Companions’ June Pilgrimage to Walsingham

On Friday 3 June, nine Companions and Friends travelled from Yorkshire, Lancashire, Aberdeenshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex and Washington DC to join Brother Philip and organiser Geoff for four days of spiritual renewal at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk.

In glorious sunshine we all gathered together at 4.15pm to renew friendships before making our way to the Shrine Chapel where before the Altar of the Annunciation we made our “First Visit”. This was followed by Mass and Evening Prayer. It was wonderful to experience the quiet beauty of the Shrine Church and to visit the Holy House with an opportunity to light a candle and pray at the feet of our Blessed Lady Mary. Feeling full of spirituality we made our way to the refectory for supper where we had a lovely meal and met up with other friends. No matter when you go to Walsingham, there is always someone you know there! After supper some went to join the Sisters at the Priory for Compline, then it was soon time for the obligatory evangelising in the local hostelry (The Bull). Well, someone has to do it!

Saturday dawned another glorious sunny day, with the opportunity for 7.30am Mass followed by breakfast. Then we met up in the Shrine Church at 10am for Stations of the Cross, having been joined by Companions from East Anglia. Praying the Stations of the Cross is always a poignant reminder of why we are Christians and why we wear a cross on a chain around our neck; it is a daily reminder that our Heavenly Father sent his only beloved  Son, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, down to earth to suffer and to die for us, to wash away our sins and offer us an opportunity of eternal happiness. The Stations at Walsingham are exceptional and, with the glorious grounds and flowers, make you really feel that you are walking with our Lord Jesus on his journey to the cross. When you arrive at the three tall wooden crosses on the hill and fall to your knees to venerate the centre cross you feel the amazing love and incomparable sacrifice made for us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

He came to pay a debt that he did not owe, because I owed a debt that I could not pay.

After lunch, the afternoon was free and as it was such a lovely sunny day some went shopping and some walked with Brother Philip down to the Slipper chapel where they were fortunate to enjoy Benediction in Latin in the Roman Catholic Church. Concelebrated Mass was held at 6pm in the Shrine church; the church was full and the atmosphere was peaceful and spiritual. After supper, as dusk fell, we entered the church at 8.15pm to have our candles lit for the Processions of Our Lady. The image of Our Lady was carried out on a dais preceded by the Cross bearer and our own Companion Bill from Washington DC, the thurifer and acolites. We all followed  bearing our torches, singing the Walsingham hymn, raising our torches for the “Ave Maria”! Nowhere else but at Walsingham can you experience this little touch of heaven as you walk the snaked path through the gardens. We returned to the Shrine for the wonderful Ministries of Healing and Reconciliation before the Blessed Sacrament. It was an evening of emotion and spiritual beauty and I think I speak for everyone there that we all went to bed full of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday morning the tone was set for the day when, during breakfast, we were all force fed by mobile phone Fr Nicolas’s sermon from Mirfield by a Companion who wishes to be anonymous (sorry Kevin!). After breakfast we all met in the Holy House for intercessions. We had the Holy House to ourselves so it was wonderful to hear all our petitions brought forward by Brother Philip as we prayed for our own concerns and for the sick known to us. Then we strolled up to St Mary’s parish church for 11am Mass, taking the scenic route. We had a lovely service in a packed church celebrated by the new Bishop of Richborough, Fr Norman Banks, which gave us a hearty appetite for Sunday lunch, in the refectory, of roast beef followed by apple pie!

After lunch we said goodbye to our friend from across the pond, Bill from Washington, with fond hopes of a meeting next year. Time for a brief siesta before the Sprinkling service at 2.30pm. This is possibly the MOST moving service held at Walsingham; the Holy Water from the Holy Well is one of the main reasons for the Shrine being there. I believe that the Holy Spirit is present as pilgrims go in silence to drink the water and have the sign of the Cross placed on their foreheads as a remembrance of Baptism. This was followed by the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, a particular personal favourite. Who can fail to be filled with spiritual love and joy as the Blessed Sacrament is brought down inside the spectacular Monstrance with the Holy House at the base and then to process behind the Priest holding the Monstrance under the amazing gold brocade parasol? Truly this is an extraordinary spiritual experience Walsingham pilgrims can enjoy.

On return to the Shrine we experienced Benediction. To sit in the church and gaze in adoration at the body of our blessed Lord resting in the spectacular Monstrance surrounded by candles on the High Altar always reminds me of my first Benediction, which was at Walsingham. The experience moved me to tears and still does. We left the church in a pensive mood, full of the Holy Spirit and pondering on the spiritual beauty we had experienced. Supper was at 6.30pm, after which some went to the Priory for Compline and we all met up for one last evening together for more evangelising in The Bull!

Sadly, all good things come to an end and Monday morning came with breakfast followed by our “Last Visit” to the Holy House at 9.30am. As we said our fond farewells we agreed we had had a fulfilling four days filled with spiritual companionship. We had prayed together, eaten together, laughed together and forged good Christian friendships, with plans to meet again next year.

Many thanks to Brother Philip for putting up with us and to Geoff for arranging everything so well. The CR pilgrimage next year is Friday 8 June to Monday 11 June.

Sr Sheila Scowcroft SCL