Friday, 6 June 2008

The Irish Question

As for Ireland; well, everyone I knew told me constantly how much the place had changed, but I didn't find it so, at least on the surface. I like Ireland; no, actually, I love Ireland. I feel completely at home there. People look like me and behave like me. For instance: I like looking at people, because I find them interesting. In England, if someone catches me looking at them, I have to pull my eyes away and pretend that I am finding the wall behind them fascinating, in case I get hit, or arrested. In Ireland, they look right back, or else they've got the look in first. And there is no hostility in the gaze, just curiosity like my own.
And then there's children and young people. The teenagers going to school don't, on the whole, have that sullen look so many of them have here. At least, where I was, in Kells, Co Meath. They look intelligent and friendly; the schoolgirls dress neatly and modestly, and though the boys seem addicted to adidas sportswear, they don't seem to have the need to show their underwear at the same time.

The down side is that the lapsation is awful. I chatted to Martin, the parish secretary at Kells, whom I have known for years, and he tells me that marriages and baptisms are relatively rare events now. Mind you, I could see this coming years ago; religion in Ireland has, to a greater or lesser extent, in my view been confined to the obligation of Sunday Mass-going for several decades, both for priests and people, and it is not surprising that this sparse diet should have resulted in spiritual starvation (more below). Sermons were more often than not perfunctory: I was once chided by a brother priest for taking as long as a half hour to celebrate a Sunday Mass (including homily and communions). 'J....s! What kept you?' he said, as I trotted off the sanctuary, breathless. In fact, I had been well aware of what was expected of me, and, having sprinted as fast as I could, I thought that I had done 'well' to keep it under 40 minutes—and I am no slowcoach, as my parishioners will tell you.
I remember as a teenager standing on the road outside the 'Chapel' in Kells (it can seat well over a thousand; I counted the seats yesterday morning) and watching people literally flood down the streets towards Sunday Mass; the church is so large it didn't require more than four Sunday Masses, (all on Sunday morning) there being four priests in the parish, plus one Mass at an outstation. This doesn't happen now. There are only two (friendly) priests, and though there are still four Masses (one on Saturday evening), there are lots of spaces on the pews, several rows of which have been removed to create a new sanctuary on the nave floor.Here's a pic I took with my phone:

But thinking back to then, in the late seventies; people were still arriving by the Gospel and began leaving at Communion. Not by ones and twos, but streaming in and out. At the time, I thought it kind of cute that runners would cross to the Headfort Arms and tell the barman that the priest was at Communion; he would begin pouring the Guinnesses (and, as I'm sure you know, it takes several minutes to pour a good pint) for the stream of people who would shortly invade. Now I think it a sad presage of what was to come; a sign of the indifference that was in many cases to mutate into hostility.

Part of the responsibility, not just in Ireland, but throughout the developed world, has to be borne by the Liturgical Movement. There had been a real and active devotional life among the people, but this was despised by many, who, for perfectly understandable reasons, wanted people to be involved in the Liturgy. In many ways this was admirable; the Office had become a feature in parishes in France—at least Sunday Vespers—but it also had the result which we still see that most priests stopped participating in other, unliturgical, devotions, like the Rosary, Benediction, novenas, which until the 1950s still attracted popular support. So, in the English-speaking world, people then began to stop the popular devotions, but they did not begin to support the more austere Office. So that went, too. The sixties brought social action instead of prayer, leaving Mass the sole devotion of the Catholic faithful.
Don't get me wrong: it is, of course, the Mass that matters above everything else. But if it is not supported by a Christian life beyond it, if it is the sole religious element of a Christian's week, if the only Communions made are (in some cases) sacrilegious because made in mortal sin, then the practice of the faith will soon be seen as a sad burden and be done away with.
I suspect that many Irish pastors, like many here in England and elsewhere, simply lost touch with how to move their people. I do not exempt myself, either, from this charge. Our age is a very sensual one, and the Office has to be done very well indeed to become sensual. The Eastern rites manage it, of course, and there is a real beauty in Choral Evensong when it is well done. Vespers at the London Oratory can be truly wonderful, but we have not succeeded in making the offices, liturgical prayer, a part of the real diet of Catholics in ordinary parishes.
Where do we go from here? I don't know.


gemoftheocean said...

Bring back regular Benediction for openers. Is it possible to organize perpetual adoration? Or if not perpetual at least for a good part of the day? from 7a.m. until 10? Can people pop into church at odd hours of the day? Is the rosary regularly said? Stations? Especially in Lent.

But start with Benediction and adoration first. If it's not possible to do benediction every week, could they be organized on a rotating basis within the deanery...and this schedule published/posted?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gemoftheocean, ( for once).

I grew up in small town Ireland in the very early 1970s and there was always Benediction on a Sunday evening. Moderately well attended but with choir and organ. I remember it as very beautiful: during the summer the evening sunshine streaming through the windows catching the insence and in the winter coming out of the church to find it already dark. It santified the whole day and the coming night. It had a big emotional empact not only on me but I know other people felt the same.

While liturgical matters were apparently never the forte in Ireland they seem to be at a dreadful low. You just have to look at the terrible recovations carried out on perfectly fine churches which have little other purpose than to destroy what earlier generations had held as sacred.

