Visit of the Relics of St. Thérèse to Pluscarden, 11 September 2019
As soon as we heard that the Relics of St. Thérèse might be coming to Scotland, we asked if they could come to Pluscarden. And astonishingly, wonderfully, thrillingly, they did! It all just goes to show: if you ask, you get! Though being friendly with the right people does certainly also help very much.
The beautiful casket containing the Relics of the Saint is heavy. Presumably it has some sort of lining made of lead. It arrived here anyway in a hearse, in good time for the scheduled start at 11.00 a.m. Accompanying it was a team of undertakers, who stood by to offer help and advice on how to lift and carry. Their assistance would certainly prove invaluable. Among the crowds awaiting the Saint’s arrival were about 100 children who had come from the three local Catholic Primary Schools. Each child had a rose to carry, and they followed the Relics in procession down the site of our mediaeval nave, as the bells joyously rang out, and we sang Psalm 121: “Laetatus sum” – I rejoiced when I heard them say, let us go to God’s house!
A liturgy of welcome had been prepared, with the help of the organising committee for the Relics in Scotland, and of Aberdeen’s own St. Andrew Community. In case anyone might be confused about Who was the centre of attention here, four enormous photographs of the Saint were set out on stands, together with the beautiful Icon painted for the occasion by members of the St. Andrew Community. After an offering of Incense, and some words of introduction by Fr. Abbot, our guest Deacon read the Gospel: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven.” Sr. Anna Christi O.P. from Greyfriars Convent Elgin then spoke movingly to the children about the significance of St. Thérèse. Rather lengthy Prayers followed, based on Thérèse’s life and message, and dramatically read by the children. Everyone’s roses were then solemnly blessed; as delightfully shown in the accompanying picture. As all present then filed slowly forward one by one to venerate the Relics, we sang a Litany of St. Thérèse, and then a final hymn all about her, set to the tune “Ode to Joy”. And then, from a trap door in the tower, at least 50 feet above head height, rose petals began to fall. They came down in cascades, falling as in a widely spread curtain, and on and on, all over the delighted children below. The Sancta Familia Media camera captured that spectacle on film: you can see it on their marvellous YouTube video. The camera crew unfortunately had to be careful not to show the assembled children there, because of Data Protection laws: though viewers can certainly hear their excited cries. Sr. Anna Christi standing prominently, though well away from the Tower, stretched out her hand, and a rose petal landed directly on her upturned palm. That was a nice moment! To round off the experience for the children, Fr. Giles gave them an informal talk about monastic life. They were then free to run about outside and picnic in our grounds, favoured for that by the pleasant sunshine for which so many had prayed.
Meanwhile, the bier with the Relics was taken up again in order to be installed on the main Altar of our Church. A rapid check with a tape measure of the doorway through from the Transepts found it to be too narrow. So the procession passed instead, and with more solemnity, through the central doors with the Angel Icons, under the Blessed Sacrament, and so straight on to the Altar. And there folk were free to pray in silence for the rest of the day. Many came to do that, and with fervour. It was especially good to see many young people among them.
Two more little liturgies in honour of St. Thérèse were celebrated that day. After the Office of None there was a brief talk by Fr. Prior, then an act of veneration especially for the Pluscarden Community. During that we sang the “Ubi caritas est vera” – Where love is true, there is God. This was repeated, and then repeated, and then repeated, again and again, as the many in the public Chapels came forward to make their own veneration in turn, and to ask the Saint’s prayers. This liturgy was concluded by a special Blessing given by Fr. Abbot. “May the God who revealed to Saint Thérèse the mysteries of the childhood of Christ, and led her in the way of simplicity and trust, grant you childlike confidence in his merciful love…”
Our final public celebration was a liturgy of farewell, shortly before the departure deadline of 5.00 p.m. As the bier was taken up for the final time at Pluscarden, words from Psalm 88 were sung to the lovely 5th mode melody used here sometimes at the conclusion of Benediction: “Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo” – I shall sing forever of the merciful love of the Lord… Again the Pluscarden bells rang out, in expression of everyone’s joy and gratitude for the great grace we had received that day. And so the holy Relics went off on their way, accompanied by our love and prayer for all who would be blessed by them in the days to come; for all who would be drawn closer to God through the powerful example and intercession of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Watch the film by Sancta Famila.
“Her life had an enormous impact. So much so, indeed, that we could say, because of her, the whole Catholic Church could never be quite the same again.”
Read Dom Benedict Hardy’s talk in the presence of the relics.