Rain and wind didn’t stop us – impressions of a pilgrimage

Last Saturday, as I shared on this blog, I went on pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. While it is impossible to share my personal experience with mere words, I think photos will do as well. I can, however, say, that this year’s pilgrimage did not disappoint in either surprises – a rain storm as we were just about halfway to the shrine – or devotion and familial comforts.

Anyway, some photos:

warfhuizen procession

^Beginning with Mass at the Church of St. Boniface in Wehe-den Hoorn, Father Maurits Damsté takes care to give everyone present their share of holy water as the cathedral schola, which had travelled north for the occasion, sings the “Asperges me“. Just like our Baptism washed us clean of our sins, we pray that our confession of sins and the sacrifice of the Lord which we celebrate in Holy Mass will also wash us “whiter than snow”.

procession warfhuizen

^The shrine containing the relics of several holy hermits – including St. Anthony Abbot and St. Gerlac – is being lifted onto the shoulders of four servers. During the Mass it stood before the altar, and for several years now, it has had pride of place in the procession.

warfhuizen procession

^Assembling the procession line, which went rather easily this time around.

warfhuizen procession

^For the first time, the procession was a sacramental one, as Fr. Maurits carried the Blessed Sacrament underneath a canopy upheld by four men. This is really having the Lord join us. This was also when the rain started to fall.

procession warfhuizen

^Amid the windswept fields of northern Groningen – not to mention the rain and even rumblings of thunder – it is not always easy to maintain composure, especially when carrying big things which catch lots of the aforementioned wind and rain.

procession warfhuizen

^Some evidence that your humble blogger also did his part. I’m the soaked person holding the pole with a statue of the Blessed Virgin, right behind the reliquary of the holy hermits.

warfhuizen procession

^Big skies, tiny procession.

warfhuizen procession

^The rain has stopped, but evidently did its thing.

warfhuizen procession
^Arriving in Warfhuizen, home of Our Lady.

warfhuizen procession

^Holy Hour in the mercy chapel. Father Maurits incenses the Blessed Sacrament in this image taken from behind the enclosure grille.
warfhuizen procession
^Prayers. It has become traditional for faithful to individually ask for prayers for specific intentions (provided they are comfortable with doing so in public), which the entire congregation then takes up. It makes things quite personal and sometimes emotional.

warfhuizen procession

^A blessing with the Blessed Sacrament. Perfect conclusion to procession, devotion and prayer.

Photo credit: [1-7, 9-12] Marjo Antonissen Steenvoorden, [8] Sander Zwezerijnen

A reminder: look upon Christ

blessed sacrament pope francis

Don’t forget, in most cathedrals and many other churches the world over, faithful will join Pope Francis in an hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. United in faith, the Church that Christ established will simply be with the Lord, in prayer, adoration and silence. If you haven’t already, see what your cathedral or local church is doing today between 5 and 6 in the afternoon.

In his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, by which he announced the Year of Faith, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us:

“During this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfilment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfilment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection. In him who died and rose again for our salvation, the examples of faith that have marked these two thousand years of our salvation history are brought into the fullness of light.”

This afternoon’s Holy Hour will be the perfect opportunity to keep our gaze upon, or return it to, Jesus Christ, and also to reflect on what we have done, as individuals, communities, parishes, dioceses or other groups of faithful, in this Year of Faith. Porta Fidei is a great outline on how it was intended by our retired Holy Father. Did we succeed in making that intention reality, or is there still much work to do?

Thanksgiving for the Pope – special Masses in the Netherlands and Flanders

benedictMarking the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, which becomes effective in the evening of 28 February, all Dutch and Flemish dioceses will be offering a thanksgiving Mass for his pontificate. With the exception of Haarlem-Amsterdam and Antwerp, all will do so on the day of abdication itself.

The two metropolitan archdioceses, Utrecht and Mechelen-Brussels, will feature the most extensive celebrations. In Utrecht, a Mass will be offered at 12:30 at St. Catherine’s cathedral, which will be followed by Holy Hour, a sung Rosary, Vespers and Benediction at 6. Whether Cardinal Eijk will attend this day is unclear. Mechelen-Brussels will offer no less than three Masses, all at 8pm: In Brussels by Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard and auxiliary Bishop Jean Kockerols, in Louvain (St. Peter’s) by auxiliary Bishop Leon Lemmens, and in Waver (St. John the Baptist) by auxiliary Bishop Jean-Luc Hudsyn.

