Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been to Mass in two outwardly different places; but have been led to ponder on the similarities rather than the differences. I’ll post on each individually, and draw them together afterwards; otherwise this would become an unreasonably long post.
One of those Masses was at Walsingham. We were not at the National Catholic Shrine; Sunday Mass there is at midday, and our schedule meant we were in the village only for the morning. So we went instead to Sunday Mass at the parish church, the Annunciation. It’s a lovely. modern building, replacing the one we had been to several years before.
It’s immediately clear that whilst this is the Parish Mass, only part of the congregation is in fact local – there are many present who are in Walsingham as part of a pilgrimage. Those pilgrimages may be planned, formal affairs, or people (like us) finding themselves nearby and deciding to make the short journey to the country village which finds itself the centre of so much devotion.
For Walsingham has a pull to it, especially if you are fortunate enough to be there when it is not packed with pilgrims, but lying quietly in the sunshine, resting. I’ve been in Assisi at a time when a major event in Rome drew away all the tourists; a quiet early morning in Assisi has the same sense of peace and wellbeing.
The celebration of the Mass itself is the subject I have in mind here, though. Perhaps the best summary is that it was well done; reverent, well organised, appropriate lay involvement. The organist was excellent, and (wonder of wonders for a Catholic parish), the singing was full-voiced and tuneful. The homily was of the right length to challenge without risking boring, and there was a real sense of the presence of God, shared among all present. The reason I am saying all this will be clearer in the context of this series of posts; I will not expand on it here.
After Mass, and after a request to sign a petition in support of a local disabled man, popular in the community, who faces being moved to a home against his will, we strolled through the village, then had a coffee at one of the pubs. The sense of peace here is overwhelming; the presence of God and the prevalence of prayer and pilgrimage through the centuries is somehow engrained into the very stones of the place.
The English National Shrine (the Anglican one, that is, though this is very much the Catholic end of Anglicanism) is likewise a place of peace and of power. Its grounds have changed since we first visited it many years ago, but inside the church is the same focus on prayer, the same surrounding with the physical symbols and signs of faith and prayer, the same knowledge of God expressed in the familial love of his Mother. This is a wonderful place to be.