Main Pilgrimage Events

Whilst small details will change from year to year, like most of the large-scale pilgrimages to Lourdes, The Catholic Association pilgrimage includes certain recurring events:

Opening Mass

This normally takes place on the Saturday afternoon of the Pilgrimage, and is an opportunity to thank God for bringing us safely to Lourdes. During the mass we also pray for all the volunteer helpers who serve the assisted pilgrims, and anoint their hands with oil as a sign of our prayer that God will bless our work.

Mass at the Grotto

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This is, for many, the highlight of the pilgrimage week, and gives us an opportunity to celebrate as a group at the spot where Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette in 1858.

Blessed Sacrament Procession

This takes place every afternoon during the main pilgrimage season (which lasts from Easter to the Feast of All Saints on 1 November). The Procession fulfils Our Lady’s request that people should ‘come in procession’ to Lourdes. During the Procession, sick pilgrims process (by foot, in wheelchairs, ‘voiture’ chariots, or on stretchers) from the Adoration Tent on the Domain Prairie to the Underground Basilica of Saint Pius X. They go in front and behind the Blessed Sacrament (the Eucharistic bread which Catholics believe becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus during the Mass). The Procession is a pilgrimage of faith in which we walk alongside Jesus, and ask for his healing and blessing. During the Procession passages are read from the Bible, hymns are sung, and at the end a Benediction (blessing) is given to all present, especially the sick. The Catholic Association will take part in this procession as a large group at least once during the Pilgrimage week, and on occasions our members may be invited to carry some of the liturgical symbols.

Marian Torchlight Procession

This takes place every evening in Lourdes, and creates a beautiful ribbon of light as thousands of pilgrims carrying candles process from the Grotto to the steps of the Rosary Basilica. During the Procession, the Rosary (a traditional prayer asking for the intercession of Our Lady) is prayed in a large number of different languages. Each Rosary reflection is introduced in the six official languages of the sanctuary (French, English, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish). Hymns are sung, and the procession concludes with a blessing by all the clergy present. Many CA pilgrims greatly enjoy this Procession, and we look forward to the evening during the week when our pilgrimage will be invited to carry the statue of Our Lady. We just hope it won’t be raining!

Sacrament of Reconciliation

During the apparitions at Lourdes, Our Lady asked Bernadette to do penance and to pray for sinners. In Lourdes we all have the opportunity to examine our lives, and to ask God for his forgiveness and strength for the times when we have failed to love God and our neighbours as ourselves. There are chapels in the Sanctuaries open daily for the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or ‘confession’), but the Catholic Association Pilgrimage also organises a Penitential Service during the week when anyone who wants to has the opportunity to go to confession.


Lourdes is famous as a place of healing, and many pilgrims like to bathe in the waters of the spring which Bernadette uncovered in 1858. One morning during the pilgrimage, all members of the CA will be given the opportunity, should they wish, to go to the ‘Piscines’ (baths) located in the Domaine. The bathing ritual is short and simple, and reminds us of our baptism and the call to follow Christ.


Pilgrimage has always had an element of fun and relaxation to it, as well as penance and privation. During the CA Pilgrimage there is plenty of opportunity for fun, including the Tuesday afternoon outings, weather permitting! For a small fee, pilgrims staying in hotels have the opportunity of going on a coach trip to the Pyrenees Mountains. Our APs are taken by their helpers on a specially adapted coach to the Lac Vert or other destination.

Mass with Anointing of the Sick

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Oil has always had a symbolic value in the Church, conveying healing and strength. During one of the Pilgrimage masses the Sick Pilgrims present may be anointed by a priest to give them strength.

Hospitalité Service

The CA Hospitalite holds a service during each Pilgrimage (since 2008 in St Joseph’s Chapel). During this service – which normally consists of prayers and readings – the organisation remembers its members; those present, those unable to be with us, and those who have died. All Hospitalite members welcome.

Each service is followed by drinks in the HNDL foyer.

Young Helpers’ Service

Occurs at the start of the Pilgrimage for all young helpers under 30 ish. It is a good opportunity for young people to have some time to reflect on the past few days and the rest of the week.

Children’s Mass

A joyful and lively Mass, this draws many pilgrims who come to share the children’s enthusiasm for life. This normally takes place towards the middle of the Pilgrimage and is the main Mass for the day. Children from the Glanfield Children’s Group organise the Mass.

