The ‘Grand National’ was a day to remember, writes Ben Bradshaw
On 2 May 2022 the Shrine was delighted to host its first National Pilgrimage since 2019. 1071 days had gone by since pilgrims had last been able to come together to celebrate this joyful occasion: the National being a highlight in the diary of many a pilgrim!
The opening event of the National had in fact begun the previous night as ordinands from Mirfield, St Stephen’s House, and Emmanuel College gathered to spend a night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
On the day of the National itself, large numbers of pilgrims soon started to arrive and by the end of the morning, over 1000 had taken their place in the Abbey grounds while over 100 priests and bishops arrived in procession, ready to concelebrate the Mass.
It was good to see that our protester friends had not been caught out by the date change for this year (The National taking place in early May due to the Queen’s Jubilee) and came as always to voice their opinions. However, it was quite difficult to hear what they were saying as while the procession was passing them by, the faithful were at the same time and with great gusto also joyfully singing ‘Ladye of Walsingham! Be as thou hast been, England’s protectress, our Mother and our Queen’!
Throughout the day the serving team from St Alban’s, South Norwood, ably assisted with the various different liturgies of the National and it was also a joy to welcome the Principal Celebrant of the Mass for this year, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield.
It was exactly 100 years ago that the very first pilgrims returned to Walsingham under the guidance of the Shrine’s first Master of the Guardians, Fr Alfred Hope Patten. Therefore, it was most fitting that the preacher for this year was the current Master of the Guardians, the Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley.
In his homily, Bishop Philip spoke about that wonderful moment on 6th July 1922 when pilgrimage first returned to Walsingham:
On that day a small group of ardent young Anglo-Catholic priests have gathered in the Parish Church for a conference. Fr Archdale King, the Curate of St Saviour, Poplar, preaches a stirring homily. Then the Vicar, Fr Hope Patten, unveils his latest addition to the church building – a beautiful image of Our Lady of Walsingham, carved by the Carmelite ,Sister Catherine, in a workshop very close to the place in Chelsea where the original was burnt by that iniquitous tyrant King Henry VIII. Prayers are said, and then Fr Hope Patten places the image on the wall of the Guild Chapel. And for the first time for nearly 400 years there is once again a permanent place of pilgrimage on this holy ground.
Bishop Philip also reflected on the meaning of truth, something that is increasingly distorted in our modern society:
Truth is something that we are very confused about today as a culture and increasingly as a church. We confuse truth with opinion. We assume that truth is something that everybody needs to work out for themselves, and that everyone’s truth is therefore equal. We are each responsible for working out our own ethical framework and purpose and identity. And of course that is horribly stressful and exhausting because we have nothing concrete to fall back on. Everything becomes uncertain and negotiable. We have turned truth into a problem that we need to solve.
As he held that image of Our Lady of Walsingham high, Hope Patten was declaring that truth is not something we need to decide for ourselves. It is revealed to us in Mary’s child. It is not a problem we need to solve. It is a gift that we are invited to embrace, and in embracing it, find life.
And today we do exactly the same. Today we will hold high this same image of Mary, we will carry her on procession and seek the fellowship of Mary’s prayers. And as we do so, in a post-truth, fake-news world, we will declare the unchanging truth of her son, Jesus Christ.
In the space of just 100 years, Walsingham has been completely transformed and pilgrimage continues to flourish at England’s Nazareth. Next year the National Pilgrimage will take place on Monday 29 May 2023, and all are very welcome to attend, and if you do, then as Bishop Philip concluded in his homily, a pilgrimage to Walsingham will always present the opportunity to leave as a different person:
Don’t go home the same. Go home changed. Today, on this holy ground, offer your life to Jesus. Embrace afresh the truth of the Gospel. And then when you get back, tell someone. Find one person, maybe two, and tell them about the Jesus you have met here and truth you have found here.
Accept the truth of Jesus Christ. Live the truth of Jesus Christ. Declare the truth of Jesus Christ. And then the vision of Fr Hope Patten will indeed have been richly fulfilled. For through this Child of this precious, holy Mother we find the truth that sets us free. And in that truth we discover eternity. Amen.
Fr Ben Bradshaw SSC is the Shrine Priest at the Shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham.