Our Lady, Queen of Processions
by Marguerite Cook
The Messiah enters Jerusalem
“Great crowds of people spread their cloaks on the road, while others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in His path. The crowds who went in front of Him, and those who followed, were all shouting: Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heavens!
(Matthew 21, 8-10)
Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous on February 11, 1858. The place was Lourdes, which is a small town in the Pyrenees in southern France. The beautiful vision of Our Lady was of a young girl dressed in white with a blue sash, and on each foot was a yellow rose. Our Lady held rosary beads and said to St. Bernadette, “Go tell the Priests to come here in procession, and build a chapel here.”
I visited Lourdes with the Northampton diocese, led by Bishop Peter. Four to five million people visit Lourdes every year. Every day in Lourdes at 5pm there is a wonderful procession, which is the Blessed Sacrament Procession. In glorious sunshine a huge crowd of people joined our Bishop and Priests in procession. The Blessed Sacrament was carried from the Meadow, then along the paths in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. As the procession walked, some people gazed across the sparkling turquoise River Gave, to view the Grotto where Our Lady had appeared to St. Bernadette. The procession ended at the St. Pius X Basilica, where a service of Benediction was held.
The Basilica of Pius X is hardly a chapel. This huge underground Basilica is one of the many churches and chapels in the Sanctuary. The Basilica was built in 1958 and seats unbelievably 25,000 people. It is decorated with giant portraits of Saints from all over the world. (On Sunday at Mass people stood, as they were unable to find a vacant seat, in this gargantuan concrete church!)
The Blessed Sacrament Procession is an amazing experience. However in his book ‘Lourdes Diary’ by Father James Martin SJ, he consoles those unable to travel to Lourdes with these words: “We need not travel to southern France to encounter God’s presence in our lives. God dwells within us already, and just as important as the Grotto of Lourdes (where Mary spoke to Bernadette in 1858) is the Grotto of our hearts, where God speaks to us every day.”
Back home in England I walked in two other processions led by Bishop Peter. The first procession was the Diocesan Pilgrimage to beautiful Walsingham. Walsingham is well loved, as it is England’s own shrine to Our Lady. Our Bedford pilgrim group travelled by coach to Walsingham. The Walsingham shrine is regarded as England’s ‘Nazareth’; a great centre of pilgrimage, founded in 1061.
In the afternoon before Mass the pilgrims walked the disused old railway line, now adopted as the Holy Mile, with church banners held high. Our Lady of Walsingham’s statue was carried, decorated with stunning flowers. Walsingham fulfilling once more Our Lady’s request to St. Bernadette, “Go tell the Priests to come in procession.”
At the end of a special day, Holy Mass was celebrated with our Bishop and Priests, and we then headed back to our coaches spiritually nourished.
Walsingham – a shrine of great devotion for Catholics.
The Procession of Faith
Every two years the Catholics of Bedford organize their own procession. This procession is called ‘The Procession of Faith’. The Procession of Faith is held on a Sunday afternoon, and all Christian churches are invited to process through Bedford led by the Bishop of Northampton, Bishop Peter.
The procession begins at St. Joseph’s Church, which is in Bedford town centre, and finishes at Bedford Park. The people process over one mile, with some carrying their church banners, as people do in Lourdes and Walsingham. In 2012, one thousand four hundred people walked in The Procession of Faith, and as they walked they listened to readings and sang well known hymns. Even more people waited in the park for the procession to arrive. The police closed the roads, and many people stood watching the procession from the pavements.
Bedford Prison is in the centre of the town of Bedford, and for me there was a poignant moment when the large procession halted outside the prison. Faces could be seen looking from the high barred windows at the crowd below where Bishop Peter silently prayed.
When The Procession of Faith arrived in Bedford Park, we congregated near the attractive cricket pavilion. The cricket pavilion stands on a small hill. Chairs had been arranged below the pavilion, and around were various faith stalls and artwork displayed from Catholic schools. The front of the cricket pavilion was decorated with religious pictures, to fit in for its new purpose as a backdrop for Sunday Benediction. One large picture was of a smiling Canon John Warmoll, who had restored the Catholic faith to Bedford in 1863. Canon Warmoll’s grave lies just yards away on the pretty hillside of the adjoining Bedford Cemetery.
It was a lovely day with hot sunshine. The large crowd said prayers, choirs sang, and a very beautiful Benediction service was held, and a final blessing was given. It was a wonderful afternoon.
Our Lady asked St. Bernadette in Lourdes that people should come and walk in procession. Processions date back to our Jewish roots, and enable us to publicly show our commitment to our faith. The Bible does not mention Our Lady present at the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. However, I like to think she was there on that joyful day.
In Father James Mulligan’s book, ‘The Way of the Cross’, he quotes Blessed John Henry Newman; “There is no part of the history of Jesus but Mary has her part in it. There are those who profess to be His servants, who think that her work was ended when she bore Him, and after that she had nothing to do but disappear and be forgotten. But we, O Lord, Thy children of the Catholic Church, do not so think of Thy Mother. She brought the tender infant into the Temple, she lifted Him up in her arms when the wise men came to adore Him. She fled with Him to Egypt, she took Him up to Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. He lived with her at Nazareth for thirty years. She was with Him at the marriage-feast. Even when He had left her to preach, she hovered about Him.”
“Sweet Mother, let us ever think of thee when we think of Jesus, and when we pray to Him, ever aid us by thy powerful intercession.”