The Irish Catholic Church in 1958 – A Statistical Overview

Seminarians strolling at All Hallow's College, Dublin, ca. 1955.

Seminarians strolling outside All Hallow’s College, Dublin, ca. 1955.

In January of this year, I posted a paper by Dr. Jeremiah Newman from 1958 on Priestly Vocations in Ireland. At that Conference in Vienna where he read the paper, he also gave a statistical supplement, which is posted below:

A. Priests and People in Ireland (Statistics from Irish Catholic Directory).

1. Total Catholic population of all Ireland: 3,257,400.

2. Total number of priests in Ireland (1956): 5,489.

3. Proportion of priests to people: 1 priest for every 593 Catholics.

4. Numbers of diocesan clergy and religious in Ireland:

                        1920       1940       1950       1956

Diocesan          3081        3354        3563        3772

Religious          754          1024        1481        1717

B. General Indications of Vocation (Priestly) Trend in Ireland.

1. Diocesan Clergy ordained — Totals for decades and averages per annum:

                             1920-30         1931-40         1941-50
Total                          926                  957                 857
Average per annum    92                    95                   98

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Archbishop Heenan of Westminster on the Council in 1964


Archbishop John Heenan was Archbishop of Westminster (1963-1975). He was elevated to the cardinalate in 1965.

From the Irish Independent, 23rd October, 1964:

The Archbishop of Westminster, Most Rev. Dr. Heenan, said in the Vatican Council yesterday that the Council must speak out on the contraceptive pill, but should shelve the problem for three or four years.

He criticised a draft decree on the Church in the modern world as a “set of platitudes.”

He declared that the Council “will become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world if it now rushes breathlessly to a debate on world hunger, nuclear war and family life.”

Most Rev. Dr. Heenan singled out the draft decree’s section on birth control for attack and said that it did not state the Church’s teaching on the contraceptive pill. The draft decree should be handed to a new Commission composed of specialists from the laity and priests with long pastoral experience.

“Then, after three or four years, let the fourth and final session of the Council be convened to discuss all these social problems,” he suggested.

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Belfast and the Bible


Thanks to the Redemptorist Library Project for this.

See also: Questions Posed by Belfast Protestants at Clonard Missions (1949-’59)

Fr Fahey and Irish Catholicism


Fr. Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp. (1883–1954)

The following article by Doris Manly was published in the January-February issue of the Ballintrillick Review in 1990. The Ballintrillick Review was a precursor of the modern Brandsma Review.

Fr Fahey had an influence on Irish Catholicism, but it does not seem to have been either wide or enduring. The fact that the Legion of Mary proved far more popular and lasting than Maria Duce suggests that his philosophy had limited appeal. The contrast is relevant because Frank Duff very firmly rejected Fr Fahey’s ideas about the Jews: in fact, he actually expelled from the Legion some people who insisted on putting those views forward under its auspices.
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The Mormons


Ireland’s Peril


Militant Atheism: Soviet Russia Prepares New Offensive


See also: Communism – A Will O’ The Wisp
Science under Communism’ in The Irish Rosary, July-August, 1955
Irish Hierarchy’s Statement on the Persecution of the Church in Poland (1953)
The Anti-God Front of Bolshevism
The Land of Make Believe
Marx the Man: An Idol with Feet of Clay
Indo-China: Catholic and Communist’ in The Irish Monthly, May, 1953
Communism and the Home
Communism and Religion
Modern Communism
The Theory and Objective of Bolshevism
Communism from the Inside
A Christian Alternative to Communism and Fascism by Rev. Con Lucey, later Bishop of Cork and Ross
Bishop Daniel Cohalan on the Persecution of the Church in Eastern Europe

Medieval Christianity


St Anthony of Padua


Persecution of Irish Priests in China: Letter from Bishop Edward Galvin (1952)


Bishop Edward Galvin was a co-founder of the Maynooth Mission to China (known today as the Columbans) in 1916 and was the first Bishop of Hanyang. On 19th September 1952 he was expelled from China by the new communist government and was deported to British Hong Kong, whence he wrote the following letter. It is dated 1st October 1952 and was sent to the Very Rev. Timothy Connolly, the Superior General of the Maynooth Mission to China at St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan, Co. Meath.

Dear Father Connolly,

Let me thank you very sincerely for your cablegram of good wishes. I heard the sentence of expulsion on the morning of September 15 at police headquarters in Hankow. I was then taken back to my own city of Hanyang under escort and held there in my rooms under strict supervision until the afternoon of the 17th, when I was moved back to police headquarters in Hankow, put on board a train in Wuchang shortly before midnight and escorted by three policemen to the Hong Kong border, where I crossed on the 19th. There I was met by Father McNamara.

