For several decades now, on the last Sunday of June, the Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen has led an annual Diocesan Pilgrimage to Pluscarden. In recent years numbers attending this event have tended to diminish somewhat, with the average age of the pilgrims visibly rising. This year our Bishop Hugh wanted to use the Pluscarden Pilgrimage to celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Education Act in Scotland, whereby Catholic schools are able to exist and receive funding within the State sector. So he invited the Catholic Primary Schools of our Diocese to participate, and he encouraged the Priests, people and especially children of the Diocese to come. The result of that was a dramatic increase in numbers of pilgrims, compared to previous years, and a corresponding reduction in average age. This year we saw a crowd of some 300 children, and about as many adults. Reflecting the make-up of our Diocese, and of modern society, this was very much a multi-National group: not only local Scots, but notably also people of Polish or Nigerian background. Many prayers for the success of the event were answered with lovely warm sunshine, blue skies, and no wind.
The buses started to arrive at about 1.00 p.m. A team of local ladies was standing by to serve refreshments in two marquees, with hot sausage and bacon rolls being produced from our own kitchen. In an adjacent field the children were entertained with organised games, run by the Dominican Sisters from Elgin. At around 1.30 those pilgrims who had walked in from Elgin arrived. As people picnicked on the lawns, and as the various Choirs came together for their final rehearsals, confessions were heard in the parlours or the grounds of the Abbey. Since this was Sunday 24 June, the liturgy for the day was that of St. John the Baptist. To ensure that everyone present in our awkward Church building could both see and hear, five large high resolution screens had been set up, and special extensions to the existing sound system installed.
Each school represented made a little Presentation before the Mass started at 3.00 p.m. As in previous years, the Bishop’s Chair was set up in the Transepts, under the Tower, where the liturgy of the Word took place. Then, with the central doors open, the liturgy of the Eucharist took place at the Altar in the Chancel. Rarely had more people been so crammed into all our available space, with the overflow filling the large marquee on the site of the Nave. As the Mass unfolded, the Diocesan Choir sang, the children’s Choir sang, the monks sang, the African Choir sang, and the whole Congregation sang. The Ordinary of the Mass was in Latin, sung to Gregorian Chant, to which were added various motets, songs hymns and organ interludes. At the end of Mass all processed out to St. Benedict’s Garden, singing the Latin Litany of Loreto, with children of the Diocese carrying the processional statue of Our Lady. There, all joined in Marian devotions, followed by an exit procession accompanied in a most lively manner by the African Choir. The whole event seemed to have been touched by God’s blessing, and all departed in happy mood after a most wonderful and memorable day.