A pilgrimage is symbolic of life's journey, that hard march we pray may lead from earth to heaven by God's grace, won for us by Christ on Calvary, Who promises immarcescible crowns to those who, taking up their crosses and following Him, Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, are proven faithful to Him Who is always faithful, persevering by grace until the end, and who shall be found in Him at the last.
In the scheme of things, the merely natural achievement of walking a certain distance is a minor matter; but, supernaturally speaking (for even to pick up a pin for the love of God is a great act), to join in prayer and penance, to rejoice in and to proclaim the Catholic Faith, to be instructed by sermons and sanctified by the sacraments – all of which blessings the Christus Rex Pilgrimage makes available – is beneficial indeed.
I stole the title of this post from an beautiful Eucharistic hymn, translated by Caswall from the 1686 Cluniac Breviary's Hoste dum victo triumphans: 'tis the Patriarch Abraham, our father in faith, who was returning after defeating kings in battle; and was met by the Priest-King Melchisedech, prefiguring the supreme and eternal High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ the King.
But I dare to apply the words to all the Christus Rex pilgrims, hopefully now nearly all back to their homes (as I am to mine, having returned a few hours ago): for, if not slaying enemy potentates, we certainly conquered the long miles from Ballarat to Bendigo, whether we walked every step or not, and shared in the triumphant celebration of the feast of the Kingship of Christ, Who lives and reigns world without end; and whatever hardships – lack of sleep, hard ground, blisters, the sun, the wind, the rain, long stretches of roadside to tread – we accepted in penance, we pray may avail somewhat for the remission of the punishment due to sins, and also avail as suffrages to help expiate the sins of others: and we met our Eucharistic Lord, in the Communion, in the Sacrifice, and in the person of His priests, the ministers of His that do His will.
This pilgrimage, I think I especially felt the importance of the support of the priests who supported us along the way (ten in all, plus the Bishops of Ballarat and Bendigo who blessed the beginning and completion of our way, and Bishop Elliot, who sang the Pontifical High Mass on Sunday). Fr Mannes, O.P., whom I've known for years, and of course Fr Rowe, my parish priest when I lived in Western Australia, not to mention all the others by name, from whose kindness and wise words I derived no little profit, were very good to see again – and I took the opportunity to serve Fr Rowe's Low Masses each day of the pilgrimage, as well as to have him hear my confession; on the Sunday, I even had the privilege of serving Fr Arthur's Low Mass as well.
(As an aside, since I've M.C.'d Missæ cantatæ each month for ages, but haven't had the chance to serve at Low Mass for ages, for the first two such I unthinkingly knelt on the same side as the Missal, forgetting that at Low Mass the rule is always to be on the opposite side, while when M.C. at sung Mass one stands by the Missal in order to assist the priest. Ah well.)
Since I did spend more time than heretofore acting as a server, I didn't walk every stage of each day; which worked out well, since on Friday afternoon my good walking shoes, just repaired in order to employ them on the pilgrimage, were soaked by a downpour, which meant I had to switch to my too-tight reserve pair from then on (which made my little toes blister), and also I suffered the ill effects of a slightly upset stomach...
However, I increasingly recognize that everyone plays their part and rightly so: do not the volunteers who cook, clean, drive cars towing portaloos and do all else not merit quite as much as the walkers? and do not those who form the choir that sang so marvellously both chant and polyphony at our daily High Masses (the music was sublime: Palestrina's Sicut cervus featured both on Sunday and at this morning's Mass, and it was most moving), and those who practised, prepared and then served at those solemn rites, not likewise gain great reward for all their pains?
This has been my fifth pilgrimage; I spoke with two seasoned pilgrims who participated in the first, and I am committed to every year returning till I too have done twenty or more! It really is the spiritual (and also social) highlight of the year, I feel: a sort of retreat on the move; but also a time of good cheer (and beer: I did enjoy the usual refreshments at the Newstead pub on the Saturday night, chatting with Tony, Vicki, Lyle, Nicholas my very distant relative, and so on and so forth). So many good people I know come along, and who live scattered across Australia and beyond, whom I rarely see otherwise; catching up with them is great.
This pilgrimage, also, having not walked every step, I had the leftover energy to do what I fear I have too long neglected, and that is to return to the Roman Breviary, and read the full Office each day, including today (I must turn to Vespers soon), and I pray hereafter... I also have resolved to go to daily Mass again, something that, because of the need to arise and hear Mass at an early hour before work, I have fallen away from, yet which I know I need to sustain me. Do pray I may keep this year's Christus Rex resolutions!
A beautiful and unexpected coda to the pilgrimage was the revelation that Monday's High Mass at Bendigo Cathedral was to be a nuptial Mass – for two of the pilgrims, Jacob and Esther, having courted and become engaged beforehand, had arranged to celebrate their wedding on the day after the feast of Christ the King: and what a delight I felt, along with all the other pilgrims who attended, to join with their family and friends in celebrating their holy union.
As always, the five days (including travelling to Ballarat on Thursday, registering as a pilgrim, and then unexpectedly having dinner with my old friends Anna and Anthony, together with Simon and Anna and their girls) have passed too quickly, but as McAuley's hymn puts it, "to that world we must return, / sharing in its hope and labour, / bringing to it Christ's concern / for our neighbour".