The practice of making pilgrimage arises from the deepest level of human religious experience and the image of the pilgrim resonates far beyond that. Across boundaries of faith and culture, through the changes of history and in vastly different places, the pilgrim ideal has proved paradoxically both flexible and constant. In the Irish context, one remarkable witness to the sustained vitality of the practice of pilgrimage is to be found at Lough Derg in south Donegal. Documented since the eleventh century, and famous right across Europe in medieval times as St Patricks Purgatory, the pilgrimage finds its roots in the monastic tradition of the Celtic church, in which the penitential element was a notable feature, in combination with simple repeated prayer forms.
As the twenty-first century begins, Station Island in Lough Derg continues to draw over 20,000 pilgrims each summer from Ireland and beyond. To the contemporary pilgrim, the barefooted rounding prayer-pattern of the traditional three-day pilgrimage, which runs from June to mid-August, seems to offer an experience of re-orientation towards the things of the spirit. One rediscovers the taste of a more human pace of living and what it feels like to attend to the inner journey, to take time out for body and soul. In May and September the option of making a one-day retreat offers an alternative approach to the same end.
Since the 1980s, Lough Derg has been gaining a reputation for worthy liturgical celebration in a style that is simple, dignified, unhurried and deeply participative. In recent pilgrimage seasons, Liam Lawton’s music has become a valued strand in this texture of worship. It seemed entirely natural that Liam should be commissioned to provide a new mass-setting for use in the evening Eucharist. His Lough Derg Mass was first sung at the opening of the traditional three-day pilgrimage season on 31 May 2002. It is our hope that many congregations will take it to their hearts and that, in Ireland and beyond, it may give good service to the pilgrim people of God.
– Mgr Richard Mohan Prior