Sharing in Mary’s joy is “the greatest antidote to fear and anxiety,” the outgoing rector of England’s national Marian shrine said on Saturday.
Preaching in Westminster Cathedral on September 12, Mgr John Armitage acknowledged the many obstacles that Catholics have faced this year to attending churches and places of pilgrimage.
“Mary, as the first disciple, invites us to share in her joy at the Annunciation, when the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us,’” he said in his homily.
“This joy, which can only reside in our heart, is not simply an emotion, or strong feeling; it is the knowledge that we are loved, and this knowledge is the greatest antidote to fear and anxiety. We can’t always be happy, but we can always have the strength of joy in our lives.”
Armitage, whose five-year term as rector of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham recently ended, was preaching at a Mass billed as a “virtual pilgrimage.” The Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols replaced the Diocese of Westminster’s annual pilgrimage to the shrine in Norfolk, which was cancelled this year due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Mass-goers at the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales wore masks and sat spaced apart, in accordance with the bishops’ guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus. Others watched via an internet livestream.
Armitage noted that the only written record of the appearance of Our Lady in Walsingham in 1061 was found in the “Pynson Ballad” of 1485.
“The words of Our Lady invite us to come to Walsingham, for ‘all who are afraid or in any need will find help in this place’ (Pynson Ballad),” he said.
“We can all recognize our fears and our needs, but at this moment in time, it is difficult for us to ‘come to this place,’ so we join together, united in prayer in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; because whether we are on pilgrimage or at home, the same thing unites us: the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
He continued: “For all the beauty of the Shrine of Walsingham, there is something much greater, for all the beauty of this cathedral, there is something greater, and it is contained in God’s Word.”
“Churches and shrines are important, as they are powerful symbols of the message, and we have come to appreciate them all the more when we were unable to attend, for they are signposts, places of proclamation, reminders of the message that gives us life, when we take to heart the message that comes through the life of Jesus Christ, ‘I have come to give you life, life in abundance.’”
Armitage told CNA in June that, despite being forced to close to the public because of the pandemic, Walsingham flourished during the lockdown thanks to its 24-hour devotional livestream.
“We’ve probably had the biggest pilgrimage season so far in the history of Walsingham because we’ve had thousands upon thousands of people every day joining us for our programme,” he said.
At a farewell Mass at the national shrine on September 4, Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia praised Armitage’s achievements.
He said: “You have used modern technology to the full to promote the shrine — EWTN has arrived in the village. And you set up a permanent livestreaming of the Mass and other celebrations which are enjoyed across the country and the world. The shrine was a huge blessing for so many thousands of people during the recent lockdown, connecting them to their faith. And there is so much more.”
“But by far your greatest undertaking has been the promotion of Our Lady’s Shrine and the Message of Walsingham. Here you have presided over the increasing popularity of the shrine with a huge growth in the number of pilgrims.”
Armitage’s successor at Walsingham, Mgr Philip Moger, will be formally inducted as rector on September 24.
In his homily at Westminster Cathedral, Armitage said: “Each moment in history demands great sacrifices, acts of love and kindness, acts of graciousness and radical generosity to address the darkness that so besets our world.”
“The challenge of renewal within the Church is not about administration, it is about a renewal of the personal and generous response in the lives of its members to say ‘yes’ as Mary said ‘yes.’”
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