The Internuncio to China, Monsignor Riberi, who also lives in this haven of hospitality, and who has been very kind, has asked me to write the story of my expulsion and I am trying to do it, though still very tired.

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The Church Christ Founded


The Witnesses of Jehovah


Preaching Christ Crucified


The Monastic Inquisition


Priestly Vocations in Ireland (1958)

See also: Priests and People in Ireland (1957) and The Catholic Church in Contemporary Ireland (1931)

The following paper was read by Dr Jeremiah Newman to the First International Conference on Priestly Vocations in Europe at Vienna, Austria on 10th October 1958. Dr Newman was then Professor of Sociology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He later served as President of the college (1968-1974) and Bishop of Limerick (1974-1995).

It is indeed a privilege for me to have been asked to address this Conference on Priestly Vocations in Europe. It is especially so because of the fact that the Conference is being held in the Schottenstift, founded in Vienna by Irish missionaries some eight hundred years ago. Although for this reason I am glad to be here, we would all be happier if this Conference were unnecessary. Unfortunately it is only too necessary in face of the acute shortage of priests which has overcome certain areas of Europe. My country is luckily in the position of being numbered amongst those countries that have sufficient priests. You know, however, that it was not always so, that the Catholic people of Ireland suffered centuries of persecution, long years during which priests were in short supply, hunted as criminals, with a price on their heads. I would like to think that my presence here, as representative of the present-day Catholicism of Ireland, may be a source of hope and confidence in the future for those of you who come from countries which need this.

It has been suggested to me that I should speak on the subject of the missionary duty of a country that is rich in priests. My country is rightly listed in this category. The statistical supplement to this paper gives you an idea of the great numbers of priestly vocations which she produces. It shows too the great extent of her overseas missionary work, both in lands in which the Church is fully established and in those that are still under the jurisdiction of Propaganda. I feel, however, that some of you are of the opinion that there is much more which Ireland could do. Indeed I have no doubt that some of you are hoping for a return of Irish priests to the continent. For my part, I believe that the first duty of a country rich in vocations is to explain to others how she manages to secure them. We know well that the ultimate reason is grace. But there are a whole host of human factors — such as social and economic — that play the important role of nature helping grace. The study of these constitutes the contemporary science of Religious Sociology, of which the Sociology of Vocations is a part. I have been invited here in the capacity of a sociologist and it is on the Sociology of Vocations that I propose to speak. The time allotted for my paper is brief, so I shall have to be very summary in the exposition of my points.
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The Contained Economy: An Interpretation of Medieval Economic Thought


Spanish Civil War: An Old Letter to ‘The Times’

I came across this old letter to the editor of The Times of London in an old pamphlet today and thought it might be of interest. It was in the form of a press cutting and I am unsure of the date. (Any suggestions would be most appreciatively received.)


See also: For God and Spain (1936)

Christian Order, October, 1961


The Church and the Workingman


The Bible is a Catholic Book


Membership of the Mystical Body


The Mass and the People in Irish Parishes (1961)

Parishioners leaving Mass at St. Canice's Church in Finglas, 1950s

Parishioners leaving Mass at St. Canice’s Church in Finglas, 1950s

[See also: The Canon of the Mass and The Dialogue Mass in Ireland: Letter of Fr. Clifford Howell, S.J. to Alfred O’Rahilly (1953)]

The following paper was read by Bishop (later Cardinal Archbishop) William Conway to the eighth annual Irish Liturgical Congress at Glenstal Abbey in April 1961. Bishop Conway was then an auxiliary of Armagh, the Irish primatial see. He served as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland from 1963 until 1977.

I think it is always useful, in beginning the kind of enquiry with which we are concerned this morning, to ask ourselves the simple question: what are we aiming at? What is the target? What, in the present instance, is the object of the vast effort being made throughout the Church to promote what is called “the participation of the faithful in the Mass”? It is extraordinary, or so it seems to me, how often in matters of this kind one can be slightly mistaken as to where the target really lies, how a vast movement can arise, and gather momentum and roll along, without those engaged in it raising their heads very often to have another look at the final objective; how easily we may end up by mistaking an important intermediate goal for the final goal — mistaking ends for means, in other words — or directing our energies towards an objective that is slightly to the left or slightly to the right of the goal for which we originally set out. I do not think that this has happened as yet in the matter with which we are concerned today; but it could happen, and in any event it is a useful exercise to check the sights from time to time and, where necessary, to make minute corrections.

