This ecumenical pre-Advent Retreat was designed as a pilgrimage. On Monday 26th of November, we met together in the village of Walsingham for a late lunch. Subdeacon Andrew Scurr and I driving from Brighton, Msgr Jerome Lloyd OSJV arriving from Northampton together with his newly consecrated bishops, Msgrs’ Martin Charlesworth from Leeds and Jonas Röggla from Italy, and Father Mark Dunning from Liverpool, all of whom had been received as Confreres of the Oratory of St John Vianney over the weekend, and Canon Emilio Tundidor OSJV. Msgr Douglas Lewins joined us from the ORCC GB and also the Rev Christopher Thompson, a Baptist Minister from Yorkshire and finally Father Alex Lane CMP, an Anglican priest from London completed our party of ten. We came together as Christians to prepare ourselves for Advent and began our pilgrimage with the traditional First Visit to the Holy House. It was a very special week of prayer, deep thinking and self examination.
Each morning began early, gathering together in the lobby of the Pilgrim Bureau to walk with torches to Laudes and Mass from 7am in the Chapel. Receiving The Living Christ into ourselves at dawn, as a new beginning for each new day, was a superbly moving and strengthening experience. The pilgrimage was titled “Ero Cras” a Latin acrostic made by the first letters of the O Antiphons taken backwards which translates as “Tomorrow, I will be” mirroring the theme of the antiphons. Following breakfast we met to learn about the O Antiphons, their significance and the symbolism from Scripture referred to in them. The O Antiphons are sung before the Magnificat on successive days from December 17th progressing towards Christmass Day and reflecting on the Incarnation; very appropriate for Walsingham which is all about the Incarnation. Following the conference, searching questions were asked of us by His Grace, Archbishop Jerome provoked by the O Antiphons, before we were dispersed to go and reflect upon our answers in a quiet place, e.g. our room, a church in the village, or one of the common rooms, meeting again after lunch for our second daily session to discuss our thoughts and share our reflections together.
We traveled in pilgrimage to churches and Holy sites around Walsingham, sharing the Angelus and singing Sext at the Parish Church and visiting the Anglican Shrine, the Slipper Chapel and the Orthodox Church. It was interesting to interpret the images in the many paintings there. Travelling further afield, the Stations of the Cross by Beverley Carpenter at St Andrews, Holt, were challenging and gave rise to some lively debate! The ruins at Binham Priory provoked discussions of “restoration” too! On the Wednesday we set off to Wells-by the-sea, the cold wind whipping our coats and the showers drenching us always in places where there was no shelter! We had a very jolly lunch in the Fish and chip shop, followed by a visit to the super-market to buy provisions for our planned supper picnic in the St Joseph’s common room. By 5pm each day, we were back in Walsingham to sing Vespers in Chapel.
On our last full day Bishop Howard and his wife joined us. Abp Douglas Lewins offered a votive Mass of Our Lady, and a document, “THE WALSINGHAM DECLARATION” expressing unity was signed by him and Msgr Lloyd. We then had lunch a in a local tea shop and visited the local Shrine and Pilgrim shops to find gifts and tangible memories to take home.
All of our evenings were a time of great fellowship, a lot of laughter and a sense of sheer joy of being together. It created a place where we could share experiences and concerns, sitting around the log fire at “The Bull”. Our last evening was particularly special; we attended Shrine Prayers at “The Holy House” and afterwards we had “Sprinkling” with water drawn from the Saxon well. Starting with explanations and prayers in the Holy House by Fr Alex, everyone processed to the Well, and then individually walked down the steps. Abp Jerome made the sign of the cross on my forehead, symbolising mind; and filled my hands with Well water, symbolising spirit and in a silver ladle gave me some of the water to drink, symbolising body. It was extremely moving, an experience I shall remember for the rest of my life.
It was a disciplined and structured week. Each day divided into sections with the regular worship times being strictly adhered to. It brought God to the very forefront of my mind, put Him consciously at the centre of my life. I found a deep peace there, I learnt a lot about myself, had time to meditate and resolve things that had troubled me. Time too, to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. Walsingham is a very special place. Thank you, Msgr Lloyd for conducting such a meaningful and helpful pilgrimage. I look back with affection on my time there, and with a deep longing to return.