Liturgical Reform in Ireland

Many thanks to Jaykay for recounting his experiences of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms:

The new version came in from the first Sunday in January 1970 – at least in Armagh Archdiocese. That would have been Sunday 4th January. I clearly remember that the church was packed. We kids had got our new books just after Christmas (probably again in Woolworths!) and I recall that it was quite confusing as we hadn’t done any of the preparatory stuff in school before Christmas. Even the priests made loads of “mistakes” (and at that time it was still common for older priests to lapse into Latin if they got distracted e.g. to say “Dominus vobis… erm, eh… The Lord be with you…”). Nobody laughed in those days, of course! We had to learn the new versions of the confiteor and Domine non sum dignus (we were still told to strike the breast at the correct places – something me and some people of my generation still do) but otherwise the Ordinary was unchanged – until 1975.

Cardinal Conway was in charge and was quite conservative, so there was very little, if any, “creativity” on the part of priests.  Most of the older priests were also quite conservative so we still had loads of Latin Benedictions, 40 hours, confraternities etc. It really didn’t change until the 80s. It’s still not too bad in my neck of the woods, but the banality is everywhere  e.g. no incense at the main Mass on Easter Sunday and the usual flat, boring “let’s get it over with” attitude. No wonder the average age is about 50+!

Oh yes, the old framework remained in place for quite some years so, for example, the sight of confraternity banners in the churches was still very common, even if the confraternities were aging. Another thing was the Lenten Mission, which was divided into men’s nights and women’s nights. My parents used to go and the place was packed (and our parish church is pretty big!). I would say that stopped at the end of the 70s so the decline was fairly rapid. Similarly with things like the Corpus Christi procession which again, up to the end of the 70s, would have had thousands on it but by the early 80s had declined sharply (now there’s barely a few hundred, if even that).

My school had a chapel attached, open to the public (as well as little altars in the crypt where the older retired priests would say their own Mass). Some of them did not say the “new Mass”, as it was commonly called, as they would have been covered by the provision for older priests, but others would occasionally appear in the chapel and say a public Mass, usually at 10a.m. (sometimes we served) and they frequently lapsed into Latin. But since the congregation was predominantly made up of “old dears” (including my 80-something grand-aunt) it certainly made no difference!

The priest who taught me Latin had a disability and was in his mid-70s. He was a fervent opponent of the changes and continued saying the old rite (although in fairness because of the disability he couldn’t use the public altar anyway, which had many steps). I used to serve his Mass in a small oratory. But apart from him I don’t recall any of the others who taught us actually openly criticising the changes, although many of them clearly were unenthusiastic. 40 hours devotions and rosary and benediction continued right up to the end of my time there in 1977. I was in the choir and of course Latin was pretty much compulsory up to Inter Cert level, so singing Latin wasn’t any big deal to us… we’d been doing it for years anyway. It was only when the new ordinary appeared in 1975 that some of them became (mildly) critical e.g. “since when did Credo come to mean ‘we believe'” etc!

But generally there was a resigned acceptance of it all and among ordinary people I can’t exactly recall a resentful attitude as such – people just went along. There wasn’t any huge enthusiasm either. In a way, very typically Irish. The choirs did continue but very much cut down and full ceremonial only really was done in Holy Week, Easter, Christmas etc. and even then not quite what it had been. But it was still common to have batteries of altar boys, sometimes 2 thuribles, and an MC etc.

I suppose I was different in that both my parents had studied Latin and always had missals and were taught to follow the Mass from childhood, and both loved music and had been in choirs, so they keenly missed the old rite and the beautiful sung High Masses etc. They talked about it a lot – hence my memories of my mother’s 1932 involvement. Also, I had a priest uncle who was a DD (he died young unfortunately, of cancer) and he was not a “fan” of the new rite – so that also would have been quite influential. What was very obvious was that when they did have the fuller ceremonial the church was visibly more crowded than at ordinary times, so in a sense that was ordinary people “voting with their feet” – in a positive sense, of course! It still pertains, to a lesser degree, given much reduced attendances. I’m in the choir and whenever we sing any of the older settings people express their appreciation openly.

Fr Séan Coyle also relates these very helpful reminiscences:

I grew up with the Old Mass. I’ve been to an EF Mass only once since I was ordained, in St Paul’s Arran Quay, the first church built in Dublin after Catholic Emancipation and the church where my parents were married. My experience – this was late in 1990 or early in 1991 – was of being at a re-creation of something from the past in a museum. But I was also very conscious of the full and prayerful participation of those at the Mass. There were many young people there. I don’t think I would have a ‘museum’ experience now.

I was caught up in the newness of everything at the time. There is nothing wrong with that per se. But Joseph Foyle is right about the words distracting us. Often as a celebrant I must confess that if I haven’t read it beforehand I sometimes don’t even hear, far less remember, the first reading. And my eyes sometimes glaze over at the responsorial psalm, even though I am aware that this is the word of God.

On the other hand, I have found 40 years of the new Lectionary to be something positive, especially in bringing the Gospel to the people through the three-year Sunday cycle and the yearly cycle on weekdays for the Gospel.

