Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Pilgrimage to Elgin Cathedral in Scotland

Thanks to our friends of the Confraternity of St Ninian, which organizes celebrations of the traditional Mass in Scotland, for this account of their recent pilgrimage to Elgin Cathedral, and the celebration of the traditional Mass within its ruins. (Photos by Maciej Zurawski.)

Last weekend, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass returned to one of Scotland’s most impressive ruined cathedrals for the first time in over four centuries. The Mass, celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite by Fr Ross Crichton on Saturday, May 18, was sung in the cathedral’s Huntly Aisle and heard by around thirty people, many of whom were participating in the Confraternity of St Ninian’s weekend retreat to nearby Pluscarden Abbey. It is locally understood that no previous celebration of Mass had taken place within the ruin since it was abandoned by the Church during the Reformation c.1560. The cathedral, which was founded in 1224, was one of the most prominent centres of the mediaeval Church in Scotland and its impressive structure was widely famed as the “Lantern of the North.”

The liturgy, which took place with the cooperation of Historic Environment Scotland, was preceded by a period of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction in the chapel of nearby Greyfriars Convent, now home to the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia from Nashville, Tennessee. For retreat participants, this afforded the opportunity to worship in two of only four pre-reformation churches in Scotland still in use for Catholic worship today: like Pluscarden Abbey, Greyfriars Convent returned to Catholic ownership in the nineteenth century through the munificence of John, 3rd Marquess of Bute, and was later restored to allow worship to recommence in the building. The Mass itself featured Gregorian chants identical to those which would have been sung in the cathedral during its heyday, with the liturgical forms being practically indistinguishable from the rites celebrated there many centuries ago.

At Greyfriars Convent in Elgin
Pluscarden Abbey
The drive away from the Abbey
The Confraternity of St Ninian, which organised the Mass, is a lay association and Scottish charity which promotes the reconversion of Scotland to the Catholic Faith through pilgrimages incorporating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and traditional devotions. As part of its apostolate, the Confraternity has organised a number of similar Masses in historic ruins such as Arbroath Abbey and St Andrews Cathedral, the latter being at the conclusion of their annual Two Shrines Pilgrimage, a three-day walk from Edinburgh to St Andrews with overnight stops in Dunfermline and Falkland.

Commenting on the historic event, Confraternity President Mark Hamid said, “It is wonderful to have been able to incorporate a visit to Elgin into our weekend retreat to Pluscarden Abbey, and we are particularly grateful to Historic Environment Scotland and the Dominican Sisters for allowing us to use these historic places of worship. It has been an undoubted highlight of our experience to restore the celebration of Holy Mass to a place where it was offered with daily devotion for more than three centuries, and all the more meaningful to use the form of the Sacred Rites that is so similar to the liturgy used during that period.”

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