We got home earlier today from the magnificent pilgrimage from Notre Dame de Paris to Notre Dame de Chartres.
I blogged about this extensively last time I went (see here and following posts), so I will not repeat myself.
However there are a few new things I want to comment on, this year. One is the powerful effect of singing our prayer. I knew this theoretically, of course: to sing is to pray twice and all of that...
But in a very practical way, I learned it afresh. We sang the rosary every day: 20 decades on the Vigil of Pentecost, and Pentecost itself, and 15 decades on Monday (as we were marching for much less of the day). And I noticed that when I awoke in the night, and first thing in the morning, I was mentally singing the Ave Maria, consistently. How much better to fill one's head with that rather than the latest pop ditties or advertising jingles...
The people were wonderful this year. Frs Martin Edwards and Gerard Byrne were chaplains to the Chapter of Our Lady of Walsingham, and Frs Mark Withoos and Alex Redman were chaplains to the Juventutem (youth) Chapter, under the patronage of St Alban. Both chapters were full of lovely, interesting and varied characters, including several (all of whose names began with A) who are shortly to be married.
The other distinctive feature of this year's pilgrimage was the weather. It was both very hot, at times, and also very stormy. We had some magnificent lightning displays, with accompanying rolling thunder.
One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was as we started, at last, to climb the hill in Chartres towards the Cathedral, and the heavens opened, and the storm was on top of us. Nothing daunted, we started to sing the round Jubilate Deo, and competed with the thunder. We kept it up for the half hour or so it took to climb the hill and reach the Cathedral, with everyone singing out loudly and making a tremendous sound.
And when we reached the square outside the Cathedral, where we were to attend the Mass, as the Cathedral itself was already full with the 5000 who had preceded us, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we dried out. We also had a fabulous view of the Mass, thanks to the large screen erected outside the Cathedral, and were blessed by two bishops as they processed in, and then out at the end of Mass.
The only negative part of the whole experience was the mysterious disappearance of Ant's luggage. We put all our bags on the coach at the start of the day on Monday, and when we got to the hotel after the High Mass in Chartres Cathedral, we found all the bags there: except Ant's. Fortunately, after the episode of the passport last time, I had taken charge of all three passports. But all her clothes and various other things (wallet with driving licence and credit cards etc) have disappeared.
However, she took it very well, and in truth it is a small price to pay for a wonderful experience.
The other thing I really meant to mention was that we were followed in the pilgrimage by the Chapter from Chavagnes International College, led by the indomitable Fr Bede Rowe. He particularly impressed by his rendition of what I understand to be a happy-clappy sort of Charismatic Alleluia, which he transformed into the most plangent, heart-rending and (let's be quite clear about this) loud Alleluia I think I have ever heard. And he kept it up for ages!
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