Yesterday nearly all the Pluscarden monks attended the National Pilgrimage Mass at Keith Football ground in honour of St. John Ogilvie. I think the occasion was important enough for me to speak to you a little bit about it now. As for today’s Mass readings: as a matter of fact you’ve already heard me speak on them. 3 years ago at this Mass I preached on today’s Gospel; and 6 years ago on today’s 2nd reading from 2 Corinthians.
You know well that we are in the 400th anniversary of St. John Ogilvie’s martyrdom. He was martyred in Glasgow in 1615, so there had already been a big celebration there on his feast day, 10 March. But St. John was born near Keith, so yesterday’s event was to celebrate that.
I really need to start with a mention of the weather. On our way to Keith it wasn’t just raining: the water was bucketing down, with windscreen wipers front and rear scarcely able to cope. Archbishop Cushley described it as Apocalyptic weather! After a week, more or less, of warm sunshine: what a pity for an open air Mass! And a group of young people led by the St. Andrew community were having a pilgrim walk in to the Mass. They had a solemn blessing here just before Lauds: the St. Andrew girls in their floor-length blue dresses.... I don’t quite know how they managed, or where they started from or finished: but they certainly got well and truly soaked. But shortly before the Mass was due to start, a tiny patch of blue sky opened up, exactly above the football pitch, while all the rest of the sky around had either ground-level thick white cloud or even thicker black cloud above that. But the patch of blue just carried on growing in size. Although there was always a breeze, by the end of Mass the whole sky was blue, and the sun shining warmly. Thank God!
I should mention also the confessions beforehand. The beautiful and large St. Thomas’ Catholic Church is not too far from the football ground, and it has a shrine to St. John Ogilvie in it. Two of us went a couple of hours before the Mass for the advertised confessions there. The Church was pretty well full of people waiting for confession. We could have done with several more priests. Anyway: as always on these occasions a lot of grace flowed from that. I always preach the Indulgence: there was a plenary Indulgenceavailable for the occasion, and I’ve yet to come across anyone who is not thrilled to be told about that.
It’s hard to say how many folk were at the Mass. They were a bit scattered in the stand and along the edge of the ground and among the various displays and other tents. Maybe short of the thousand hoped for? Certainly hundreds anyway. We had I think 7 Bishops, maybe 30 concelebrating priests, quite a few Religious of various hues from all over, and various sorts of Knights and Dames, and Ecumenical and civic representatives, our M.P. and the Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, and quite few members of the Ogilvie family, wearing the Ogilvie tartan.
Archbishop Cushley presided. Perhaps you’ll allow me to say I’m very much impressed by him: we are fortunate indeed to have him for our Metropolitan. He remarked at the end that he had visited Keith once before in his life. He was present as a Junior Seminarian in the very same football field for a very similar Mass held in 1976, presided over by Cardinal Gray, on the occasion of the Canonisation of St. John Ogilvie. He asked how many others had been there on that occasion - only a tiny handful.
Well I’ve been to quite a few such Jamboree Masses now, and I tend to be rather critical about their organisation and liturgy. I think this may have been the best I’ve ever attended? The liturgy was excellent: very well conceived, and carried out, with dignity and reverence, and no bungling, but also a certain pleasing lightness of touch. I suppose there were at least 20 servers; all male incidentally; well turned out and equipped; all of them had things to do, which they did competently, led by George Brand the diocesan M.C. The diocesan Choir was there of course, singing well, with Ronnie Leith on the Organ. Pluscarden provided the Altar, and its frontal made by Br. Michael for the occasion, and large framed pictures of St. John Ogilvie and Our Lady of Aberdeen, also produced by Br. Michael for the occasion, with their frames made by Br. Daniel, and glass by Br. Cyprian. Also the Presiding Bishop’s Chair was from here: recently hand embroidered in silk by our neighbour Linda Bailey.
The Homily was preached by our very own Bishop Hugh. Of course, as expected, it was not just a good homily, but a truly great one. It’s bound to appear on the diocesan web site: if you can read it there, I recommend you do so. He has the knack of presenting a well known story in an new and interesting way, always weaving in recurring themes from scripture and poetry, and touching hearts while he’s at it, to the point of drawing tears.
Well, we all know, I hope, that St. John Ogilvie was a truly great Saint, and a son of this area of whom we can all be very proud indeed.
Of course the Bishop spoke about him, and his times, and the remarkable and lasting influence his noble life and heroic death had. But I think the burden of the homily was rather geared towards us, and our own times. St. John fought, as he had to, in the battle of his day, which was Catholics vs. Protestants. Nowadays we rejoice these bloody battles are over, and in spite of major differences remaining, we foster friendly ecumenical cooperation with our fellow Christians. Then as Bishop Hugh mentioned, after the Second World War the main divisions were between the Communist East and the Capitalist West; and we rejoice that that also is (more or less) over.
But now there’s another fight on, and we need St. John’s clarity of mind, and firmness of faith, and courage, and goodness, and humour, to be able to fight in it. It’s between 2 opposing visions of what it means to be human. There’s the Christian and Catholic view, which is open to God, and the secularist view, which is not. Secularists are not immoral people. Many of them are ardent, crusading, censorious moralists, with the best of the Puritans. Only their morality is different from ours. We say it’s a false morality, rooted in a false view of the human condition, and therefore they have a false view of the meaning of human freedom and human dignity. And we need to be very clear in our minds where the truth is, and on which side of the argument we stand, and sometimes we need to bear courageous witness to the truth, like St. John Ogilvie, if necessary against the tide, even alone, and even at very great cost to ourselves.
Let me end with a miraculous cure. We know that St. John’s canonisation was passed after a Glasgow man, dying of cancer, was completely cured, on his very death bed, after prayers were said to St. John Ogilvie. Well, I spoke to a lady at that Mass who had prayed the novena prayer to St. John for her son, aged about 30, who had throat cancer. When the novena prayer finished, so did the cancer. It completely and inexplicably disappeared.
So we thank God for that blessing, and for all his many blessings, and we ask him to bless us also in all our many needs, and to raise up for us ever new Saints, who will bear convincing witness to the Truth in our own times.