EVEN though it was a major deadly sin when I was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s of the last century, I don’t worry at all nowadays when I miss Sunday mass. It was tough anyway during the pandemic lockdown as we all know.
However, not a week goes by that I don’t stumble upon a quiet chapel here in Killaloe en Clare and elsewhere on my travels across the west. I always choose a late afternoon for my visits. At that time, the chapels were practically deserted and we did not meet any clergy.
This situation is an almost unbelievable change from the realities of the past for the Irish people when the Catholic hierarchy ruled over all aspects of our lives far more completely and severely than the government we established at Leinster House in Dublin during the last elections.
These thoughts still come to my mind in empty chapels in 2021 after saying my simple prayers and perhaps lighting a candle or two on a side altar for those in the family who are now in Heaven. All, surely, have lived through the harshest restrictions that the Catholic Church has imposed on all of us until very recently, when, at last, the power surrounded by Roman necklaces and crosses vanished. Deo Gratias for that.
Many of you old people there, who were born and raised here before you emigrated, will remember especially how we ordinary people suffered during the seven long weeks of Lent.
Remember? Hard working men and women, for example, can only have one meal a day and maybe two light snacks called snacks. Men who enjoyed a pint or two were actively discouraged from indulging in Lent.
Even children were not allowed to have their usual sweets and comics until the end of Lent. You remember ?
Worst of all for the rising generations was the fact that dancing in ballrooms where romances blossomed to the rousing music of orchestras was also prohibited. There was only one night when dancing was authorized by the hierarchy, and that was the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
As a result of this ban, large entertainment groups that could afford it had to leave the country completely every Lent. Smaller groups were forced to simply stop playing for the duration at considerable cost to themselves. Remember?
The new reality to be congratulated on is that the chapels are empty as the once all-powerful Catholic Church in Ireland is aging rapidly and its priests are dying or retiring at an increasing rate, which means that many parishes no longer have the traditional parish. priest in residence.
Would you believe, for example, that the parish of Caherdaniel in Kerry, the original parish of Daniel O’Connell who fought successfully for Catholic emancipation from the Irish long ago, no longer has its own parish priest? He has to share the visiting services of a rapidly declining group of seniors with other areas like Valentia and Waterville.
At the other end of the scale as well, according to a recent statement from Bishop of Kerry Ray Browne, there is a dramatic decrease in the number of new vocations to the priesthood.
These are some of the thoughts that come to me today as I sit in the empty churches of Ireland 2021. I was an altar boy in Arney Chapel in Fermanagh when I was young and I remember still Latin lingo that we had to learn to do our job properly. next to the parish priest who has always had total control of his flock.
And I remember girls weren’t allowed to serve on the altar back then either in this different world from which thank goodness we finally escaped.
I’ll leave it there for now. Stay safe until we meet again … perhaps savoring the peace of the stained glass window of a quiet country chapel without a priest in sight.