We began our day at the entrance of the Church of Our Lady of Consolation in West Grinstead. Here we were greeted by a ‘veteran’ father of the church. There was an array of tents set out, ready to welcome the current Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Bishop Richard. Fr David explained the fact that there was a 16th century cottage built a few hundred years before the church was, where we were standing. He explained that the first few priests secretly used this type of house to celebrate Holy Mass, without alerting the Protestant soldiers that patrolled the early streets of historic England. This would usually, unless another plan was made, be happening in a ‘Secret’ Chapel at the top area of the cottage.
We were then led into the tent and walked through the entrance of the church. At this point we saw the Holy Door; this is a newly decorated door which symbolises the fact that Pope Francis named 2016 the YEAR of MERCY. There are commonly 2-3 in every diocese. Fr David went on to say, “This is a gateway not to a church, but to the Kingdom of Heaven”. This idea of self-renewal and respect for God was talked about and explained throughout the day.
Shortly after we celebrated Mass in the main church. Many of the students that attended the pilgrimage helped out in this special procession, including readings, altar serving and the responsorial psalm. Many of the students were willing to do what they could for the celebration of the Mass.
Later we were told to follow a guide up two flights of narrow, spiral stairs and found our way up to the secret chapel. A secret chapel was used in 16th century England as an unknown area at the top of a house or cottage, where a Catholic priest would be able to celebrate Mass with a small number of devout or religious Catholics. The priest himself had to travel up through the floor boards, so as to have the least possible chance of being caught by Protestants. This dangerous task was also made easy by the fact that there was a wall built in the central part of the room and that the room would usually be a place for the keeping of hay (known as a ‘hay-loft’). Another surprising thing we saw was a priest hole, which is a small, cramped hole where a priest would hide for a number of hours, to avoid detection by the Protestants.
Knowing all this was happening a few hundred years ago makes you wonder what it must have been like all those years before for devout Catholics. The fact that a great number of priests risked their lives day and night for the blessing of others, puts into perspective what we do for the ones we love (or complete strangers). Do we help them when they are in need, sacrificing our own freedom for the betterment of their lives or not bother because we aren’t up for it or we don’t feel like it? Just remember that you are not being requested to sacrifice much when being asked a favour by someone in need, to decline your help goes against all that Jesus taught us to do. This year of mercy reminds us not only that God shows us mercy but that we too must show mercy to others.
Delroy Pinto – Year 9