Míċeál said...

Fr SeaN, I too,am saddened when I return and see our own Churh less than half full for Sunday fact I find it depressing and I have to admit that I have offered Sunday Mass in half an hour, being told by a member of my family to 'forget about a sermon' as 'they ' don't like it and you can be away from another parish in 20 mins......WE(priests)have a lot to answer....

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and if you have a school, is it possible to one weekly or every other week at the least to have a school assembly that features Benediction? It's best to start when young, and it occurs to me that the children's PARENTS are of an age (having children that age, in general) where many of THEM didn't get the benefit of regular Benediction when they were young themselves. And if the assembly is held at the beginning of the school day, maybe some of the parents would be able to attend too.

the hound said...

I am Irish originally , from the South West, but have lived in the UK for some time. One thing that I notice is the mediocrity of the church in Ireland. You just don't have anything comparable to, say, the Oratories, London, Birmingham and Oxford, or even small churches like St. Birinus in Dorchester on Thames where things are done as well as possibly can be. In Ireland these days the church seems embarrassed to strive for anything above the minimum. I recently had a discussion with a relative from a village where the church has been wreckovated by a new PP. I asked him if he didn't miss the devotional images, the altar rails, the tradition. He answered, "We've got rid of all that old nonsense now". I though there was a genuine hatred in his voice. As for where you go from here I just don't know. While there are days I feel that the church in England has turned a corner and things are finally improving, in Ireland I have never felt that recently even once.

Anonymous said...

I believe that by being the best priest you can possibly be your example will put heart into your parishioners.

In my parish we have the rosary after daily Mass, we have Adoration every Thursday and Wednesday evening finishing with Compline. In Lent we have the Stations of the Cross every Friday night. Can you introduce these devotions and explain what they are for those poorly catechised people. If your parishioners see that you value these devotions they will come. If you feel confident you can offer scripture sessions or catechetical instruction in the evenings.

Pastor in Monte said...

There seems to be an impression that I am in charge of this parish — not at all! I am merely someone who has visited it regularly over the last 47 years. By the grace of God, things don't seem to be so disastrous in my own parish.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I am not sure if there are any simple answers. Historically there was time when the Irish Church was highly liturgical: I have a copy of (a former Rector of Maynooth) Daniel O'Loan's book on Pontifical Ceremonies where he spends some twenty pages on the detials of choir reverences and about the same on 'making the circles' (the position of the canons and beneficiaries during the Kyrie etc of a pontifical Mass. In the nineteenth century as Ultramontanism grew people grew less interested in the liturgy.

One of the joys of Dublin is the (Church of Ireland) St. Patrick's Cathedral. I understand that this is the only Anglican Cathedral in Europe where there is daily Choral Mattins and Evensong in term time. When I was last in Dublin I was one of five people at Evensong and the only person at Mattins so I do not think the lack of interest is merely a Catholic issue but perhaps a cultural/identity one?

Anonymous said...

Two things have killed religion in Ireland: sexual abuse from priests and religious and money. In addition there is the results of the cruelty frequently found in Catholic orphanages and schools run by nuns, and the atrocious record of cruelty and abuse emanating from the Christian Brothers.

The consequences of the sexual abuse crisis mean that priests and religious are now more or less invisible in the streets, especially in Dublin. The collar is seldom worn in public because priests are often subjected to verbal, even physical, abuse from the public.

But it is the Celtic Tiger which compounded the priest-abuse situation. Ireland is now, thanks to the EEC, a rich country and the people have more money than ever before. With this has come brashness, vulgarity and an excuse not to practice the Faith because it is seen as unsophisticated and repressive, as indeed it was.

It is unlikely that the Church in Ireland will ever recover from these factors. The people are too dim to embrace secularism, but they can live without religion. They only supported the Church because there was nothing else. Much Irish Catholicism was formal and skin-deep.

No country more strongly than Ireland tried to keep Poland out of the EEC because it feared that it would mean less money for the Irish. The irony is that Ireland has more or less been colonized by Poland and what remaining strength the Church has mainly comes from that source. Yet the clod-like Irish bishops seem to resent this rather than welcome it and make life difficult for Polish priests and congregations. This does not stop the Irish from exploiting the Poles financially, despite the fact that they have transformed the building industry and other services and have revealed the Irish as the idle, gross, feckless, greedy slobs that they are.

Pastor in Monte said...

Anonymous — there is an awful lot you write with which I agree, and which I think is true. Which is why I have posted your comment.
I'm sorry you descend into xenophobia, though. Your description of the Irish, without qualification (and therefore including me) as 'dim…idle, gross, feckless, greedy [and] slobs' was neither charitable nor accurate, but sadly characteristic of the attitude that many English have had to the Irish since the time of Coroticus and St Patrick. All nations and people can have these faults, and all nations and people can have good qualities too. Including the English, among whom I have lived almost all my life, and whose virtues I admire while being realistic about their faults. And without generalizing, or locating or projecting all faults onto another race without differentiation.
Simply to dismiss people as barbarians, characterizing them only by their perceived faults, and generalizing wildly, is neither helpful, nor Christian.