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?