Change in Irish Catholicism: Some Reminiscences

Many thanks to Fr. Seán Coyle for these fascinating reminiscences:

Vatican II and the Church in Ireland:

The Irish bishops seemed to convey a sense of obedience: ‘This is what we’ve been asked to do so we’ll do it’. As I recall, they didn’t keep the people particularly well informed about the Council. Those who did were journalists as Kevin O’Kelly of RTE, Sean Mac Reamoinn [see here - Shane] and Louis McRedmond. All of these were committed Catholics even if the first two might have leaned towards the ‘liberal’ side’. This is not a negative comment. I’m not sure about Louis McRedmond, whether he was ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. These were journalists of integrity.

My Dad was a daily Massgoer and a man of habit but I never heard him comment on the change. He was also a builder’s foreman and when the EEC, as it then was, introduced metric measures into building he took it in his stride.

In the Archdiocese of Dublin Archbishop McQuaid ordered that one Mass every Sunday be in Irish. Someone said to him ‘You are starting a revolution!’ He replied. ‘No, preventing a rebellion!’ Some criticised having a Mass in Irish. This used to raise my hackles as it was usually from the kind of person who had ‘always gone to the 9 o’clock Mass and I don’t understand this language’ and who would never consider the possibility of going to Mass at 7, 8, 10, 11 or 12! [see also: Liturgical Reform in Ireland - Shane]

The introduction of English Masses in one or two breac-Gaeltacht parishes has caused great controversy on occasion.

Patrician Year (1961): Pontifical High Mass at Croke Park, 25th June

I was on duty that day outside Croke Park as a member of the Congress Volunteer Corps, a group of Fifth and Sixth Year students from Catholic boys’ schools in Dublin. I had just finished my Leaving Cert in nearby O’Connell Schools. You can see members of the CVC in the video. The uniform was simple: dark trousers and white shirt, which we provided ourselves, a beret – yellow for those without any special jobs and other colours for those with specific responsibilities – epaulettes and a stick. The stick wasn’t to beat anyone with but could be helpful in crowd control, indicating a line. One of the members of the CVC was the now Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

One memory I have of that morning is seeing Sean T. O’Kelly, then in retirement, Frank Aiken and one or two other older members of Fianna Fail getting out of a very modest car. They got a big cheer from those nearby. Sean T was a very popular man and gave a wonderfully entertaining talk at the National Stadium during the Congress. He had everyone eating out of his hand. [see also this delightful clip of President O'Kelly going to Mass and the St. Patrick's Day parade in Dublin on 17th March, 1950 - Shane] May they all rest in peace.

One thing I remember vividly was the 90,000 raising the roof with Credo III. I also felt an outsider, ( I don’t mean because I was outside the stadium) as I had never been taught it in 14 years in Catholic schools. The singing raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

The CVC, organised by the late Monsignor Tom Fehily, was formally disbanded by Taoiseach Sean Lemass outside Dublin Airport after Cardinal Agagianian flew back to Rome. However, it was soon to become the Archbishop’s Volunteer Corps that was to be involved in various projects in the Archdiocese of Dublin. It was later opened to girls. I’ve an idea that the AVC is no more but am not sure.

Some of us went on the Dublin Diocesan Pilgrimage to Beauraing, Belgium, that August, a wonderful experience. We were subsidised by the Archdiocese and paid only £5, which even in those days was a great bargain. We did ceremonial duty in Beauraing. The present Archbishop of Dublin was in the group that travelled.

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Commenting on a previous post, Keiran Fagan also helpfully noted:

I was there too, only I had a red beret, as I was a “minder”, aide de camp Fr Tom Fehilly called it, for Cardinal Paolo Marella. It was a seriously cool gig for a 16-year-old, riding around in the front of a big Austin Princess limo, opening doors for the cardinal and making sure nobody, not even a reverend mother, got to put milk in his inevitable cup of tea. I saw up close John Charles McQuaid and Eamon de Valera who was totally blind by then. John Charles had three great cars, a Citroen Light 15 (Maigret had one) a Hudson Fluid Drive limo with eight cylinders I think, and a beautiful Citroen DS. I even got to sit in the back of Dev’s 1947 or 8 blue Rolls Royce ZJ 5000 while it was parked in the yard in Dublin Castle. Great times, but I don’t recall any religious epiphany moments. Says more about me than anything else I reckon.

Writing in 1974, John Feeney (the late journalist and editor of The Catholic Standard) described the Patrician Year Congress as the summit of Dr. McQuaid’s tenure as Archbishop of Dublin. Feeney was very much a Vatican II Catholic. At UCD he founded the ecumenical Student Christian Movement. He also became chairman of Pax Romana and leader of Grille, a left-wing Christian movement. As a leading Catholic radical, Feeney had reason more than most to resent McQuaid’s conservative views. Nevertheless in a critically sympathetic biography, he gives a largely positive assessment of the archbishop’s legacy and challenges some of the lazy caricatures then being propounded by vituperative critics.

Feeney contrasts the pre-revolutionary tranquility that characterized the Patrician Year celebrations in 1961 with the post-conciliar chaos soon to emerge. He believed that the Irish Catholic laity and hierarchy were deeply attached to the old order and were ‘oblivious to the vast changes in the whole world outlook of Catholics which was to come’: “There was little evidence after the election in 1958 of Pope John that the nature of Catholicism would change greatly…matters were much the same as ever for the majority of Irish Catholics. They had a saintly, loveable Pope who commanded respect but there was little understanding of the new thinking he was initiating…almost three years after the election of Pope John, there seemed to be little change in Dublin…the success and triumphs of the 1950s continued.” The faithful, Feeney asserts, responded enthusiastically to the Congress with “a mixture of nationalism, religious fervour and civic pride” and he quotes the pious report of the Irish Catholic Directory: “A majestic carillon pealed, a silver-voiced fanfare of military trumpets sounded in Royal Salute, ninety thousand lips moved in silent prayer.” For Feeney, the Patrician Year celebrations give “a glittering bejewelled spectacle of Catholic life just before the Council — it was a garden party before the outbreak of war, before the realities of the Church in the world impinged too strongly on Ireland.”

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Posted on July 28, 2011, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Liturgy, Patrician Year (1961), Second Vatican Council. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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