Sunday, 7 August 2011

500 (g)

I hope that by this stage we have established that the Irish have traditionally had their faith nurtured in the home, rather than in the parish. This has enabled the faith to survive very adverse conditions, including the total alienation of the parish buildings and assets to Protestant worship.

Since the home cannot furnish sacramental worship without the help of a priest, the devotions of the Irish tended to be centred around other things, like the rosary, pilgrimages &c. The peculiarly Irish custom of the Station Mass (not to be confused with the Roman custom) can be seen as an extension of that. To this day, families in a parish will announce a Station Mass, when Mass will be celebrated in their home for all their neighbours. Put aside all thoughts of sixties house Masses: these were, and are, major devotional occasions and a real mainstay of the life of the parish and people. Fr Hunwicke and others might care to wonder whether this, too, connects to the paleo-Christian worship of the Irish.

So, by the end of the nineteenth century, Irish religion was concentrated largely on the pursuit of holiness expressed in ways other than the formal parish liturgy more common to countries who derived their spiritual practices from the old Roman Empire.

That the clergy were mostly formed in France during the penal times also may have had its effect. France was given to both Gallicanism and Jansenism, and I think we can see the effects of both these in Irish spirituality. The anti-Jansenistic remedy of devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Lord can also be seen in abundance in Ireland, as could the anti-Gallican profound devotion to the Holy See deriving from the Ultramontane movement. Even the custom of the red sanctuary lamp which we are all so familiar with is, I am told, an Irish custom derived from the Gallican uses of France, which used red as the liturgical colour for the Blessed Sacrament. Rome has always used white.

The introduction of the Liturgical Movement into Ireland was patchy. Certainly there were places where the liturgy was done splendidly, but they were rare. Clergy, however, understood that it was the mind of the Church to encourage good liturgy, and tried. But the heart of the people continued much as it had always done. And the priests themselves pursued holiness as they had learned at their mothers' knees, which is to say in personal prayer, in devotions, pilgrimages and all that.

The traditional rite of Mass, with its long periods of prayerful silence, hid the fact that the priest could scamper through Mass in 15 minutes. It used to be said that all the people heard of the Mass was 'SCUM!' as the priest whirled round to say 'Dominus vobiscum'.

Hand in hand with the liturgical movement was the disapprobation of other devotions; people were supposed to focus their prayer and devotion on the Sacred Liturgy. In many parts of France, this worked very well. There were many parishes which, up to the Second Vatican Council not only celebrated the regular Sunday Masses with as much solemnity as they could muster, but also celebrated parts of the Office too, the laity assisting at sung Vespers in Latin with gusto.

Not in Ireland. Even at Mass, the people, attending in huge numbers, continued to pray the Rosary—not even together, except in October, when the curate would stand in the pulpit and lead the rosary while the parish priest celebrated Mass at the altar. This is fact; I am not exaggerating.

Then came the Second Vatican Council, when the Mass was no longer something mysterious and esoteric. It was patent and vernacular. So, no need for those other 'unliturgical' devotions, then.

Father stopped saying the rosary.
Father encouraged the people to attend to the Mass, rather than say the rosary.
So people stopped saying the rosary. And all the other stuff.
Father didn't stop saying Mass at ninety miles an hour.
Father's job was to say Mass. Nothing else.
(anyone see that funny Fr Ted episode when Fr Dougal got stuck on a milk cart that he couldn't stop? Fr Ted's reaction was to say Mass alongside the milk cart)

Mass, Mass, Mass, Mass, Mass, Massy Mass Mass.
(Not that I'm against the Mass, you understand……)

And the Mass as celebrated was extremely unsatisfying (ex opere operantis, I mean, of course). Gabble, gabble, gabble. Bad homily. Gabble, gabble, gabble. Communion (given by lay people). Guinness.

The Irish spirit, as I have suggested, will find other outlets for its devotion. One good example of this is the (excellent) proliferation of Eucharistic exposition. This happens probably in most parishes now. But I have yet to see a priest present. An extraordinary minister will expose and repose; lay people will take their turns to watch. The rosary and other devotions the same.

I should here say that I do perfectly understand that there are excellent priests in Ireland. I know several.

Most priests will not engage themselves, because the prayer is 'not liturgical'. Priests aren't actually necessary to its functioning. They don't see that they have a much wider importance than the mere performance of a function. They have spent their seminary career being educated to despise that devotional life which their grandmothers so cherished, and which gave them, themselves, the faith. The liturgy can nourish the faith well, when it is done well ex opere operato. Nothing better, naturally. But when it isn't, and when the very devotions are discouraged and despised, and shunned by the clergy, then one may ask what is there that is actually nourishing the faith of the Irish people these days?

And can you wonder that ordinary people are asking just what use is a priest, and why he deserves the status he has been given?


Fr Ray Blake said...

All you have said seems summed up in Aloysius O'Kelly's 1883 painting "Mass in a Connemara Cabin".
An Irish priest pointed it out to me: the new priest, so disconnected fron the people. His silk hat, his new silk French vestments contrast with his surroundings and the majority of the congregation.

GOR said...

”And can you wonder that ordinary people are asking just what use is a priest, and why he deserves the status he has been given?”

In terms of the role of the priest in Irish life a distinction must be made between Regular and Secular clergy. Most accounts of Irish life – whether fictional or historical – tend to deal mainly with the secular clergy – the parish priests and curates, the bishops and archbishops. You noted earlier Father, about the blurring of the lines of authority between monks and secular clergy in earlier times and the parish priest as a “political figure”.