In the case of participation in the Mass I do not think that it is difficult to identify the final end. It is Catholic teaching that in the Mass much more happens than the changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The Body and Blood of Our Lord, newly come upon the altar, are offered in sacrifice to the Heavenly Father and that sacrifice is one with the Sacrifice of the Cross “sola ratione offerendi diversa”. Moreover, as the encyclical Mediator Dei teaches, the faithful “in their own way” participate in the offering of that sacrifice; “they offer the sacrifice through the priest and…in a certain sense, with him”.
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Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

Irish Schools’ Manuscript Collection (1937-’38) Goes Online


Press release from University College Dublin:

Materials from one of world’s largest folklore collections now available online

A new website featuring some 64,000 hand-written pages of folklore and local history recorded in 1937-38 by Irish schoolchildren in counties Dublin, Mayo, Donegal and Waterford, has been officially launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley TD.

The digital collection is part of the Schools’ Manuscript Collection held at the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin. The full-collection consists of some 500,000 pages of material recorded by some 50,000 school children in over 5,000 schools in 26 participating counties.

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Legal Disabilities of the Catholic Church in Ireland

Note: the author was appointed Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh in 1937. See also his 1939 anti-Nazi pastoral The Worship of the State, his introductory pamphlet on the Commission on Vocational Organisation (he was chair of the Commission) and his statement on the prosecution of Bishop Pietro Fiordelli (1958).

The Irish Bishops and the Legalisation of Contraception (1978): Mgr Cremin Speaks Out. Full Text of Interview.


Monsignor Patrick Francis Cremin gave a four-part interview to the Irish Independent in 1978. The first, second and fourth parts of the interview were largely dedicated to criticising the Irish hierarchy for their stance on the legalisation of contraception. They are all posted in full below.

The third part of the interview was concerned with the radical liberal drift at Maynooth seminary and in the Irish Church more broadly. It can be read in full here. (NB: see also the earlier explosive dossier The Scandal of Maynooth from 1973 — Mgr Cremin was one of the dossier’s sources.)

From the Irish Independent, 8th November, 1978:

Our Religious Affairs Correspondent

The fact that the Irish bishops did not explicitly express disapproval of legalisation of contraceptives has disturbed many priests and people, a leading Maynooth theologian claims today.

The bishops’ statement on Proposed Legislation Dealing With Family Planning and Contraception last April has been understood as giving a green light for legislation, says Right Rev. Monsignor Patrick Francis Cremin, professor of moral theology and of canon law at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, he said there is no discernible warning light showing against the proposed legislation.

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The Catholic Church in Contemporary Ireland (1931)

3 Benedictine nuns gathering peat in a bog in Co. Mayo, 1920s.

3 Benedictine nuns gathering peat in a bog in Co. Mayo, ca. 1920s.

See also: Priests and People in Ireland (1957)

The following paper was read by Dr. James F. Kenney at the 12th annual meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association on 29th December, 1931, at Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA:

In the county of Antrim, on the north coast of Ireland, about ten miles to the east of the Giant’s Causeway, lies the little town of Ballycastle. It grew up in a valley running inland southwest from a small bay, not far from one of the castles of the MacDonnells of the Glens. To the north the town is sheltered from the sea by high ground, where the Catholic church and other religious institutions now stand; to the south rises the dark mountain of Knocklayd, 1695 feet high, one of the more prominent of the Antrim hills. The MacDonnells of the Glens were a branch of the family of the Lords of the Isles, who, about the beginning of the fifteenth century, obtained by marriage a domain in this northeast corner of Ireland. Ballycastle is an out-settlement from the Glens, and, like them, has a considerable Catholic population. The MacDonnells, earls and marquesses of Antrim, although becoming Protestants themselves, protected their Catholic dependents, with the result that today, in Protestant Northeast Ireland, this extreme northeast corner, the Glens of Antrim, is held by a Catholic community.
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The Sacrifice of the Mass


The Drink Question


The Rights and Duties of Labour


May I Keep Company?


Capharnaum and the Eucharist


Fair and Accurate? : The Pro-Life Amendment and the Irish Media

pla_0001click above to read in full (pdf)

Differences between the English Penny Catechism of 1958 with the 1971 Revision


‘Our Catholic Life’ (1954-’70)

The team at Limerick City Library has just digitised the entire collection of Our Catholic Life from 1954 to 1970. Our Catholic Life was the official magazine of the diocese of Limerick and contains many items of historical and theological interest.

Prayer Request

I’d ask you kindly to pray for my mother, who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer (prognosis unknown yet). Please pray for her health, for a successful treatment and ultimate recovery. Thank you.

