fall of Communism and hence allow 40 million people plus to come to know Our Lady as The Queen of Peace in Medjugorje. Only in Heaven will we all come to understand why these acts of Marian Entrustment are so important.

Mgr. Newton by leading us in this Act of Consecration, united with all those priests and pilgrims at the other Shrines, will have been the instrument Our Lord and his Sorrowful Mother needed to dispense much grace for the Dioceses, Ordinariate, Parishes and peoples of our Isles for these times. The Act of Consecration was completed with rousing singing of the hymn Lady of Walsingham – Come back, O Mary, Come back to England, Back to your Dowry, this Island so fair.

As we were singing the rain stopped and the Shrine was suddenly bathed in a moment of sunshine! And so the preparations for our Rosary Procession along the Pilgrims’ Way were begun! Our destination was to be the Shrine Church of the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. As we prepared we sung with great joy Newman’s Praise to the Holiest in the Height and then in special thanksgiving to Pope Benedict XVI for inaugurating the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham we sang God Bless our Pope using the new words of the famous hymn of Nicholas, Cardinal Wiseman reworked by Joanna Bogle. I have never heard this hymn sung with such vigour and gratitude as I did today! Amazing…and Mgr. Newton later told me that it was the first time any of them had ever sung it…you would never have known! I am sure that the hymn reached the very ears of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. I was shaking inside as I sung it so great was my thanks…which the words of this hymn gave volume and heart to!

Mgr. Newton led us in our Rosary procession. We followed the Processional Cross, the Divine Mercy Image, the Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, Images of Blessed John Henry Newman & Blessed John Paul II, a Relic of St. Faustina and the box of names of the many martyrs down the ages.

Along the way of this Pilgrimage preparation I discovered that along side the Catholic Martyrs who were put to death for their faith and beliefs here in Walsingham – Sub Prior Canon Nicholas Myleham and layman Thomas Gisborough in 1538 – there was a Protestant Farm Labourer – William Allen – who was put to death for his faith and beliefs in 1555. I was led to have a Mass said in my parish for William Allen and to bring him to the attention of the Community memory here in Walsingham. Somehow his memory has been excluded and for healing at a deeper level to take place among Christians perhaps we need in some way to honour those of all Christian denominations who were put to death for daring to believe differently than others? ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Deuteronomy 5) is still as true today as it was then and perhaps reparation and repentance needs to be undertaken?

Only the Church in her wisdom and discernment has the grace from God to declare actual martyrdom… it was with these thoughts in mind that we carried the names of many thousands of men and women who died for their faith and beliefs down the centuries to the present day. I am certain that the inclusion of all these people and of those declared martyrs by the Church invited an intercessory grace to our Pilgrimage which was spiritually very efficacious.

Our procession was joyous, praying the Joyful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries interspersed with many well known Marian Hymns. As we reached Walsingham High Street we sang the Walsingham Ave, Ave and throngs of curious villagers and pilgrims alike were there to welcome us and sing with us.

With great anticipation and joy we entered through the arched entrance of the Anglican Shrine – the very same entrance in October of 2009 the Relics of St. Therese – patroness of the Missions – passed through upon their brief visitation – and for many of the Ordinariate I think this was the moment of true Home Coming to their Spiritual Home in Walsingham. This was where their faith had so often been nourished, where they had come to find solace and time set aside with the Lord and his Blessed Mother and where they could find rest and refreshment in the heart of Mary in her Holy House of Nazareth.

As we processed into the Shrine Church the Aves became stronger as a bouquet of thank giving rose up to the Heavens. The Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Reconciliation was in view – enthroned on the altar of Light in the centre of the Shrine Grounds – this Pilgrim Statue blessed by Pope John Paul II on September 24th 1997 – had been returned to Walsingham especially for this Pilgrimage. It embodies the reconciling mission of Our Lady of Walsingham for the Church and peoples of these Isles.

On entrance to the Shrine Church a most moving embrace was given by Bishop Lindsay Urwin & Fr. Stephen Gallagher – Administrator & Sub Administrator of the Anglican Shrine – to Mgr. Keith Newton and all the members of the Ordinariate.

Bishop Lindsay was so moved he could hardly speak and many in the church wiped away hidden and not so hidden tears. Bishop Lindsay’s welcome to the Pilgrimage and the Ordinaraite was open, heartfelt and joyous. As a pilgrimage group we all felt so at home. Our Lady of Walsingham was enthroned before us with the image of Divine Mercy, and those of Blessed John Henry Newman, Blessed John Paul II & St. Faustina prominent too. Bishop Lindsay then invited all the clergy to join him in same Act of Reparation for the sins of disunity in the Church as had been led by Mgr. Newton in the Catholic Shrine. It seemed to have more poignance and depth because now we were praying it as Christians together mindful of the tens of thousands of Christians of all denominations who had lost there lives throughout the centuries for their beliefs and faith.