For the past two or three years I have observed silence most weekdays and some Sundays at the Offertory. That is the ‘default’position, something I hadn’t averted to before.

It is important to recognise that the OF has already produced one Blessed: Chiara ‘Luce’ Badano (1971 – 1990), beatified last year.

It is very evident in Ireland that there is far less participation in Mass now than there was 50 years ago because probably a majority have stopped going to Sunday Mass, as few as two or three percent in parts of Dublin, as Archbishop Martin recently pointed out, not for the first time. Yet this same thing had already happened in much of Western Europe, eg, France, long before Vatican II and the OF. There are many factors involved in this. However, I’m inclined to think that the way Mass is sometimes celebrated is one of them.

I still see some people, in Ireland and here in the Philippines, praying the Rosary during the Mass. I’m not sure it’s a great idea but it is clear that for Joseph Foyle and many others the Rosary helped them truly participate in the Mass and still does some.

One thing I remember vividly growing up in Holy Family Parish, Aughrim St, Dublin, was the ‘proclamation of the mystery of the faith’ after the second Elevation. It wasn’t in the rubrics nor was it announced. But the ‘communal cough’ was as vivid an expression of faith as any I have experienced. It was an expression of awe and adoration. I’m not sure how widespread it was.

My experience of the new lectionary as a positive thing applies especially to the reading of the gospel. It has certainly helped me over the last 40 years.

The ‘Dialogue Mass’ wasn’t used in parishes anywhere in Ireland, as far as I know, but was widely used in England and Wales. I don’t know about other countries. However, it was used in St Columban’s, Dalgan Park, every day and was a new experience for me when I entered there in 1961.

At the time I welcomed the liturgical changes, especially the introduction of the vernacular for the readings introduced in 1965. I remember that Archbishop McQuaid specified that the Canon was to be said silently by the priests of the diocese ‘for the sake of uniformity’. It had always been said silently but the revision allowed for it to be said aloud. It was still in Latin. I remember thinking that he was being somewhat reactionary, though it wasn’t really an issue with me. (Our ordination on 20 December 1967 was transferred at the last minute from Dalgan Park in the Diocese of Meath to the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin because of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain and strict quarantine regulations introduced in Ireland for people visiting farms, and Dalgan had one. Archbishop McQuaid graciously welcomed us but specified that we were to wear Roman vestments and not Gothic ones, which were widely and legitimately used throughout the Church.)

I went to the USA to study in September 1968 and went through real culture-shock at many levels, including what was happening in the Church. I was there less than two months when one of the Sisters at the college where I was studying and was also a chaplain asked me if the congregation could join me in the Canon at a weekday Mass. By then the whole Mass could be celebrated in the vernacular but the Roman Canon was the only Eucharistic Prayer. I declined and during my homily explained the different roles we have at Mass. I thought I was being positive. However, after the Mass the Sister who had made the request told me I had been very negative. Another Sister, who was always ahead of the rest in terms of modifications to the habit, never spoke to me again. Being less than a year ordained and less than two months in the USA I was deeply upset about this.

When what we now call the OF was announced in 1969 I’m afraid that on at least one occasion I jumped the gun and used one of the new Eucharistic Prayers, all of which had been printed in the New York Times.

If I may backtrack to the partial introduction of the vernacular in 1965, a classmate from the Kerry Gaeltacht told us of an old man trying to say the Gloria. He got confused and said ‘H-anam an diabhail, tá mé caillte!’ ‘In the name of the devil, I’m lost!’

After what we now call the OF was introduced I heard various ‘horror’ stories of what was happening in some places. On one occasion a group of young people asked me if I wold celebrate Mass using Coca-cola. I declined. At the time various people were suggesting that the food and drink of the people should be used rather than bread and wine, especially in places where these weren’t staples.

The last time for years that I celebrated Mass ‘with my back to the people’, as I and many others saw it for years until I read Cardinal Ratzinger’s book on the liturgy and realised how wrong that was, was in a rural parish in Missouri where I was visiting friends. It was the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. At the time I was struck by the contrast between the ‘old-fashioned’ practice in the church and the modern world that was emerging so dramatically. (Last year I began to celebrate Mass ad orientem from time to time and find it helpful).

Being young, I basically welcomed the changes in 1965 and in 1969. I have never celebrated the [EF] as a priest, though I would be happy to do so if the opportunity arose. When I was ordained we had a modified version of the [EF].

When the OF is celebrated observing the rubrics it is reverent. I have celebrated it publicly a number of times in Latin, in Iceland at the Carmelite Monastery where, at the time the nuns were Dutch – they were later replaced by Poles- and in a sisters’ retirement home near Munich, In both places the nuns/sisters were delighted to sing the Gregorian chants and did the readings in their own languages while I read the gospel in English. I occasionally find myself celebrating Mass on my own and normally use Latin.


Posted on May 3, 2011, in Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, Cardinal William Conway, Catholic Education, Decorum, Irish History, Liturgy, Mass, Modernism, Processions, Second Vatican Council, Traditionalism. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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