Book Review: The End of Irish Catholicism? by Fr Vincent Twomey, SVD

Fr Vincent Twomey, Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology at Maynooth, offers in The End of Irish Catholicism? a series of sober reflections on the condition of contemporary Irish Catholicism. He aspires to examine, from a theological angle, the historical origins of our present woes and to navigate a way out of them. It may be thought by some Catholics that such an examination is superfluous and that the crisis in Irish Catholicism can be adequately analyzed from the standpoint of secular sensibility. Yet several aspects of this crisis not only provide ample warrant for such an examination but even make it obligatory. The fallout from sex scandals, combined with resentment over the Church’s erstwhile hegemony, continue to perpetuate a haunting shadow over the Church’s pastoral mission in the changing Ireland of today. Moreover, in order for the Church to progress beyond her present paralysis, Irish Catholics need to understand clearly how we arrived at this juncture and consider ideas on how to best proceed. Fr Twomey is to be congratulated on associating himself with such a worthwhile initiative.
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Pope Francis I

The Irish Messenger of the Sacred Heart, May, 1954

See also: The Messenger Question Box (No. 1 and 2)

More on Maynoooth

This is a post by uriah at the Irish Catholics’ Forum (re-posted here with his kind permission):

I was a seminarian in Maynooth from ’93 to ’98 and I can confirm much of what has been said on this thread. Apart from the initial spiritual month, the discipline in the place was quite lax. It became even less disciplined in my second year with the arrival of new deans and their ‘re-branding’ as ‘Directors of Formation’.

Quite a number of seminarians were in relationships with female students, including theology students, and many others were in relationships with men, including other seminarians. There was a real sub-culture of homosexuality within the place. A group of them began adding the letters ‘CSS’ (Confraternity of Saint Sebastian) after their names as a sign that they were homosexual. Apart from in my first year, when one of my fellow ‘Cherubs’ was kicked out over a relationship with a 2nd Divine, the college authorities seemed to tolerate it and turn a blind eye.

With many there, the drinking culture was quite strong, both within and outside the college. One group from my class even got into a pub brawl in the ‘Leinster Arms’ one night with a group of English lads.

A seminarian in the year behind me in ’95 left after a former girlfriend of his turned up and they went for a few drinks and later disappeared into his room and stayed there for two days, after which he left.

Obvious piety was looked on with some suspicion by both staff and students alike. The Saturday night Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was well attended while I was there, although some did not attend or during the two hours between the beginning and Benediction would disappear elsewhere. Not as many attended the recital of the Rosary, nor was it encouraged. The main form of prayer was the Divine Office, but again, in the higher years, when attendance in the Oratories was not obligatory, many could be hot and miss in reciting it and be quite happy to boast of that.

Having said all that, there were others there that were quite committed, prayerful, and disciplined men.

[...] There was one dean there at the time, that I met years after I left. He had moved on by then and was serving as a PP. He told me that while he was in Maynooth, he had been greatly concerned by the falling numbers of ‘manly’ men that were joining and the increase in effeminacy in the seminary. What he was really referring to is not difficult to understand.

Traditional Confirmations in Dublin; Irishman accepted as FSSP seminarian

From the September newsletter of the Dublin Latin Mass Chaplaincy:

It will soon be five years since the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum came into effect, and with it the Latin Mass Chaplaincy in the Diocese of Dublin. In order to mark this significant anniversary the Archbishop will visit us on the morning of the 16th of this month, both to confer the sacrament of Confirmation and to preside at Mass…

…I am delighted to announce that Mr Ciarán Egan, who has been serving Mass with us for the past two years, has been accepted as a seminarian for the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, and will be beginning his training at Wigratzbad in Bavaria at the end of this month. Please remember him in your prayers, and pray that many other young men from our congregation will hear, and answer, Our Lord’s call to follow Him.

Read in full here.

Inaugural Foreword of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, October, 1864

Cardinal Cullen was close to Pius IX and authored the draft definition on the dogma of papal infallibility at Vatican I

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, established by Cardinal Paul Cullen in 1864, will be familiar to every serious student of the modern history of the Irish Catholic Church, for no other publication better reflects the internal temper of the flourishing, self-confident Irish Catholicism that existed from the post-Famine era right up until Vatican II. The Record embodied a forceful mix of unimpeachable orthodoxy, a high degree of literary skill and scholarly articles on theology, liturgy, Church affairs, international issues, literature, philosophy, history and Irish social and economic conditions. I have always found this distinguished journal a delightful read, and it significantly influenced my thinking. The Maynooth theologian Walter McDonald (1854 – 1920) reckoned it was the only European theological journal to remain entirely untinged by the spirit of modernism. (Fr McDonald is most famous for his fascinating but scandalous Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor – which had to be published posthumously – but he also founded the more liberal Irish Theological Quarterly in 1909, which, although terminated after his death, was successively revived in 1951 and continues publishing to this day.) The Record‘s neo-scholastic orientation had become something of an anachronism in the iconoclastic post-Vatican II era and it ceased publication in December, 1968 (ostensibly because of commercial difficulties). The fact that Cardinal Cullen’s Record has vanished while Fr. McDonald’s Quarterly lives on is a sad metaphor of both the subsequent revenge of repressed early 20th-century modernism and the dramatic transformation of Irish Catholicism since 1962.

The following is the opening foreword from the inaugural issue of the Record from October, 1864. (Note how it seems so pertinent to our time!)

“Christian is my name, Catholic my surname”, said one of the early Fathers, when he wished to give an adequate description of his religious belief. In the same way, the name and surname of this publication sufficiently indicate its character and scope. First of all, it is Ecclesiastical, by reason of its subject matter, of the class which it addresses, and of the sanction under which it appears. Next, it is Irish, because, to the best of its humble ability, it is intended to serve the Catholic Church of our native country. Father Segneri tells us in one of his sermons, that in his day men used to flock to the religious houses in Italy, eagerly asking: “What news from Ireland?” Those were the stormy days of the latter half of the seventeenth century. How often, on such occasions, in the cool cloisters of Roman colleges, where he had spent so much of his blameless life, was the name of Archbishop Plunket pronounced by the old friends to whom his worth was so well known! How many a listener went straight out from such conferences to pray for his stricken brethren of the suffering Irish Church! At that time the trials, the wounds, the sorrows, the triumphs, the hopes of Irish Catholics were the subject of many a discourse, the anxious care of many a heart. Today all this is changed in great part. No foreign preacher nowadays would allude to his hearers’ widespread interest about the Irish Church, as one of the signs of the times. And why? Not because due allowance made for changes our country has become less interesting; for surely our Catholicity, in the bloom of its second spring, is not less remarkable than it was when torn and beaten to the ground by persecution. And if fraternal love made our distant brethren look sorrowfully over the sea upon our Church when in ruins, surely the same love would teach them not to turn away their eyes from us now that we are once more setting in fair order the stones that had been displaced. Brothers share each other’s joys as well as each other’s sorrows. The reason of the change is, that Irish Catholic intelligence does not find its way abroad. There is much to be said about the Church in Ireland, there are many anxious to hear it, but there is no messenger to bear the news. It is not, perhaps, too much to say, that there is less known abroad about the state of the Irish Church in these days of telegraph and railway, than there was when Dr. Plunket had to borrow a name under cover of which to write to the internuncio, and when Irish news was not thought out of place among the Epistolae Indicae et Iapanicae of the Jesuit Fathers. The Irish Ecclesiastical Record will endeavour to meet this want. It will give some account of the necessities, the progress, the efforts of the Irish Church. Facts of Ecclesiastical administration, Episcopal letters of general interest, various documents that go to make up the history of a Church, shall find their place in its pages. By these means we shall have at hand a ready answer, when we are asked what are we doing in Ireland. Otherwise, our silence is likely to be taken as an admission that we have nothing to show worthy of the Insula Sanctorum et Doctorum.

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The Holy Angels of God

Some thoughts on Irish Catholicism and Liturgical Reform


Photo above from 1946 in Cork’s Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne: Aloys Fleischmann, distinguished musical scholar, conductor, musicologist, and professor, was organist and choirmaster.

The period from the beginning of the Second Vatican Council in 1962 up until the promulgation of the Novus Ordo almost a decade later, was characterised by an extremely rapid rate of liturgical disintegration, unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church. However if we look at the state of the Irish Church just on the eve of the Second Vatican Council – i.e. in the late 1950s and the early 1960s – what actually did occur subsequently was far from inevitable or in any way pre-determined.