In more recent history the role of the parish clergy took on more responsibility than the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Like Fr. Lynch, the “ruling baron” of Ballyutogue in Leon Uris’ Trinity (set in the late 19th century) the parish priest’s reach went well beyond the spiritual apostolate. Being the only one in the town or village with any education, he was called upon for many other tasks – the writing of letters, mediation of disputes, interaction with officialdom, etc. He was the ‘go-to’ person for a lot of things – many of which had little to do with religion. He really was a ‘secular priest’.

In contrast, the members of Religious Orders were viewed differently. While the argument could be advanced that this came from the fact that the monasteries were populated by the sons of Irish families – many families had one or more sons in religious life - this was also true of the diocesan clergy. The perception, I believe, came from the ‘other-worldliness’ of religious life versus the ‘worldly’ life of the secular clergy.

Religious had vows of Poverty. They lived in community. Their prayer life was visible to all in the recitation of the Office and the celebration of the Liturgy. They were involved in educating the masses. They lived on alms or the fruits of their labors. They were ‘removed’ from much of the daily life of the people. Even the priests of Missionary Societies - while not monastic – were ‘different’. They went to foreign lands and labored under extreme conditions to bring the Gospel to people. They didn’t have the ‘easy life’ of the diocesan clergy.

Accordingly, Irish people had a different appreciation for monks and religious and they supported them generously. People were devoted to this or that Order, belonged to Third Orders, wore the various scapulars throughout their lives and were buried in the ‘habit’ of the Order. This did not always sit well with the local parish priest who saw this as taking away from the responsibility of the faithful for the ‘support of their pastors’. In other words, it was frequently about money - or at least that was how many people saw it. Tensions existed between regular and secular clergy – at least at the level of authority.

The sharp drop in vocations of recent years has served to change some of that. Formerly where a parish priest or bishop would be loth to call upon the nearby religious community for help, today many are only too happy to avail of them. I don’t know the numbers but I suspect that very few priests from religious orders were ever raised to the episcopacy in Ireland. I can only remember one: John Charles McQuaid – and, reportedly, he was not well received initially by the clergy of the Dublin Archdiocese…

Philly said...

GOR makes an excellent point of distinction between the seculars and religious. The Irish always had a grá for the religious that they couldn't quite muster for the seculars. Even today, perhaps especially today, people will go to the Church of regulars in preferance to those of religious in increasing numbers.

Two points I don't agree with. The secular clergy are still not happy with the intrusion of religious. I can think of several examples in recent years where the seculars 'dabbled' with giving the regulars parochial rights, where the regulars got FED UP of how they were treated and withdrew from the arrangement - not just withdrawal because of falling numbers in their Order.

The other point is religious as Bishops. In recent times, one of Dublin's Auxiliaries was a religious (SS.CC. then OFM), although before McQuaid, CSSp (1940-1972) there wasn't another religious Abp since Troy, OP (1786-1823).

Current Irish Ordinaries include OCD (Raphoe), SAC (Ossory) and SMA (Killaloe). During the centuries of persecution OFMs and OPs especially were regularly appointed to Irish Sees, often as the ones in situ with Roman connections.

In the 19th and 20th cents., CM (Elphin, Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Kildare and Leighlin), OP (Kilalla, Cork, Dromore), SS.CC. (Ferns), OSA (Kildare and Leighlin), CSSR (Killaloe, Waterford & Lismore) were appointed as Ordinaries but it was less and less common until recent times. Interestingly, I can't think of a single religious Abp in the 19th/20th cents. other than McQuaid.

The strange thing about 'clustering' is that it seems never to require seculars to live in common. This is another great change. The PP may have lived like a country squire in splendid isolation in many cases but it was just as common for the curates to live in common with each other or with the PP. It was a far healthier system that broke down in the 60s when the 'cool' Priests wanted 'their own space', perhaps linked to the 'cool nuns' moving out of convents into 'communities' of one or two. This is a change that served nobody well.

GOR said...

Thank you Philly for supplying my ignorance of the number of religious bishops in Ireland. I didn’t realize there were that many – historically or at present (I’ve been away awhile and of course ‘John Charles’ was always the most visible in my day).

I take your point about the devotion of Irish people to particular Orders. My aunt in Dublin would never go to any other church than Whitefriars St. – administered by the Carmelites. However, this also depended on where you lived in Ireland. The Orders tended to be concentrated in the urban areas and provided an alternative for the faithful. There was less of such accessibility for the rural faithful.

While there was devotion to the religious houses in the countryside, there wasn’t always the possibility of public Masses or the Sacraments for the faithful. This was not on account of lack of willingness on the part of the religious – but rather for political considerations. I don’t know if there were restrictions on this at the diocesan level, but certainly some PPs looked askance at an Order which might be ‘poaching’ on his congregation and the superiors of that Order would not have wanted to get on the wrong side of the PP. Hence, one treaded lightly.

The problem of parish assignment to Religious Orders was also an issue, admittedly. I suspect some Ordinaries were unwilling to ‘farm out’ a parish to an Order and some ‘dithering’ did go on (not just in Ireland – I experienced the same firsthand in England…). But there was also the concern whether the Order could continuously staff a certain parish. With declining vocations, Orders too were under stress and there have been cases of Orders relinquishing parishes they had staffed for decades. So some reservations on the part of Ordinaries would not be unusual.

I also take your point about secular priests living in community in a ‘clustering’ scenario – or at least in the rectory attached to the church. Here in the US the pastor may not even live within the boundaries of the parish! Rectories have been converted to ‘parish centers’ and if you need to contact a priest, good luck with that - as he will not be found at the rectory… Unfortunately, the days of the PP and curates living together in a rectory are gone - there being few parishes with more than one priest. More likely today it is multiple parishes being served by a single pastor. We have lost much.