Right, back to the fray.
In earlier posts I have tried not to defend Irish illiturgicality, but to explain it. Like many of you, I believe that sorting this question out is part of the answer to the Irish Question. It just isn't the whole answer, and it has to take account of the Irish point of view.
I am now going to give an account of a celebration I attended a few weeks ago: it will highlight many of the things I have been writing about. It will horrify many of you, but I would ask you to contain your reaction and try to understand it.
There is a monastery in the Irish midlands where monthly Sunday afternoon religious gatherings (I don't really know what I ought to call them) have taken place for many decades; these have been very popular, but are now being wound down for external reasons. I attended one of these, but sat in the congregation (and yes, I was in uniform) as I was feeling unwell.
It all began in a chapel entirely devoted to the Divine Mercy devotion. There is a large picture—you know the one, with rays coming from our Lord's heart—behind the altar, and confessionals all around (unused on this day, though I understand that confession was a usual part of these afternoons in the past). Two elderly priests entered. One of them had a smoking thurible, and this was waved at the picture. Then we all sat down and recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet, five decades. This being done, we all decamped to the main chapel. Here Mass was celebrated at breakneck speed—not irreverently, I mean, but very very quickly. I suspect that the celebrant was simply saying the English Mass in the same way he used to say the Latin Mass. When Communion time came, the concelebrant stood at the microphone and sang a traditional hymn, while the main celebrant gave out communion at the head of a side aisle. Meanwhile a woman grabbed a ciborium and headed off to us at the back of the chapel. There was no queue; she came to each person in his or her seat. When she came to my aunt and me, she demanded 'do yez want the bread?' and, I am not exaggerating, flung the Blessed Sacrament at us. When she had finished, she stumped back off to the altar, tabernacled the ciborium, bobbed a half-genuflection and went back to her place. Mass over, the concelebrant again crooned a hymn to the Blessed Sacrament into the microphone and the main celebrant proceeded to expose the Lord in a monstrance. There was no pause for prayer, but he took a humeral veil and proceeded down one side aisle of the chapel stopping every few feet to bless the people kneeling there as he passed. He went out of the chapel door, and blessed the (no doubt confused) visitors and tourists in the bookshop outside. Then he returned inside and proceeded up the other aisle, blessing as before, and back to the altar. The Lord was reposed, and the service was over.
That's it. You'll probably agree with me that it was pretty awful and the distribution of Communion even sacrilegious. But what you must understand is that in some bizarre way the whole thing (except Communion) was both genuine and nourishing. What I mean is that, well, I have sometimes said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Nobody was indifferent there; there was a lot of love, and a lot of real piety. It was full of prayer, almost tangibly. It was just very untidy and very unliturgical. And they should not have allowed that woman to distribute the Blessed Sacrament.
It is ideorhythmic religion again.
I would certainly like to see liturgy in Ireland tidied up and made reverent and far more focussed. I really think it would help. However it won't be easy to achieve, because the current style is so widespread, at least in the Republic. There is little experience, no tradition, of solemn liturgy in the parishes. Things like the recent FOTA conference are very encouraging, and as people get some experience of better liturgy, I should think that other things will improve too.
But one mistake must not be made, which is to despise or remove the devotional aspect altogether. The liturgical movement from the nineteenth century did make this mistake, and to some extent we are reaping the whirlwind. Prayer needs to be affective as well as effective; if it does not engage the heart, then it will not awaken the soul. The encounter with God, whether in the Sacred Liturgy or in other devotions has to be a real encounter with Another; it is not an intellectual or an æsthetic exercise.
What I mean is that even the liturgy is not an end in itself, not a form of entertainment whether a splendid Extraordinary Form Solemn Mass or a happy-clappy feel-good let-it-all-hang-out celebration. The liturgy is not for looking at, it is for looking through, to God, to heaven, to Calvary and even (properly understood) to each other.