Throughout the first 60 years of the twentieth century there was an ever increasing consciousness in Ireland of the need to ameliorate and elevate the standard of liturgical worship; serious and industrious efforts were made in this direction. Interest in the liturgical movement in the Irish Church particularly takes shape after the Second World War and the primary stimuli by which this interest is aroused are: the release of Mediator Dei in 1947, the continued activity and progress of diocesan liturgical festivals, the founding of The Furrow and Doctrine and Life in 1950 and 1951 respectively, the inauguration of the Irish Liturgical Congresses in 1954 and the increasingly extensive impingement of continental and American influences on Irish Catholic culture. The necessity for progress in liturgical standards is enjoined in several episcopal statements, directives and pastorals, right up until a very late date. For instance, in 1959 (the year in which Pope John XXIII announced his intention to convene an ecumenical council) Bishop James MacNamee of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise used his lenten pastoral to exhort an advance in the liturgical standards of his diocese and chastises the reticence of some of his priests, who view congregational participation as superfluous:

It may be objected that it would be impossible to teach all this [i.e. the responses of the third degree - Shane] to children, especially as they must be said in Latin, and that it would be still more difficult to teach them to understand the meaning of the words they are required to use. The answer to this is that if a choir of boys or girls can be taught both to read these prayers and to sing them, it ought to be possible for at least the higher classes in our primary schools to recite them and understand them, and it should be still more easy for pupils of vocational and secondary schools. It is really a matter of considering the task worthwhile and then of settling down to it patiently and earnestly.

I have previously referred to the excellent paper read by the then Bishop (and soon-to-be Cardinal Primate) William Conway, auxiliary of Armagh, to the 1961 Irish Liturgical Congress as a heart-breaking example of ‘what might have been’. He showed himself entirely oblivious of what was just around the corner, reflecting a widescale ignorance in Irish Catholicism of the impending revolution. Commenting on Conway’s paper in 1963 (Irish Independent, 7th September, 1963), just three months before the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Louis McRedmond (who later reported on the Council for the Irish Independent and wrote a book on it) observed that:

Dr Conway’s point is that understanding must precede fuller participation. He plots a neat strategy by which we may be lured into accepting the new idea: in brief, hasten slowly. Some of the shorter responses, which are easily explained, should alone be required from adult congregations at first. The practice might be begun with Sung Masses. Meanwhile in the schools the children could be brought through the various stages. Thus, by acting over ten or fifteen years instead of overnight, we should achieve an enormously beneficial liturgical renewal without the strain on tradition felt in England and, apparently, on the Continent too.

Cardinal D’Alton’s lenten pastoral of 1960 – which in the course of an obituary Fr. Gerry McGarry (then editor of The Furrow and professor of Pastoral Theology at Maynooth) deservedly praised as “the finest document of the Irish liturgical movement” (Catholic Herald, 8th February, 1963) – treated at length the theological basis underpinning ‘participatio actuosa’ and envisaged a regular Missa Cantata in every parish of his Archdiocese. It was the fruit of considerable study beforehand: in the winter of 1959, he set himself the task of studying the proponents and sources (including Jungmann) of the liturgical movement.

It’s interesting to note that many of those who originally championed liturgical reform in pre-conciliar times were disillusioned by the liturgical reform that followed. In April 1974, Fr. P.J. Brophy, President of St. Patrick’s College, Carlow, wrote an article in The Furrow asking ‘Whatever Happened to Our Liturgical Dreams?’ In the 1940s and ’50s, he had been one of many Irish priests who dreamed of a revivified liturgy in Ireland and took inspiration from the pace of developments that he witnessed in local parishes during his Summer vacations to France. He tried his efforts with local communities of nuns in Carlow but encountered distrust and a lack of enthusiasm among practical-minded priests. He identifies the period 1954-1964 as a decisive decade of change. However, while he praises Sacrosanctum Concilium, the application of the liturgical reform did not live up to his expectations. For him the ‘hackneyed hymns’ and the aesthetical mediocrity of the reformed liturgy are a betrayal of the original intent of the liturgical movement.

In 1979, Fr. Eamonn Bredin, lecturer in Sacramental Theology at the Institute of Religious Education, Mount Oliver, Dundalk, wrote a four-part series in The Furrow on the progress of liturgical reform in Ireland since Vatican II. His criticisms of the new liturgy savour almost of traditionalism, criticizing it for its inherent artificiality and lack of beauty. He welcomes the transition to the vernacular as an obvious benefit, but laments the loss of sacrality which the Latin language had provided. He notes that older people are unenthusiastic about the new liturgy and pine for the past.

