As I write, the first pilgrims of the 2019 pilgrimage season are arriving at the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and the clergy and staff are looking forward to welcoming the many thousands of pilgrims and visitors who will come to this holy place during the coming months.
Every year, a particular theme is chosen to help guide our thoughts and reflections as pilgrims. The theme this year is “Do whatever he tells you”. These are the words spoken by Mary the Mother of Jesus to the stewards at the wedding in Cana. St John’s Gospel records the famous occasion when, at a wedding feast, there was not enough wine for the guests. Mary takes this need to Jesus and in response he performs the first of his miracles or ‘signs’. The water contained in six huge water jars was turned into wine. By this sign, John says, “Christ’s glory was revealed and his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11).
Mary is presented by St John on that day in Cana as a teacher and intercessor: she urges the stewards to do what Jesus commands and she makes known to him the needs of others.
Every pilgrim is invited to learn from Mary how to listen to God’s Word and is challenged to do whatever he tells us in our daily lives. Mary also teaches us how to pray and to intercede for those in need. Prayer is at the heart of the Shrine’s work and ministry. Ever since the Shrine was restored by Fr Hope Patten nearly 100 years ago, Shrine Prayers have been offered every single day for the sick, the dying, the troubled and the bereaved, for the needs of the world and of our nation and for many other intentions.
Mary’s words to the stewards are words of wisdom and they are words we can trust. They are spoken to all who come to her Shrine; and she helps us by her example and prayers to find joy and peace in doing whatever the Lord asks of us, so that like her we may see his glory and believe in him.
The coming season includes a number of significant and historic events.
The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey have invited the Shrine to share in a day of celebration in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham on Saturday 4th May. The Image of Our Lady of Walsingham will be welcomed at the Great West Doors of the Abbey by the Dean of Westminster and Guardians of the Shrine at the 11 am Sung Eucharist (NB this will not be a concelebration). The preacher will be the Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley and Master of the Guardians. The day will include at 2pm a Lecture given by Professor Eamon Duffy and at 5pm Solemn Evensong sung by the Abbey Choir. The preacher will be Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation. Tickets (free of charge) are required for entry to the Abbey; click here to request tickets. All are welcome to share in this celebration of faith with Our Lady of Walsingham at the heart of our nation.
The National Pilgrimage on Monday 27th May is a wonderful day of devotion and fellowship as pilgrims from all over the country gather at Our Lady’s Shrine. The outdoor Mass begins at 12 noon celebrated in the grounds of the ruined Abbey, followed by a picnic lunch and then at 2.30 pm the Sermon and Procession of Our Lady of Walsingham through the streets of the village. The preacher this year will be His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby. The Shrine looks forward to welcoming him and many other pilgrims to this special pilgrimage.
The Youth Pilgrimage (Monday 29th July – Friday 2nd August) is another highlight of the season. Hundreds of young pilgrims and their leaders spend four nights camping in a field just outside the village, but it is very much a pilgrimage to the Shrine, with Mass celebrated every day and lively teaching of the Christian faith led by Bishop Philip North. The Shrine now offers the option of on-site catering which means for those who take it up no more shopping, cooking or washing-up! Further details are available on the Shrine website.