Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Blood opens Festival week of the Holy Blood in Brugge. My Mother Superior here at the Beguinage encouraged me to go and she was so right! There was a lot of pageantry. The Holy Blood relic was processed followed by 30 odd members, confreres, brothers of the Holy Blood , reminiscent of the medieval Guilds, mostly white haired processing in stately, long, black heavy robes with red piping and heavily embroidered and decorated flaps. The robes had deep red satin linings and the confreres wore white gloves. Those who had lost or temporarily mislaid their gloves discreetly kept bare hands hidden in the folds of the robes. The master confrere wore a no doubt silver chain heavily decorated and having the last supper carved in silver and then encircled at the bottom laying on his chest. The bishop presided at Mass while the Holy Blood relic was lain on the front of the altar on a beautifully tapestried pillow, a place of prominence.
I went 1/2 hour early to sit where I could see all. Sisters can always pray in `empty` time. An excellent choir with which the Beguinage sisters had sung in eras gone by, sang “Sanguis Christi” on the steps to the high altar. The confreres sat in medieval stately pews to the left. The Bishop`s robe was again bright red and a gold embroidered cross with an image of Mary was embroidered at the crosspoint. All of this is with the backdrop of icon covered walls and stained glass windows with images of saints, the sunlight streaming through. The Bishop spoke distinct Nederlands, no hint of dialect or accent. That is a great blessing adding immeasurably to the possibility of comprehension for me personally. Also, I knew all the responses! Daily Beguinage Mass has trained me; I knew my paces! The Basilica was almost full. I recognized two older men from the book about the Holy Blood Procession ( see another blog), one was in a reserved seat in the front row and one in the choir.
At the end of Mass, the Holy Blood relic,carried by the Bishop, is returned in solemn procession to its normal home at the top of the small staircase. The Confreres passed first in veneration and then most of congregation stayed, including me, to mount the steps, say a prayer and descend again in silence and reverence. I felt blessed to have participated in such an intimate and special day for Bruggelings.