Stations of the Cross

The Stations or Way of the Cross is a reflection (in readings and prayers) of Jesus’ final hours before his Crucifixion. Those able to climb the hill behind the Basilicas follow a route of life-size statues representing the ‘Stations’. Sick-pilgrims and others pray the Stations of the Cross within the Domaine.

Pilgrimage Photos

There are three or four photography shops in Lourdes specialising in group photographs. We normally have a huge group photo after the Grotto Mass, as well as photos of the Hospitalite members, individual groups and dioceses. Say fromage!

Diocesan/Group Masses, Meetings and Parties

Each Diocese and group have a meeting at the beginning of the Pilgrimage to discuss any practical details. Each of these groups will also celebrate mass on their own during the week, and most have some kind of party or get-together towards the end of the week.

Passage through the Grotto

Near the end of the week, we usually try to have a ‘passage’ through the Grotto, giving our assisted pilgrims the opportunity to pass inside the cave and see the spring which Bernadette uncovered.

Pilgrimage Candle

Since 2007, the CA Hospitalite have organised the Pilgrimage candle, presenting it at the Grotto. This is done so with a procession from the statue of the Crowned Virgin. This will now happen each year. Every night, at least during the pilgrimage season, and when it is not raining, there is the Torchlight Procession, that stunning candle-lit celebration of the Mother of God. All year long the candles of the faithful burn at the Grotto, and the birds in those trees opposite the water-taps do not know whether it is day or night.

What is the significance of all this for Catholics? Well, it is not magic. Candles are for us what we call a ‘sacramental’, something that functions for us as a sign of God breaking into our world. And they are a very good symbol indeed. They began in Catholic liturgy, of course, out of strict necessity: in the days of persecution mass was celebrated under cover of night, late at night or early in the morning, hidden away; and if you were to see what you were doing, and even for the reader to be able to read, it was necessary to light candles. When light dawned and persecution ended (though persecution has never really ended, nor will it, as long as the Church speaks God’s word to the world), so that mass could be celebrated more openly, we still kept our candles alight on the altar. They serve, of course, as a recollection of the times when it was dangerous to be Christian; but they function, more deeply, as a symbol of the light that is the Eucharist in our lives, the light that we must take home from our Lourdes pilgrimage. They also act as an image of the illumination of God that is shed on our lives by prayer and by acts of generosity.

At the Reformation there was a resistance to sacramentals like candles and incense and the crucifix, a fear that the pure light of the gospel had been lost in pagan superstition; and (as in many Reformation insights) there was something in that. But it is noticeable today how increasingly people outside the Catholic fold find it appropriate to light a candle as a symbol of praying for some person or some intention, perhaps muttering as they do so that ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’. So that may be a part of what we do when as a Pilgrimage we present that enormous candle at the Grotto, redolent of our prayerful intentions in Lourdes, knowing that it will continue to burn after we have returned home.

It goes deeper yet, however. For the candle, which we present in procession, is a sign (as indeed is our whole Pilgrimage, for those who are in Lourdes and for those who cannot make it each year) that our journey to God is something that we do together. That is what it means to be People of God. Think of that extraordinary moment on Holy Saturday night, when the darkened church is slowly lit up by the passing of light from the Paschal Candle to all our candles, and the light roars through, putting darkness to flight. Each individual flame flickers when there is a breeze, and seems all too easily extinguished. Nevertheless, all those candles together light up the church, and are a sign that God’s light is guaranteed, has nothing to do with any merits of ours, everything to do with the fidelity of God that we celebrate at Lourdes (and, indeed, every time we go to mass). See it like that, and our Pilgrimage candle is a massive sign of something very important indeed.

by Fr Nicholas King, SJ

Accueil Mass

This is a party for everyone, but particularly for our assisted pilgrims. It’s purpose is to entertain and takes place on the last night of the Pilgrimage. It’s a celebration of the week before! Organised by the Chief Branc and Chief Handmaid, and the Hospitalite – not to be missed.

Going Forth Mass

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This Mass, on the final Friday morning, is our opportunity to thank God and his mother for the grace of having been on pilgrimage, and a time to commit ourselves to taking the spirit of pilgrimage home with us. We are normally very tired by this stage of the Pilgrimage, but full of joy at what we have experienced.