We pray in Reparation for the sins of disunity within the Church. Each for our own sins and the sins of our own churches down the centuries against the Unity for which Christ himself prayed. We again prayed the powerful words of the Prodigal Son as he returned to his Father’s house: ‘Father we have sinned against Heaven and against You and we no longer deserve to be called your children.’ This was followed by a haunting ‘Lord Have Mercy’. Then together we prayed the Prayer of Jesus from St. John’s Gospel… ‘May they all be one Father….’

Bishop Lindsay and Fr Stephen then led us in the Healing Service of Sprinkling which is part of the Anglican patrimony and tradition which all pilgrims to the Anglican Shrine experience. How beautiful it was for Bishop Lindsay to invite many of the Ordinariate priests and sisters to be part of the leading of this. They of course needed no instructions as it was something they had led many times when they came on Pilgrimage to Our Lady’s Shrine. ‘May Almighty God, at the intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, grant you health and peace. Amen.’

The moment of farewell and thank you came and the tangible prayer and gratitude literally hung in the air as an incensed mantle of fragrant flowers and praise which I like to imagine angels carried to Heaven to present before the very Throne of God! As this unfolded we sang the great hymn in honour of Our Blessed Lady, Our Lady of Walsingham: Daily, daily sing to Mary.

Yes I had prepared this Pilgrimage for the greater honour and glory of God but in my heart deeply was the great gratitude I have for our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in giving the Church the gift of the Ordinariate for these times. I remembered clearly some of the final exhortations from Pope Benedict in Oscott College at the end of his State Visit last September – he asked us to embrace the new translation of the Roman Missal and to be generous in implementing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. I hope that we have all begun to play our part in responding to these heartfelt calls of the Holy Father? God Bless our Pope!

This 18th Pilgrimage of Reparation and Consecration more than ever has shown me of the need for one Shrine here in Walsingham. Unity is not an option here in Walsingham; it is a necessity if the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII is to come to fulfilment: ‘When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England’.

The Ordinariate, I am sure, are in some way, to be a bridge to this Unity. Yet on both Catholic and Anglican sides there is much resistance and misunderstanding as to why Pope Benedict XVI has prophetically inaugurated the Ordinariate for our times. In preparing for this Pilgrimage I felt this tension and paradox deeply in my own heart and amongst many I was in contact with. Our Lady of Reconciliation only yesterday morning showed me something which I humbly share with you.

My ancestry is a mixture of Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Jewish and Pagan faiths. There has in some of the generations past, been particular antipathy between Catholics and Anglicans. To some extent I have held that within myself too, albeit unconsciously. In the run up to the Pilgrimage I began to see more and more that I needed to repent of my sins which have caused disunity within the Church. I have learnt through this Pilgrimage a deeper understanding of what Pope Benedict means by honouring and respecting Anglican Patrimony and this has been a very humbling experience for me. I have seen for myself the great giftedness, faith and spirituality of the Ordinariate members. I have experienced the human cost and the humility it has taken for the members of the Ordinariate both priests and laity alike to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. I suddenly saw that at some level I have not been respecting the traditions of the Anglo Catholics and Anglicans and in some way saw myself as better than them. To this extent perhaps this is why some only have to see me and they feel a pressure to convert! How uncomfortable is that! Only God knows the mind and heart of each individual person and each person before God has their own journey to make and He will lead them.

I have experienced here in Walsingham for many years how both Shrines are limping because of the sin of Christian disunity. On a wider level Blessed John Paul II spoke of his deep desire for the healing of the Catholic Church with the Orthodox Church and saw them as the two lungs of the Church. Here in Walsingham we have two Shrines of Our Lady of Walsingham and they perhaps represent the two lungs of Our Lady’s one Shrine?

For the first time since organising Pilgrimages here in Walsingham in 1994, the Pilgrimage invited usage for prayer, venues at both the Roman Catholic Shrine and the Anglican Shrine, and for me in some way the Pilgrimage felt more complete and fulfilled because of this.

More than ever, here in Walsingham, my prayer now is that we need one united Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham embracing both Catholic and Anglican patrimonies and traditions of devotional prayer and pilgrimage practice. Only then can the prophecy of Pope Leo XIII begin to become a reality: ‘When England goes back to Walsingham, Our Lady will come back to England’.

I leave you with part of Pope Benedict’s final exhortation on the subject. The Pope told us that the Ordinariate ‘should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics.’ He further said, ‘It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all. Let us continue to pray and work unceasingly in order to hasten the joyful day when that goal can be accomplished.’

O Sorrowful & Immaculate Heart of Mary, Our Lady of Walsingham, Mother of Reconciliation, pray for us.