Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Lourdes Festival

Grotto, Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes

Here beginneth my tentative re-emergence as a blogger for Anglican Wanderings. The pressures of Lent and Holy Week were taking their toll in ways quite unexpected and I had begun to fall behind in my contributions to the blog, which didn't seem to be fair to my fellow contributors and to the readers of the blog, so it seemed right to withdraw for the time being. Things are much clearer now, not least in the diary department, and I've missed blogging, so I hope to be able to post now and again. I was touched when several people told me that they missed my contributions, so I guess I might not have been doing this in vain. . .

Sadly, this post comes without pictures of the lovely Solemn Mass I attended last Saturday. The Society of Mary's North West Ward of Our Lady of Victories held a Lourdes Festival at S. Catherine's, Burnley to commemorate and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Blessed Lady, Mary Immaculate, to the fourteen year-old Bernadette Soubrious in the obscure grotto at Massabielle, near Lourdes in 1858. The Mass was very well attended - with well over a 100 communicants, which isn't bad for a Saturday afternoon in East Lancashire - and was supported by clergy and faithful from three North West dioceses and from two across the Peninnes.

In the homily, preached to us by the Rt. Revd. Msgr. Stephen Alker, Principal Roman Catholic Chaplain (Army), we heard a fascinating account of the eighteen apparitions of Our Lady to S. Bernadette over a five month period, beginning on the 11th of February (which the Church now keeps as the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes). It was during these apparitions that Our Lady not only told S. Bernadette that she was 'the Immaculate Conception' but called for penance for sinners, told Bernadette to drink from water that was not there, save for a dirty puddle in the muddy ground which, a day later, became the famous spring, and told Bernadette to tell the priest of the village to build a chapel in order for to people to come in procession. The rest is, of course, history. Millions flock to Lourdes every year in pilgrimages of penance, prayer and healing. Although over 7,000 people have claimed miraculous cures of bodily ailment in the waters of Lourdes, only 68 cures have been confirmed as such. The real mystery at the heart of what took place at Massabielle, as with Walsingham and, indeed, any shrine, lies in its capacity to provide in its ministry, though the grace of God, healing for the soul and restoration of the mind, as well as of the body, if it be what the Lord wills. We, of course, for our part, must seek that will, and not our own, and as with S. Bernadette we must heed the invitation of the Blessed Trinity, spoken through Our Lady, to return to him in prayer and in penitence and to drink of the water of life which brings us renewal and wholeness in Christ.

Shrine of Our Lady, S. Catherine's, Burnley

To return to the Mass. It began with a procession and the hymn 'Immaculate Mary'. The second verse of that hymn reminds us of the rock from which we, as Anglican Catholics, were hewn : 'We pray for God's glory, may his kingdom come! We pray for his vicar, our father, and Rome. Ave, ave, ave Maria. . .' How wonderful to be able to sing of what we ought to desire in this world and in the next. Our Lady shows us the way to unity. Walsingham and Lourdes - where over a dozen Anglican bishops will be making pilgrimage this year - and other Marian shrines are places where the full and visible reunion of Catholic Christendom seems obvious. Our Mother calls us, her children, to return to her Son and to our Father, not as disparate groups, but as one flock, under one shepherd. Only a full appreciation of Our Lady as Mother and Help of all Christians can give us a true sense of what it is to belong to Our Holy Mother the Church. Her maternal care and call is nothing less than an urgent request for her children to be one as her Son is one with her Lord and God. As the hymn goes: 'By your faith and loving accord, as the handmaid of the Lord, you undertook God's plan to embrace. Mary, we thank you, hail full of grace.'

Fr. Lee Kenyon