After a day of searing heat, it was a pleasant change for the weather in Lourdes to turn, with cooler temperatures and a bit of drizzle. But the pilgrims did not allow it to dampen their spirits as proved when all gathered for a group photo in the morning. This occasion was a wonderful moment of coming together, at least once everyone had turned up! Beforehand, some pilgrims had taken the opportunity to perform the Water Gesture, which has now taken the place of the baths post-pandemic and still allows for a washing in the waters of the spring that Bernadette found through the revelation of Our Lady.
After the group photo, the pilgrimage processed to the Grotto itself, where, once Lancaster Diocese had finished Mass, the Cardinal and Bishops led the whole group through the Grotto, touching the walls of the very location where Mary appeared to Bernadette. This moment was clearly something very special and set the tone for the rest of the day, as many pilgrims spent time in quiet contemplation and prayer afterwards.
This quiet prayer followed into the Cite St Pierre, home to the Cathedral in the Trees where Bishop Paul McAleenan presided at Mass. As coaches aren't able to get immediately to the site, which lies halfway up a steep hill, it fell to the Redcaps, and even some priests, to help those in wheelchairs to reach it. After much heaving and huffing, there was a tangible sense of the peace that Cite St Pierre is known for, especially after the Eucharist was received, and a stillness and sense of peace descended upon the area.
In his homily, Bishop Paul spoke powerfully of Mary, as both mother and queen. As he explained, while it is understandable how someone like St Therese of Lisieux could say, 'how I love the Blessed Virgin, she is more of a mother than a queen', it is true that for a long time, 'in the mind of humanity, kings and queens were always supposed to care for the people, to love the people, to promote justice and harmony, not removed from the people.'
This care that a queen is supposed to have, is one of the most evident qualities that Mary possesses. As Bishop Paul said, 'as Queen of all creation, [Mary] is interested, concerned, and has the ability to influence everything connected with life. Creation, unborn life, our family life, our troubles, our concerns and especially here in Lourdes, we can bring everything to her.'
'The last time Mary is mentioned in the New Testament, she's in the Upper Room. She's with the Apostles, they're waiting for the Holy Spirit and Mary's role, then as now, is to keep all her children, all the disciples of Jesus, together.'
Bishop Paul concluded by looking at the understanding of Mary as 'full of grace'. This, he said, means that 'in Mary, there is no room for anything, but the love of God. Room for nothing else. So perhaps during our time here in Lourdes, we might think of that. At the Grotto, think of Mary totally full of grace. In her there is room for nothing but the love of God.'
After Cite St Pierre, the pilgrims travelled back to Lourdes, where for most of them the day concluded. However, for the Redcaps, they will have a special opportunity in the evening to spend time at the Grotto, where Fr Mark, Redcap Chaplain, and Bishop Nicholas Hudson will give them an opportunity to reflect on the words of Bishop Paul, about what it means to seek to live a life 'full of grace'. They will then process to light a candle for their intentions and pray at the Grotto.