Pilgrims meet at the Grotto each day at 5 p.m. for the Eucharistic Procession.
Around 4:30 we walked toward the Grotto to say goodbye to Our Lady, the image poised on the ledge looking down upon the flaming candelabra, the pilgrims moving quietly (silence requested here) in a somber line along the cliff face, into the dark cavern where one can see Bernadette’s bubbling spring through a window in the floor. Nearby the candles in the sheds were flaming too, and we passed the baths next, closing for the day now, and crossed the rushing river to the other side. It was here groups were gathering, opposite the Grotto and the gothic basilica, its spires shooting into the afternoon sky.
The blue chairs carrying the sick and handicapped had their awnings pulled out to protect the patients from the sudden hot sun. Many were grouped under the shade trees. A gathering of clergy was forming near one of the modern halls on this side of the river. Perhaps as many as a hundred priests in white robes with stoles waited quietly or listened to assembly instructions. I guessed most were visitors, and each day a few leaders resident here in Lourdes would instruct their charges in the rituals of this procession. I wondered how they would proceed, how the procession would proceed.
A canopy was carried by four priests, and soon, the assempled clergy moved to a white tented pavilion nearby where a large monstrance holding the Eucharistic Host was on the altar. Many in the watching crowd genuflected, some kneeling on the hard pavement. I did both for a time, then rose, for I do believe that God is in the Host, a reality sometimes difficult to fathom. Once again I was glad for the help of ritual to deal with such a mystery, and I relied on custom to guide me.
They soon were singing a familiar Easter hymn, one from our Anglican hymnal, and I sighed my thanksgivings for the familiar tune, and joined in theAllelulia! The procession, the Host carried solemnly, left the altar pavilion toward the waiting crowds with their banners and chairs. The long swathe of white robed clergy followed the canopied Host, leading the congregation along the rushing river, across the stone bridge to the Esplanade.
It was a smaller group than the Marian procession, perhaps five hundred or so, and we filed toward Saint Michael’s Gate, then crossed the Esplanade to the other side. This was a different route, I thought, then saw that we were descending into a massive underground chapel. I had seen pictures of the Chapel of Pius X, but had not visited.
We walked into the earth, and I gasped. The space was huge, like a football stadium, with an altar in the center raised on a dais. Like theater in the round, the congregation was assembling everywhere, and I could see many had arrived before us. The space seats 10,000 and it was nearly full. I soon sensed my mouth had dropped open and my eyes were bulging. We found seats.
The clergy had taken their places to the side of the raised dais and a few gathered around the Host in the monstrance now on the central altar. Large video screens in the congregation gave us closeups of what was going on. There were readings and songs and finally Adoration, as we sang the wonderful Saint Anselm’s hymn, Now we before him bending… , a second familiar tune, one which I used in Offerings in the scene of Adoration at Sacre Coeur in Paris.
God is good, I thought, weaving together my loose ends, and Mother Mary has watched and loved and cared for me like a good mother. I was grateful.