Seán Mac Réamoinn was arguably the most influential lay exponent of liturgical reform – even before Vatican II. In June, 1956, he wrote a quite scary article in The Furrow (and also in the Irish language magazine Comhar) welcoming the new order of Holy Week and speculating that it was prelude of things to come. Implausibly, James S. Donnelly cites him in an article in History Ireland (Autumn, 2000) to support his contention that “liturgical renewal inspired by Vatican II was generally a success in Ireland”:

Against the odds, however, Irish Catholicism did accommodate itself to some of the injunctions of Vatican II, though in other areas the response was incomplete or sadly deficient. Liturgical reformers had relatively little about which to complain. Writing in 1985 [in an essay in 'Freedom to Hope: The Catholic Church in Ireland Twenty Years After Vatican II' - Shane], the broadcaster and cultural commentator Seán Mac Réamoinn could declare expansively, ‘On the face of it, liturgical renewal has been the success story of Vatican II in Ireland’. From the beginning, Mass in the vernaculars (English and Irish) was thoroughly accepted. Mass attendance rates remained remarkably high overall (well above 80 per cent), especially in comparison with the rest of Europe. In addition, the participation of Mass-goers in the liturgy was generally much better than in the pre-council era. As Mac Réamoinn observed, ‘the days of the silent congregation are numbered, if not over, and the people’s voice is heard, even—mirabile dictu—in song!’ Common all over the country by 1985 were lay scripture readers, lay ministers of the eucharist, and communion in the hand.

That does not fully encapsulate Mac Réamoinn’s views. He certainly had more than “relatively little about which to complain.” In the same year the Sunday Independent (24th November, 1985) quotes him as mourning the ‘lost dimension of mystery’ that resulted from the liturgical reforms. (The same article quotes another writer’s view that one negative result of the Council was “the despoliation of the liturgy”.) Here is an extract from his Laylines’ column in Doctrine and Life of April, 1996:

An old friend who died last month had made it clear to his family that he wanted a sung Requiem in Latin for his funeral. Fortunately, with more than a little help from the Dominicans, his wish was granted. And I know that all who were present were considerably moved by the liturgy. For many of us it was a reminder not just of old ways, but of the power of plainsong to shape our worship. And for those to whom it was a new experience it was, I believe, no less affecting, if at times more obscurely so…

Some of us who joined in the singing were out of practice, to put it very kindly. I hope we didn’t damage the ensemble too seriously. And I believe we didn’t for, though the Gregorian discipline demands as much careful respect, if not more, than other musical forms, it can cover a multitude of imperfections…

[L]ast month’s experience was a sharp reminder of what we have lost, or rather mislaid or thrown aside. I have written here before about the appalling philistinism which has allowed us to neglect so much of our western Catholic heritage: it is as if the Orthodox world had suddenly decided to embrace iconoclasm as a way of living and praying, and thrown all those images — which are plainsong’s rival in their deep and direct communication of the spiritual — on the ecclesiastical scrap heap. And I shudder to think what the more enthusiastic among them would have adopted as substitutes, what glossy meretricious essays in neo-sentimentality would have paralleled some of our recent hymns, post-modern effusions of sentimental pietism…

When we ignore plainsong, or for that matter, classical polyphony, to the point of banishing this great music from our churches and denying it to our younger people, we are depriving them and us of a spiritual enrichment whose value is more, far more, than aesthetic — important as that may be. It reminds me of nothing so much as the pathetic way so many of our great-(great-) grandparents believed that they must not pass the Irish language on to their children….such was the crazy logic of the time, they thought that a knowledge of Irish and of English were mutually exclusive. We now realise, or at least I hope we do, what an injustice was done in those days, from the best of motives.

Mind you, it is harder to see what has been the motivation of ‘getting rid of the oul’ Latin’ over the past thirty years or so. How can anyone have possibly seen such stupidity as an aid to liturgical renewal? Certainly the composition of vernacular settings was, and is, to be encouraged, but not to the exclusion of work of a standard which it would be difficult to emulate or approach overnight. And interestingly, the simple O’Riada Cúil Aodha Mass seems to be the most generally popular of all the new settings, not least among congregations who would be hard put to it to provide translations of the texts…The ‘poetry’ seems to get through, in spite of any verbal problems. Is there a moral here?

Papal Nuncio Archbishop Brown on the future of the Church in Ireland

The papal nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, gave a sermon at Knock shrine this afternoon on the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland. The nuncio’s sermon strongly stresses the need for fidelity to Catholic doctrine. There are lots of subtle but unambiguous hints. It’s refreshing to note that the nuncio expresses a positive assessment of past piety. If it had been Archbishop Diarmuid Martin delivering the sermon, he would undoubtedly have used to opportunity to go on a Twomey-style rant about how deeply flawed it all was or to insult tradition-minded seminarians. Most hearteningly, the nuncio’s sketch of Irish Catholicism’s future does not include a restructure of Irish dioceses. Those who trumpet this lazy ‘solution’ as a magical panacea to the very grave problems facing the Irish Church will surely be disappointed.

