Bishop Bernard Longley leads Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage

Bishop Bernard

Bishop Bernard

Around 3,000 pilgrims gathered in Walsingham on Sunday for the annual Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage. The Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Right Reverend Bernard Longley was the principal celebrant and preacher at the pilgrimage Mass celebrated in the Chapel of Reconciliation.  Following the Mass, the pilgrims processed along the Holy Mile to the abbey ruins of the original Walsingham shrine where Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament took place.  The Bishop of East Anglia, the Right Reverend Michael Evans concelebrated the Mass and took part in the pilgrimage. 

The text of Bishop Bernard's Homily follows:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you.

Every year we come in growing numbers from all parts of England to this national Shrine of Mary the Mother of God.  This place and all that we experience here are important to English Catholics and to Catholics from all parts of the world who have made their home in England.  Walsingham is recognised as a Shrine of particular importance to the Church in England and today's Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage is an expression of that. Being in Walsingham as pilgrims today also helps us to understand better what it means to be part of the Catholic Church in England in the twenty-first century and to see more clearly the mission that Jesus has entrusted to us.

One of the blessings of pilgrimage is that we share something of our individual journey of faith with one another.  This reminds us that while our faith must always be a deeply personal thing it can never be something private, excluding others.  We are called to faith as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and that is what we experience today as we celebrate this Mass, as we share our lunch and our recreation together and as we walk in pilgrimage along the Holy Mile later this afternoon.

We are particularly blessed today when we look at our fellow pilgrims on the Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage.  The Church is called to be a reflection and a true though partial experience of the Kingdom of God in this present life.  We can see very clearly in our pilgrimage of Catholics from African and South American countries, from Asia and Eastern Europe as well as those whose families have lived for many generations in these islands how the Catholic Church can reflect the universal call to holiness in the Kingdom of God.  We see what it means to live side by side, united by the same Catholic faith in Christ expressed in many languages, celebrating our sacramental life in the Lord in many
different cultural expressions.

Being in Walsingham always reminds us who is at the heart of the Church's life and mission.  This Shrine is dedicated to the Mother of God and Mary will always point us beyond herself to her beloved Son. Whenever we draw close to the Mother we also see her example of discipleship and we learn to follow Christ her Son in a deeper way.  As Mother of the Church we know that Mary's motherhood transcends our national and cultural differences because she is the mother of Jesus who is Saviour of all peoples.

This Dowry Pilgrimage Mass asks us to reflect on the readings for the Annunciation of the Lord.  This too is a reminder that Walsingham is a Marian Shrine particularly dedicated to the Incarnation of the Word of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Gospel recalls that moment when the Son of God took flesh in Mary's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit.

What can we learn as pilgrims from Mary's response to the message she received from the Archangel Gabriel?  Perhaps we feel close to our Lady's experience when we hear that Mary...was deeply disturbed.  To be disturbed is uncomfortable.  Whenever the Word of God makes its home within us we are profoundly changed as individuals, as families and as Christian communities.  We are told the angel said to her:  listen.  If we follow Mary's example we will try to listen to the Word of God speaking to us today on our pilgrimage.  What is God's Word saying to us?

Having listened Mary said to the angel:  but how can this come about...? Her question does not mean that she cannot believe what she has heard but that she wants to understand the message better.  The answer she receives is not so much an explanation as the gift of a divine person: the Holy Spirit will come upon you.  The Spirit of God is creative within Mary and she conceives the Son of God.  We too can ask of God how our lives are to unfold, so long as we continue to trust like Mary that the Holy Spirit will be creative in our own lives too.  How will the Holy Spirit change us in our families and communities?

In this place and on this day, through Mary's intercession, we can see that the Incarnation of Christ transcends the barriers that nationality sometimes places between people and communities.  Today we have a genuine chance to share our one faith and our different cultures with each other in prayer, in song and in celebration.  Once this Mass is ended we should continue to experience our unity in Christ by recognising and enjoying our different cultures.  Watch the Ghanaians or the Sri Lankans when they dance, listen to the Brazilians or the Lithuanians when they sing - and make sure you try the food brought by the Filipinos or the Nigerians!

Pilgrims to Walsingham though the ages have come with three purposes: praise, penance and petition.  Following Mary's example we praise God. Encouraged by her prayers we do penance for our sins.  Asking her intercession we ask God to give us what we most need, for He knows what is best for us even when we cannot see it.  When we leave we take with us the power of the Holy Spirit to be truly the People of God, reflecting the unity and equality of all God's children in the Kingdom of Heaven.

That is something we have glimpsed more clearly and experienced for ourselves today.  Walsingham really is a national Shrine because it has proved itself a place where many different national and cultural expressions of Catholic faith can feel and be at home.  For this we are grateful to Bishop Michael for his welcome and encouragement, and to the Director and Staff of the Shrine for arranging and continuing to adapt this Dowry Pilgrimage over recent years. 

I want to thank the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre for their prominent participation in the Dowry Pilgrimage over many years and to the many Ethnic Chaplaincies who have taken Walsingham to their hearts in recent years.  Last year I was very touched when a Slovakian pilgrim said to me:  I have lived in England for seven years and I never knew you had a Shrine like this.  It makes me feel at home.

You may have wondered why we call the pilgrimage the Dowry of Mary Pilgrimage.  A dowry is the property that a wife brings to her husband in marriage and England has been known for many centuries as the Dowry of Mary.  In relation to the Trinity Mary is sometimes spoken of as daughter of the Father, mother of the Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. It is good to recognise that the England that Mary brings to the Holy Spirit includes today the many nations and cultures that make up the universal Church and that is truly reflected here.

As we continue our pilgrimage today let us ask that, as with Mary, the Holy Spirit may come upon us so that our praise may be offered, our penance be accepted and our petitions be heard.  May we leave this place more deeply united in our witness and our common mission and so bring the Good News of Christ through our different languages and cultures to the many corners of England from which we have come.

Photos: Mazur/

Share this story