The other thanksgiving Masses will take place at 6pm in Bruges (by Bishop Jozef De Kesel), at 7pm in Groningen (Bishop Gerard de Korte), Breda (Bishop Jan Liesen) and Roermond (Bishop Frans Wiertz), and at 8pm in Ghent (Bishop Luc Van Looy) and Hasselt (Bishop Patrick Hoogmartens). All Masses will be at the respective cathedrals of the dioceses, except in Breda, where the Mass will be offered at the chapel of the Bovendonk seminary in Hoeven, and Hasselt, where the Basilica of Our Lady will host the Mass

The next day, 1 March, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks will offer a Mass at 7:30pm, and on 3 March, Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny will offer one at 5pm.

In addition to these Masses, parishes, communities and other societies may of course also mark the abdication with Masses or prayer services.

The Night of Mary

Last weekend I took part in the first event by the Guild of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed aimed at young adults: the Night of Mary. We gathered in the small hamlet of Warfhuizen, home of the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, for shared lunch and dinner, companionship, an introduction by hermit Brother Hugo on the topic of night, an afternoon walk through the Groninger countryside (below) to stretch the limbs and an evening candlelit procession to Our Lady at the shrine.

About a dozen young people came to spend the afternoon and take part in the procession, which was also open to adult pilgrims. We processed under a starlit sky, around the village cemetery and a field behind it (the only option in the village to walk a circle, unless we took a 15-kilometer detour in order to cross the canal), followed by a couple of very curious horses which managed to disrupt the prayer of Deacon Patrick, Brother Hugo and seminarian Sander leading the procession (the three fell into helpless laughter after a horse nuzzled the back of the deacon’s neck… a bit of a shocker in the dark!). At the shrine, we had exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and a lot of personal prayer intentions. These intentions are not new at Holy Hour at the shrine, but the sheer number of them was.

For something of an impression, Ingrid created this short film:

There are some photos available at the website of the shrine, here.

Photo credit: Mercèdès Terlaak

Going on a pilgrimage

“Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”

… as old Master Chaucer put it in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. And while it is May, and not Aprille, I will go and visit a shrine this afternoon, and with me a fair number of other people of the Guild of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed. We will start with Mass in the parish church of St. Boniface in Wehe Den Hoorn and then will process to the shrine, which is also the hermitage of Brother Hugo. It’s a procession of only two kilometers and today it looks to be a slightly rainy one too. It’s a contrast to last year’s pilgrimage, of which you see photo above: it was a warm day, us acolytes wore cassocks and surplices and took turns carrying the cast iron processional cross on its three-meter pole. A rather top-heavy thing. Taking turns was a necessity.

Anyway, once at the shrine, we will celebrate Holy Hour with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. That will then be concluded with coffee and sandwiches. A simple yet devotional practice, I always find. This will be the fourth time I’m participating.

What is the Guild of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed? Quoting from the new website, linked above:

“The Guild […] is a so-called devotional guild [, …] a company of faithful who share a certain preference for a specific saint or a certain aspect of the faith. In the case of the guild of Warfhuizen [the village where the shrine is located] they are Catholics who are especially touched by Mary, the mother of Jesus. [They]  specifically venerate her as Mother of Sorrows. They are touched by Mary’s sorrow as she experienced the suffering and death of her Son.

“The guild was established following the development of pilgrimages to Warfhuizen, [which] started spontaneously in 2003.

“[…] the guild is primarily a community of prayer. We strongly believe in its power and daily pray for the wellbeing of the Church and the world. There is a special guild prayer that many of us pray daily, but it is also possible to do so in our own words, or in silence. The guild does require that we always specifically pray for our own diocese and bishop.”

It sounds very pious and serious, and it is, but at the same time it is not. It’s hard to characterise the guild and its members, but the aforementioned website calls it “familiar, informal”, and that’s true. Case in point: I’m meeting with about a dozen guild members who are first and foremost friends. The atmosphere is perhaps best characterised by the familiarity between friends and their familiarity with the Blessed Virgin and so also Christ.

“Mother of Sorrow, thou knowest what sadness is. Pray for us to your Son Jesus: for faith for those who do not believe. For comfort and relief of those who are ill, and, if it is God’s will, healing. For trust and peace for those who are afraid or lonely. For passionate faithful, for holy priests and religious. That God may keep the Church from any danger and bless our diocese. Mary, Garden Enclosed, pray for us.”