The Irish Chapter started its spiritual journey again this year in the Collège des Irlandais with Mass celebrated (in the EF needless to say) by our Chaplain, Fr Michael Cahill. Unfortunately the first test of the pilgrims forbearance, longanimity and other such virtues was the delayed flight which meant that half of us missed it!
However, we had at least a very pleasant dinner and a few hours of sleep in a hot and sticky Paris. Saturday dawned fine and bright, and the Chapter assembled in good order for the March away from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Except for the fact that I forgot to load the batteries into the loud-hailer. (Or bullhorn or whatever you want to call it.) Of course we had batteries - they were just in my baggage which was on a completely inaccessible truck. Nothing daunted, M. MacGuill de Clichy set off on a municipal bicycle (I kid you not) and found fresh batteries which with some coaxing got the chapter meditations and rosaries started via loudspeaker.
We had a Missa Cantata by a lake in Verrieres (where it must have been 25 degrees centigrade at least) and was certainly the hottest days walk that I could remember for 7 or 8 years. Anyway I made it as far as the last rest-stop where some kind friends (senior pilgrims from the UK who drive most and walk part of the route) gave me a lift to the bivouac.
Sunday was more of the same weather-wise, hot and sunny. Mass was in a forest this time, which was rather nicer in terms of the shade offered; the afternoon walk was even a little harder than Saturday's but we were all a bit more used to it by then. Sunday evening we had the long walk into the Bivouac at Gas which feels like it will never end until it suddenly does! We (not just the Irish but our Celtic cousins the Bretons with whom we march) got the comfy end of the campsite too; lots of weeds underneath us and very few rocks! There was Benediction and Adoration too but many of the Irish Group were just too tired to do anything more than eat and then sleep.
Pentecost Monday gave yet more brilliant sunshine, and my equally brilliant chapter kept up a round of mediations, prayers (in four languages but mea culpa no Dutch this year) and songs (including this one) that took us all the way to Chartres Cathedral itself. The High Mass was celebrated in the Dominican Rite! Msgr Pansard, the bishop of Chartres, was present and gave the final blessing; in fact he seemed at least gruntled but perhaps even pleased to be there.
Here he is giving his blessing in the final procession.
Anyway suffice it to say that we had a very good time, and even a little fun along the way. The Pilgrimage ended with Chez Nous, Soyez Reine echoing in a resounding chorus around the Cathedral and indeed on the parvis.
Our pilgrimage finished on Tuesday morning at 9.00 am with Mass in Notre Dame de Sous Terre, the very oldest part of the Cathedral, down in the Crypt. Of course, as the walking and praying (the more penitential aspects of the trip) were now over we feasted a little. Dinner on Monday night was good but if you're ever in Chartres lunch at the Café Serpente is a must. Our only disappointment this year: there was no confit de canard on the menu. Oh well...
All told it was exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure. Three days of prayer (some of it for the grace to survive the next hour or even the next few steps), penance (blisters, sore feet, aches & pains) and grace (we all got through it and are all still friends!) are over now until next year. (If you haven't yet tried Chartres but would like a little taster try one of these and see if you like the experience. If you do, then drop us a line and come on board next year!)
PS I came across a post on this blog which mentioned the possibility of an Irish Chapter going to Chartres next year! Then I realised that the poster Guillaume was referring to our Semi-Separated Brethern of the Pelerinage de Tradition. It goes from Chartres to Paris and gave rise to the comment by the editor of the Brandsma Review that it's a bit like the late T. A. P. Milligan's I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas! It includes the immortal lines
I've tried walking sideways,
And walking to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it's a publicity stunt.