Here is the text of the sermon in full:

When Blessed John Paul II came here on September 30, 1979, to celebrate Holy Mass, he began with the words: “Here I am at the goal of my journey to Ireland: the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock” and, in a certain sense, his words are true for all of us here today, as we celebrate the conclusion of the National Novena; we too have come to the goal of our journey. We come as pilgrims to pray at the feet of Mary, the humble girl of Nazareth, the glorious Mother of God, the “Woman clothed with the sun” who appeared here in 1879 to comfort and console the Catholic people of Ireland. The passage of time tends to make us forget what things were like in Ireland when Mary appeared. Ireland was not yet a free and independent nation; close to a million people had suffered and died during the Great Famine thirty years previously, and in the year 1879 when Mary appeared, hunger had returned to the West of Ireland. Huge numbers of Irish people had been forced to leave as emigrants, never to return, so much so that the population of Ireland plummeted by something like 25 per cent.
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The Scandal of Maynooth (1973)

click above to read in full (pdf)

This superb special issue of Approaches magazine from October, 1973, was given over by its founding editor Hamish Fraser to ‘The Scandal of Maynooth’ and detailed the descent of Ireland’s National Seminary into modernist anarchy. It was widely reported in the Irish newspapers at the time and provoked a lively correspondence in the Irish Independent’s letters section. A copy was sent to every Irish bishop, who predictably (and tragically) ignored its warnings. I am immensely grateful to Hamish’s son, Tony Fraser, for very kindly sending me this copy on my request. Tony is editor of Apropos, which is the successor magazine to Approaches. Please consider subscribing or donating to the magazine here. Good traditional Catholic periodicals such as Apropos deserve our support.

See also: Leading Maynooth Theologian Decries Disintegration of the Irish Church

Note: This Maynooth magazine from 1951 published an article (pp. 75-80) by Hamish Fraser entitled ‘Where is Britain Going?’. The magazine gives an insight into a very different Maynooth (and a very different Ireland).

1966: Fr Charles Davis Writes on the Weakening of Faith

Many thanks to Fr. Augustine Hourigan C.P. for sending me this stimulating piece by Fr. Charles Davis from America magazine, January 29th, 1966. Fr Davis was one of England’s most famous theologians and professor of theology at the Jesuit-run Heythrop College. He left the priesthood a few months after this was written, but was subsequently reconciled to the Church in his later years. He died in 1999.

Much speaking in different places on themes of renewal has brought me into contact with many people seeking to revivify their faith.  I have found a sense of emptiness, but together with it a deep yearning for God.  There is an emptiness at the core of people’s lives, an emptiness waiting to be filled.

They are troubled about their faith; they find it slipping.  I am not speaking about those who are worried about recent changes.  These people are not.  But they are looking for something to fill the void in their lives, and what they hear does not do that.
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Irish Spirituality

click above to read in full (pdf)

See also: Our Mass, Our Life: Some Irish Traditions and Prayers
The Integral Irish Tradition
What is An Réalt?

Book Review: ‘Swords Around the Cross’

Many thanks to Jaykay for this very interesting book review:

“Swords Around The Cross”
Timothy T. O’Donnell S.T.D., President, Christendom College VA
2001, Christendom Press, Fort Royal, VA

I first became aware of this book some months ago due to the posting about it on Shane’s blog. I indicated interest, and having failed to source it through Amazon Shane kindly forwarded other sellers to me. I finally received it, some 4 weeks later in March. Shane had asked me if I would do a review of it and I agreed: too long an interval later, here it finally is. Cunctando regitur mundus and all that (or at least that’s my excuse!).

Anyway, the reason I had indicated interest is that, although I studied history at school and initially at University, the courses we followed covered the 18th to 20th centuries, except for the first year or so of secondary school, and so my knowledge of the 16th and 17th centuries is woefully sketchy. I must also confess that, in relation to Irish history of this period, there was a major “turn-off” factor as well: it just seemed to comprise an endless series of hopes raised and dashed, followed by crushing defeats and the reduction of the Gaelic Irish to virtual slavery in their own land. Not to mention the truly dreadful quality of the books we were required to use (thank you, Folens) circa. 1972/3. However I always realised that turning my back on this period was not a very healthy view, since one has to examine the past in detail to understand the present, and that I was always going to have to grasp the nettle in some way at some time or other. So the notice of this book on the blog seemed to provide the opportune moment to fill-in, or at least to commence the bridging of, that gap that I had left yawning (in both senses) for far too long.

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