In recent years my visits to Lourdes have taken place either in July/August, or in December for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is the first time that I have been there during the half-term holiday. So here are the contrasts:
In May, Lourdes is beautifully green (perhaps this year more so than ever because of recent rain), whereas in August it is dry and arid because of the heat. During the week, I was dipping into Alina Reyes book La jeune fille et la Vierge, and the first pages I read, referring to those times when the Virgin appeared without speaking, suggest that we could think of the universe as "a holy Scripture (Ecriture sainte), or at least like a writing (ecriture), a whole space that speaks, the invisible of the space which shows its word by signalling (la signalant) it by a sound, then imaging (la figurant) it under the form of an ideal femininity, all freshness, small and beautiful."
In May, Lourdes is like a "little England" because so many English dioceses or parishes visit during the half-term week; in July/August or in December, it is more like a "little Italy" because of the numbers of visitors who travel from that country. It was a rather odd experience for me to meet so many people I knew - from Maryvale (Birmingham Archdiocese were out for the week); clergy from my past (I have carefully thought how to express this - looking rather well fed, whether or not wearing the soutane); and even the member of the Knights of St Columba from a nearby parish who had organised the overnight watching for the "Forty Hours" recently.
The ceremonies at Lourdes were as busy during this week as I have previously seen them for the Feast of the Assumption in August. While at times the town did not appear too busy (perhaps I was walking around during "siesta time"), the participation at the International Mass and the Rosary Procession on Wednesday must have been approaching the capacity of the shrine to cope.