Sunday, October 25, 2009

To Be a Pilgrim

Having lathered my face with pawpaw ointment (a dubious sunburn remedy I've invented), now at last I'm tucked up back in my own bed, after an incredibly action-packed two days.

Christus Rex - I almost didn't go after all. Having hurriedly packed after work and shot off to the airport, my plane was delayed. This meant that I missed the train I was to catch from Melbourne to Ballarat by ten minutes or so; it crossed my mind to ditch the pilgrimage, find a nice hotel and have a luxury weekend in Marvellous Melbourne instead, but then I remembered that Justin was to meet me at the train station in Ballarat, so I steeled myself to keep to our long-standing agreement.

I had to spend a tiring, boring, late evening hour and a half at Southern Cross Station (which is noisy and smelly), then take the 9.55 train to Ballarat; on board, I rested as best I could. Ballarat - reached at a quarter past eleven! The pilgrim volunteers understandably weren't willing to collect us at that hour, so Justin and I summoned a cab; the driver took us all over town, but the several places we tried were all shut for the night or booked out - luckily I recalled that Rosemary recommended the Mid-City Motel, which turned out to be open and available. We booked in after eleven thirty.

Justin (who had spent the evening refreshing his thirst in a local establishment) was hungry, so we set off for the golden arches of a certain family restaurant... since it was Saturday by the time we reached it, we broke our fast there. Then, back to our digs for lights out at 1 am.

We congratulated ourselves on a good night's sleep the next morning: both of us in our beds had been comfortable, we arose at a decent hour, had a hot breakfast, went for a walk around the block to make a visit at Ballarat Cathedral - we arrived during Mass, at the Agnus Dei, and adored for a space - had a coffee, and finally got collected, late that Saturday morning, by a kindly Christus Rex volunteer (who in ordinary life, it transpires, is a member of Parliament). It was Providence that so disposed the course of events, it seemed to us!

Justin and I arrived at Campbelltown nigh on noon. Solemn High Mass had just begun, in an idyllic outdoor setting, the altar protected by a canopy. I took the opportunity to have my confession heard in the adjacent hall: to my astonishment, the Gloria was still in singing when I came all absolved to Mass, since it had already started to be chanted when I went into the hall for confession!

Thus rightly prepared, I joined the pilgrim choir of thirty or so to sing the plainchant of the Mass (I left it to the experts to sing the polyphonic Sanctus and Agnus Dei, but did join in the Offertory Motet: Palestrina's Alma Redemptoris Mater for 4 voices). Mass was a Votive of the Blessed Virgin pro re gravi (on account of the pilgrimage), with second collect for pilgrims. (To jump ahead, on Monday morning the remaining pilgrims in Ballarat can assist at a sung Mass which will be a Votive in honour of St Raphael, whose feast was trumped on Saturday.)

How good it was to be at High Mass.

I met up with ever so many friends afterward, such as Rosemary, Fr Rowe (it's his 16th pilgrimage), John Mc., Aaron, Anthony, David, Tony, Simon...

Then began the afternoon walk (after lunch). Using the time to read first the Little Office, then the Office of the feast of St Raphael (excepting both sets of Vespers and Compline), I strayed from the front to the very tail of the pilgrim party and back again. There were about four hundred walking, so it was a long queue.

We stopped at a Catholic Cemetery to pray for the dead, and afterward to have afternoon tea; then we marched on, arriving at Newstead, our destination, a bit after 7 pm. In the fading light, tents were pitched, bags were located (for we'd carried our own day packs, but our other luggage was transported by the ever-helpful volunteer corps in a fleet of vehicles), and dinner was had. I had a prodigious appetite, and wolfed down a full plate. I was to join the blokes at the local pub, but suddenly felt so exhausted I turned in at about nine thirty. (Alas, one of the others in our tent snored nearly continuously all night!)

This morning, Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, I arose at 5.30 (!), freshened up, dressed, packed, took down the tent, had breakfast (porridge, fruit salad, two hard-boiled eggs, and coffee), and then with all the other pilgrims was driven in busses and other vehicles to our next starting point, where we began our march at eight. (The route is slightly too far to walk in three days, so part has to be omitted.)

Walking along, mingling with the pilgrims, still more friends turned up - Steve, Daniel, and many more.

Having stopped for morning tea and lunch, with sung Rosary and hymns along the way ("Faith of our fathers", "We stand for God", "Help of Christians, guard this land", the Lourdes hymn with twenty-odd verses, etc.), with our banners high - Papal flags, Australian flags, and the flags of the six States whence our different contingents came - we came at last through Bendigo, and arrived, footsore but elated, at Sacred Heart Cathedral, whose bells pealed out to greet us, shortly after 3 o'clock.

We circled the Cathedral chanting St Theodulf's masterly Gloria, laus et honor, before making the Act of Dedication to Christ the King on the Cathedral steps. At last, we entered our destination, singing "Holy God, we praise Thy Name".

Soon enough, the organ's boom was replaced with the chant of a forty-strong choir singing the Introit of the Solemn High Mass. I was pleased to see Fr Rowe was the celebrant. There were seven priests in choir, many servers, great clouds of sweet incense, a full nave: what a splendid liturgy. The choir sang the chant, together with a polyphonic Mass setting; it was moving to have Palestrina's Sicut cervus after making our general Communion, reflecting on Fr's admonition to sanctify ourselves, asking St Ignatius' question: "What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ in the future?" I offered my Communion for a special intention, ut unum sint.

Directly Mass ended with a thunderous "Hail, Redeemer, King Divine", I had to be off! Jennifer very kindly gave me a lift back to Melbourne, and dropt me off at the airport for my 8 pm flight. To cut a long story short, I arrived back at home at a quarter to ten.

It's amazing how much can be packed into two days.

Next year: the full pilgrimage, which entails arriving in Ballarat on Thursday evening, walking all day Friday and Saturday and for most Sunday, staying on in Bendigo for festive dinner and for Mass on the Monday with breakfast to follow... in fact, in 2010 the Monday will be All Saints and the Tuesday, All Souls, so it may be good to stay on for two days. God grant it!

No comments: