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Hail, Glorious Saint Patrick

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Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland

Today is my second Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland (transferred from yesterday, Passion Sunday). Silverstream Priory is not very far from the famous Hill of Slane where, in 433, Saint Patrick kindled the Paschal Fire in defiance of the Supreme Monarch of Island and the druids.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, dear saint of our Isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin's green valleys look down in thy love.

Hail, glorious Saint Patrick, thy words were once strong
Against Satan's wiles and an infidel throng;
Not less is thy might where in heaven thou art;
O, come to our aid, in our battle take part.

In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, their prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.

Thy people, now exiles on many a shore,
Shall love and revere thee till time be no more;
And the fire thou hast kindled shall ever burn bright,
Its warmth undiminished, undying its light.

I Have Taught You

Like Moses, Saint Patrick, having announced the Gospel to the people of Ireland, was able to say, "Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me. . . . Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'" (Dt 4:5-6). The gift of the true faith imparted by Saint Patrick brought with it a sacred responsibility, one that the Irish people honoured down through the centuries, even in times of persecution and cruel repression.

Many People Were Reborn in God Through Me

Saint Patrick himself was conscious that God had used him to do great things. In his Confession, he writes: "I am very much God's debtor, who gave me such grace that many people were reborn in God through me and afterwards confirmed, and that clerics were ordained for them everywhere, for a people just coming to the faith, whom the Lord took from the utmost parts of the earth." By preaching, baptizing, ordaining priests, and consecrating virgins, Saint Patrick changed the face of Ireland. He did not blush to apply to the Irish people the prophecy of Hosea: "I will have mercy on her that was without mercy. And I will say to that which was not my people: Thou art my people. . . . And in the place where it was said: 'You are not my people': it shall be said to them: 'Ye are the sons of the living God'" (Hos 2:23-24; 1:10).

Monks and Virgins of Christ

Saint Patrick, conscious of his own weakness, was in awe of the power of the grace of Christ. "How," he asks, "did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshiped idols and things impure, have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons of God, that the sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ?" The psalmist expresses Saint Patrick's wonder before the work of grace in the hearts of a great number: "He has not done thus for any other nation" (Ps 147:20).

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I took this photo from the road in front of Saint Patrick's Chapel in Gowell, County Leitrim, where my grandmother Margaret Mary Gilbride Kirby received her First Holy Communion in 1909. In the distance is the wild and reputedly mystical Hill of Sheemore, about which my grandmother often spoke. Five years ago I climbed the Hill of Sheemore together with my good friend John Flynn. The view from the Cross at the summit is magnificent.

The Missionary Born of the Monastery

Irish Christianity was, from the beginning, monastic in temperament and in organization. The Church was barely established when already monasteries sprang into life. Succeeding generations saw a spectacular growth: there came to be monasteries of over three thousand monks, centres of learning, monastic universities of a sort, drawing students from all over the continent. From the sixth to the twelfth centuries, these same monastic centres of learning were seedbeds of missionary work. Irish monks poured into France. Germany, Belgium, and Italy welcomed them. Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both presented their visions of a Europe infused with the love of Christ, of a "new civilization of love." Efforts toward the rechristianization of Europe can draw inspiration from the ideals of the Irish missionaries of the so-called Dark Ages. The Irish model is a good one: the missionary is born of the monastery. Prayer, asceticism, and scholarship come to fruition in the implantation of the Gospel and in the renewal of the churches.

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And here you see my Dad, 86 years old this year. Dad marched this year in the New Haven, Connecticut Saint Patrick's Day Parade.

The Passion of the Church in Ireland

The faith received from Saint Patrick came, in time, to be sorely tested. The eighteenth century saw the enactment of repressive laws penalizing Catholics: Catholics were prohibited from voting; were not permitted to purchase land or lease it for more than thirty-one years; it was illegal to teach the Catholic religion to children and adults; it became illegal for Catholic priests to remain in Ireland or enter Ireland from abroad; it became illegal to harbour or otherwise assist Catholic priests. Only in 1829 did the British Parliament grant a decree of Catholic Emancipation, making it possible for the Church to emerge from the underground. But another trial was to follow, The Great Hunger that claimed over a million lives. Those who could escaped the famine; wave after wave of impoverished Irish emigrants found a home in America, bringing with them their greatest possession: the Catholic faith. Out of the horrors of The Great Hunger God brought a great good: were it not for the exodus of the Irish at the time of the famine there would be very few English-speaking Catholics in the world today.

New Penal Laws?

Strangely, there seems to be among some in Ireland today, a militantly secularistic ideology bent on the repression of the Catholic Faith in public life. Will we see the enactment of a new set of Penal Laws imposed not by an anti-Catholic oppressor from without but, instead, by Irish upon Irish? Or will we see instead a great Catholic reawakening, and a joyful rallying around the Most Holy Eucharist, the Mother of God, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church?

Transmit the Faith

Moses' words to the children of Israel become Saint Patrick's words addressed to us: "Keep thyself therefore, and thy soul carefully. Forget not the words that thy eyes have seen, and let them not go out of thy heart all the days of thy life. Thou shalt teach them to thy children and to thy grandchildren" (Dt 4:9). The transmission of the faith is more urgent today than ever before. Saint Patrick and those who followed in his footsteps teach us that the surest way of holding fast to the faith is by transmitting it. Deep in the heart of every Christian is a monastic impulse and a missionary impulse. Like Saint Patrick, may we rise today to both of them.

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A Family Story

My Irish grandmother's Christian name was Margaret Mary. As one might expect, a framed picture of the Sacred Heart figured prominently in her kitchen. She, like so many Irish Catholics of her generation had an unshakeable faith in the promises of the Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary. In my "Treasury of the Sacred Heart" published in Dublin by Charles Eason, Middle Abbey Street, in 1860, I read the promise in which my grandmother invested her hope: "I shall bless the houses where the representation of my Sacred Heart shall be exposed."

Precious Inheritance

Shortly before her death at the age of 93, Grandma asked me if I wanted anything belonging to her. "Only your picture of the Sacred Heart," I said. She had me write my name on the back of it. The day after she died I took the picture to be reframed; it was placed on her coffin in church. After the funeral, I took the picture home and it stayed with me for about a year.

Give It Away

Some time later, on the eve of my cousin Patrick's wedding, my grandmother came to me in a dream and said, "I want you to give my picture of the Sacred Heart to Patrick as a wedding present." And so, I wrapped it carefully and presented Patrick and Cheryl with it on their wedding day. Patrick took one look at the wrapped package and said, "I know what it is. It's Grandma's picture of the Sacred Heart."

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I just received this grand letter (in the form of a comment) from Eamonn Giblin, a native of Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, Ireland, a place dear to my heart. I'm sure that Mr. Giblin will not object to my sharing his reminiscences with the readers of Vultus Christi. My own Dad, and my Irish friends, John and Elizabeth Flynn, Sisters Joseph, Helen, and Mary (R.S.M.), Father Bernard Healy, Sean and Bridie Canning, Ailish Melia, Pauline Burke, Marion Mulhall, and many others will be especially pleased to read this. Father Dan O'Leary, you'll enjoy this too. Reverend Mother Angela (current Abbess of Drumshanbo) won't be able to read this online, but I know she'll hear about it!

I'm from Drumshanbo, Co' Leitrim - born in 1944. Now aged 66, I served the 07:30 mass in this convent from age 7 through 12. It was then an enclosed order of perpetual adoration of the Franciscan nuns. It is now run by the Poor Clare order.
In all the time I knew them, I never met any of the nuns face-to-face - all communications were conducted through a curtained grille and, if any vestments or altar fitments were required, they were provided to me via a turntable beside the grille.

The innocence of the ladies with whom I dealt "shone" through - even as I child, I wondered at the lack of worldliness and the "simplicity" of those beautiful people.
We had some winters that were only awful, but I never missed a single mass, whatever the weather - it was a long mile from my home and it was strictly "shank's mare" for transportation. You cannot imagine how fabulous a simple cup of tea and a biscuit tasted after mass on some of those inclement mornings - all delivered, naturally, via the ubiquitous turntable.

Should anyone in any house in the vicinity of Drumshanbo fall seriously ill or should any farm animal be in trouble, more reliance was placed in the nuns "storming of heaven" with prayer during their vigils than was ever placed on the local doctor or vet.
My lady sacristan, whose name (I am ashamed to say) I cannot bring to mind once asked me if there really were people inside that silver thing that some of her sisters had seen in the sky - how could it be so. Remember that these folks had cloistered themselves into isolation - no newspapers, no radio, no visitors from the outside world except for one family visit per annum. They completely abandoned the world for a life of penitence and adoration.

I had the honour to serve mass at the funeral of my lady sacristan - she was 86 years of age and had been inside the convent since about the age of 14. Sadly, on inclement mornings thereafter, the tea and biscuit custom did not pass on from her to her successor.

I visited the convent in the mid '90s - I was making a trip of nostalgia and, believe you me, it was with great sadness that I observed that the community had dwindled in numbers to almost nothing - those there were now all "well-on" in years and vocations had dried up. To a layman, the most noticeable evidence of this was the "lightness" and "reediness" of the chanted vespers when compared with it's former glory days.

I don't quite know just how or why I came across your article - I was actually browsing for the words of Joseph Mary Plunkett's Easter Rising 1916 poem - "I see His blood upon the rose" - for a CD/DVD I'm making for my sister's birthday and somehow I stumbled into your site. The trip that resulted down memory lane has been extraordinary and, I have to confess, I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you for taking the time to read my musings - I can only hope they didn't "bore the socks" off you - anyway, I'm fairly sure you would be much too polite to tell me even if it were so.

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And I'm sure that Eamonn and others will be interested in hearing of the graces received in Drumshanbo by the Reverend Mother St. Joseph, the second abbess of the Convent.

June 11th was the 131th anniversary of the death of the saintly Reverend Mother St. Joseph, Drumshanbo's second abbess; Our Lord called her to Himself on the eve of Corpus Christ, 11 June, 1879.

On one occasion, speaking in a rapture of Divine Love, Mother St. Joseph said to a witness:

. . . that Our Divine Lord wished the Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament to be increased over the whole world; that we were to have Perpetual Adoration and Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in our Convent Chapel; that we should be the Adorers to keep watch, hour by hour, day and night, before the Most Holy; that a high Tower should be built, and that the Bell should toll every hour, one, two, three; and that men's hearts should be touched thereby; that ladies would furnish the pecuniary aid necessary for the Perpetual Adoration which implied Exposition. She also told me that our Constitutions brought from France should be revised and sent to Rome. . . .
Our Divine Lord also spoke about the Churches of Ireland -- that poverty prevented the Blessed Sacrament being reserved in the Tabernacle [in many cases]; but He wished His priests to be zealous for the adornment of the Sanctuary, and that they would thus minister to Him personally. No heed should be paid to those who murmured against what they would term 'this waste,' as the Pharisees had murmured that the price of the precious ointment was not given to the poor -- adding that the multitude see and compassionate the wants of the Poor, but the enlightened soul of the consecrated spouse best discovers the needs of her Lord!
Our Divine Lord again made know to our dear Mother St. Joseph that great blessings would descend upon our country through means of Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament -- that external demonstrations and the decoration of Churches honoured Him, and that even regal honours should be paid Him as a King upon His Throne in the Sacrament of His Love; . . . that the Jews would be converted and acknowledge Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament to be their King and their God.

With Mother St. Joseph interceding for the Church in Ireland from her place in heaven, and her faithful daughters, though now they be few in number and rich in years, praying before the Most Blessed Sacrament in their chapel in Leitrim, one has reason to rejoice in hope, even when, from a human perspective, everything there seems to point to an alarming crisis of faith.

For the Church in Ireland

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After reading, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Father's beautiful letter to the faithful of Ireland, I was moved to intercede in my own way for the Church in Ireland, beloved of the Heart of Jesus, that has suffered so much in the past, and that has entered, in these days, into the abjection and humiliation of His Passion.

Beloved Lord Jesus,
I adore Thee with all the love of my heart,
and I present to Thee Thy Church in Ireland,
asking Thee to illumine all the baptized of Ireland
with the radiance of Thy Eucharistic Face.

Once again, beloved Jesus,
make Ireland the isle of great saints
and of humble, faithful, heroic believers.
Give Thy Immaculate Mother
full sway over the people of Ireland,
beginning with Thy bishops and Thy priests.
Raise up in Ireland a new generation of consecrated women,
spouses of Thy Sacred Heart,
and mothers of the little, the poor, and of all who suffer.

Beloved Jesus,
hear the supplications of all the saints of Ireland,
and for their sake,
and for the sake of Thy Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart,
heal Thy Church in Ireland,
pour out abundant graces on her faithful,
sanctify her bishops and priests,
and having gathered all together
in the embrace of Thy merciful love,
make Ireland shine in the eyes of the whole world
with faith, and hope, and charity.
Amen.

Winter Reading

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What are you reading during these dark winter days? You may think me a glutton for gloom, given recent events in the land of my forebears, but I decided that I needed to read and reflect on The End of Irish Catholicism by Father D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. In fact, there is nothing gloomy about Father Twomey's book. I haven't finished reading it yet, but what I have read of it is shot through with hope. Although written seven years ago, it remains pertinent and prophetic.

The Sacred Liturgy

Among the compelling theses of the book is Father Twomey's conviction that the restoration of Catholic life in Ireland will be brought about, principally, through the restoration of the sacred liturgy. It takes courage to affirm this in the face of so many other pressing challenges and calls for action and reform. Father Twomey writes:

There is a need to become aware again of the importance of ritual (rubrics), namely the regular performance of the predetermined small gestures and words of infinite significance, and the rhythm of ritual movement, which is not dependent on the whim of the celebrant.... The minimalist legalistic mentality, which, it seems to me, dominated and still dominates liturgical celebration in Ireland, has even dispensed with many of the rubrics as not being absolutely essential or strictly 'obligatory', for example the position of hands, blessings, kneeling, pause, the use of vestments of a certain kind and colour, and so on. Indeed, ritual movement has been effectively reduced to standing at the ambo or altar or sitting on a chair. To make up for the present sterility of so much liturgical celebration, all kinds of secondary elements have been introduced as substitutes.... But we have to ask whether or not they are perhaps more a distraction from the solemnity and real beauty of the liturgy.... Do they simply entertain, or do they promote a true sense of the sursum corda?
It may seem superfluous to mention such apparently trivial things as the need for clean altar linen, chalices of artistic merit, as well as missals, lectionaries, and sacred vestments that truly worthy of the divine service. In recent times, these sacred instruments and cloths tend to made of cheap materials, and are often in poor condition, torn, unwashed. In a word, they are not exactly edifying. While the modern world is discovering the magic of candles, the Irish Church has reduced them to a minimum (usually of inferior quality, even imitation candles or a flickering electric light instead of a sanctuary lamp). The liturgy is about great events taking place by means of small gestures, where everything used takes on infinite significance. Careful attention to the details (linen, candles, vestments, etc.) expresses the celebrant's awareness of the great mysteries for which he is responsible and conveys to others present something of the awesome presence in the Sacrament. Despite his poverty and his care for the poor (such as the orphanage he ran), the Curé of Ars procured the richest of vestments and most elaborate sacred vessels he could find in the city of Lyons for his humble, rural parish church.

Father Twomey discusses the perennial value of devotion to meet the people's affective religious needs. He recognizes the worth of the parish-based Gaelic Athletic Association, from the ranks of which came countless fine priests. Passing in review such traditional practices as the Pattern Days (patronal festivals), penitential pilgrimages, he outlines his vision for the revitalization of a Catholicism that, long before the clerical scandals of recent years, had become a matter of dreary routine and minimalistic compliance.

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Consecrated Life

Turning to the decline of consecrated life in Ireland, Father Twomey's insights can be applied to the same problem in the United States and Canada. His remarks are nlot without relevance to certain concerns being addressed by the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious that is underway in the United States.

The diocesan structure of various Irish-founded congregations has tended to be replaced by a national (and international) structure, with the accompanying tendency to concentrate authority on a newly established central authority, a superior-general or provincial and their councils (or 'leadership teams').... The paradox is that the conscious effort within religious orders (especially of women) to try to abolish all figures of authority, now seen increasingly as one of the last vestiges of patriarchy, is accompanied by even greater institutionalization -- and endless meetings.
It is evident that each religious congregation must have its own structure of authority and decision-making. Once (and, to some extent, still) the responsibility was invested in someone known personally to each member, who was elected by the community, and lived within the same community. But now it can happen that decisions affecting communities and the lives of individual religious are made by managerial-type boards (sometimes including total outsiders as experts or advisers). The decisions are those of the quasi-anonymous 'leadership team' -- and are often the cause of considerable personal suffering to the individuals affected. Anonymous decision-making, whether within religious congregations or within the bishops' conference, though sometimes necessary, can often be a mask behind which moral weakness and lack of real leadership take refuge. Demoralisation is the result. It is time to change.

From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.

The recovery of the various traditions of consecrated life, in particular those devoted to teaching and health care, is greatly needed to promote a genuine plurality of spiritualities and ministries within the Church. There is an urgent need for religious sisters and brothers to witness to Christ, to be the human face of the Church in the schools and in the hospital wards. All religious houses should become once again oases of prayer, personal and communal, within the desert of the modern city. The more strictly contemplative orders (male and female Cistercians, Benedictines, as well as female Dominicans, Poor Clares, Redemptorists, etc.) remain the primary witness to the unum necessarium because of the radical nature of their enclosed way of life. Such orders have often been the pioneers in the liturgical renewal. From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.

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Beyond Church and State

Father Twomey's discussion of Church--State relations entails, necessarily, an exploration of the immutability and objectivity of natural law, morality in public life, democratic pluralism, and relativism. The following analysis is, to my mind, spot on:

...Partly in reaction to the various ideologies, which in the twentieth century caused such havoc and suffering to millions of people throughout the world, there is an understandable tendency today to shun anything that might smack of ideology, intransigeance, or the 'imposition' of any particular value system. The only option worth considering, it is claimed, is a pluralism not only of various cultural traditions but even a pluralism of what are misleadingly called 'moral values'.... Morality, in the final analysis, it is claimed, is something subjective, even irrational, and thus can be reduced to personal preference or sincere 'feelings', which must be consigned to the private sphere (provided that they cause others no harm). Such subjective 'feelings', obviously cannot be 'imposed' on society as a whole. But moral relativism, as even secular commentators are coming to recognize more and more, is a serious threat to democracy and the moral health of the political community.

I haven't yet finished the book, and if I continue giving copious extracts from the text, I risk violating some sort of copyright law. You don't have to be Irish or Irish-American to benefit intellectually and spiritually from The End of Irish Catholicism. Father Twomey ends the book, however, with this anecdote, and I can't resist ending with it here.

An tAthair Peader Ó Laoghaire in his biography Mo Scéal Féin (p. 25) tells of his own experience in bringing the Viaticum:
When I anointed one of the old people and gave him the Sacred Body and then when he would say, 'My Lord Jesus Christ is my Love! My lasting love is He!' my breath would catch, my heart beat faster and tears pour down from my eyes, so that I would have yo turn aside a little.
This is the 'soul' of the Irish Catholic tradition, the spark that kept the embers glowing in the centuries that saw the destruction of its cultural richness. May it be rekindled among us! Come, Holy Spirit...

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Saint Mel's Cathedral of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois burned to the ground last night. Carrick-on-Shannon and Drumshanbo (County Leitrim) where I was blessed to spend time again this past August with Father Dan Leary, are in the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. Saint Mel's Cathedral was one of Ireland's finest churches.

The blaze began shortly after 5.a.m. Midnight Mass had been celebrated in the Cathedral by His Lordship, the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Dr. Colm O'Reilly, who later said the Cathedral was burned out from end to end.

Construction on the Cathedral began in 1840. Hours before the beginning of the blaze, the Cathedral was filled with the faithful attending Midnight Mass. There are no indications as what caused the blaze.

The fire comes on top of severe weather conditions: floods and freezing. It compounds the moral sufferings of the Irish clergy and faithful, already grief-stricked and demoralized in the wake of the Murphy Report on the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Dear readers of Vultus Christi, join me in prayer for the Church in Ireland. She is being tested by fire. May her faith emerge shining like pure gold. Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, pray for us!

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Original Chapel of the Drumshanbo Monastery


I had just finished the Invitatory at Vigils this morning when I heard the telephone ringing. Normally, I don't answer the telephone during the Divine Office, but given the very early hour I feared some kind of emergency and so interrupted the Office to answer. I was reassured when, at the other end, I heard the lovely, lilting voice of Reverend Mother M. Angela, abbess of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, Ireland. Two years ago I had the privilege of preaching the annual retreat to the nuns of Drumshanbo. Their little monastery is, to my mind, one of the holiest places in Ireland!

Two of the Drumshanbo community's founding members were English ladies, converts from the Church of England: Elizabeth Sophie Law, and Mary Anne Hayes. A third member of the original group, Frances Maria Horne, was the daughter of a British military office and a Catholic mother. After their reception into the Catholic Church in 1851 the three ladies went to Paris to be formed in the austere Monastery of Saint Elizabeth of the so-called "Third Order of Strict Observance of the Reform of Picpus." A pilgrimage from one temporary monastery to another -- first in England and then in Ireland -- followed until, at last, in 1864 the little flock found a permanent home on the hillside in County Leitrim where they are to this day.

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Mother Angela rang to remind me that today is the 140th anniversary of the beginning of Eucharistic Adoration by the Drumshanbo community. For 140 years their adoration has been uninterrupted! Today is also the 130th liturgical anniversary of the death of the saintly Reverend Mother St. Joseph, Drumshanbo's second abbess; Our Lord called her to Himself on the eve of Corpus Christ, 11 June, 1879.

On one occasion, speaking in a rapture of Divine Love, Mother St. Joseph said to a witness:

. . . that Our Divine Lord wished the Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament to be increased over the whole world; that we were to have Perpetual Adoration and Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in our Convent Chapel; that we should be the Adorers to keep watch, hour by hour, day and night, before the Most Holy; that a high Tower should be built, and that the Bell should toll every hour, one, two, three; and that men's hearts should be touched thereby; that ladies would furnish the pecuniary aid necessary for the Perpetual Adoration which implied Exposition. She also told me that our Constitutions brought from France should be revised and sent to Rome. . . .
Our Divine Lord also spoke about the Churches of Ireland -- that poverty prevented the Blessed Sacrament being reserved in the Tabernacle [in many cases]; but He wished His priests to be zealous for the adornment of the Sanctuary, and that they would thus minister to Him personally. No heed should be paid to those who murmured against what they would term 'this waste,' as the Pharisees had murmured that the price of the precious ointment was not given to the poor -- adding that the multitude see and compassionate the wants of the Poor, but the enlightened soul of the consecrated spouse best discovers the needs of her Lord!
Our Divine Lord again made know to our dear Mother St. Joseph that great blessings would descend upon our country through means of Devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament -- that external demonstrations and the decoration of Churches honoured Him, and that even regal honours should be paid Him as a King upon His Throne in the Sacrament of His Love; . . . that the Jews would be converted and acknowledge Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament to be their King and their God.

With Mother St. Joseph interceding for the Church in Ireland from her place in heaven, and her faithful daughters, though now they be few in number and rich in years, praying before the Most Blessed Sacrament in their chapel in Leitrim, one has reason to rejoice in hope, even when, from a human perspective, everything there seems to point to an alarming crisis of faith.

Sing praise to the Lord, then, faithful souls,
invoke His name with thankfulness.
For a moment lasts His anger, for a life-time His love;
sorrow is but the guest of a night, and joy comes in the morning.
I, too, had thought, in time of ease, Nothing can shake me now;
such power and state, Lord, had Thy mercy granted me.
Then Thou didst turn thy face away from me,
and I was at peace no more.
Lord, I was fain to plead with Thee,
cry upon my God for pity:
How will it profit Thee to take my life? I can but go down into the grave;
and will this dust give thanks to Thee, or acknowledge, there, Thy faithfulness?
Listen, Lord, and spare;
Lord, let Thy aid befriend me.
With that, Thou didst turn my sadness into rejoicing;
Thou hast undone the sackcloth I wore, and girded me about with gladness.So may this heart never tire of singing praises;
O Lord my God I will give thanks to Thee for ever.

Psalm 29, Translation by R. Knox

Soon To Ireland

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To Mayo and Leitrim

On Saturday 30 June, making my way via Ireland to the United States, I will fly Aerlingus from Rome to Dublin, and then from Dublin to Knock in County Mayo. After a few days in Knock I will travel the short distance northeast to Carrick–on Shannon in County Leitrim to visit Cousin John McKeon.

As a small boy, I heard about Knock from my Grandmother Margaret Kirby (1900–1993). Her Aunt Mary had gone there on pilgrimage and sent her a little bottle of blessed water from the shrine. Grandma told me what she knew about the apparitions. In 1988, when I went to Knock together with my Mom, Dad and brother Terence, I was able to celebrate Holy Mass on the site of the apparitions.

Actuosa Participatio and the Silence of the Mother of God

The apparition at Knock is unusual in that the Blessed Virgin spoke no message and uttered no warning; she asked for nothing. Our Lady was silent and, at the same time, intensely present to the Immolated Lamb upon the altar, and to the people who watched the apparition.

The contemplative silence of the Mother of God speaks to my own understanding of actuosa participatio (actual participation) in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. There is a silent inward cleaving to the Mystery of the Eucharist that precedes and perfects all other forms of participation in the Holy Sacrifice. The fifteen parishioners of Knock, young and old, to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared on that rainy night in 1879, were accustomed to "hearing Mass" in silence. By her own silence in the presence of The Mystery, the Mother of Jesus was confirming them in theirs.

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Toward the Recovery of Silence

The Irish custom of silence at the Holy Mysteries was, in its own way, an actual participation in the sacramental re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ. While silence is not the only mode of actual participation in the Mass, it remains one that is valid, fruitful, and profoundly unifying. It is remarkable that the neglect of spaces and moments of silence within the celebration of the Mass — even of those clearly prescribed by the Roman Missal — had led, in most places, to the complete loss of silence around the Mass, that is to say, in church before and after the celebration.

Knock After the Motu Proprio

If things here in Rome go this week as I rather suspect they will, I will find myself in Knock very shortly after the promulgation of the long-awaited Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI. Coincidence? I don't think so. Knock is the Blessed Virgin's invitation to enter deeply into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The presence of the Lamb upon the altar surmounted by the cross, of angels in adoration, of Saint John proclaiming the Word, and of Saint Joseph reverently inclined toward the Virgin Mother is, in pictorial form, a mystagogical catechesis waiting to be developed.

In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI writes:

The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated, offering one's life to God in unity with the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate. Given the vital importance of this personal and conscious participation, what methods of formation are needed? The Synod Fathers unanimously indicated, in this regard, a mystagogical approach to catechesis, which would lead the faithful to understand more deeply the mysteries being celebrated.

A Devout Method

Compare the teaching of the Holy Father with this Devout Method of Hearing Mass Before Holy Communion in my heirloom Treasury of the Sacred Heart published in 1860 in Dublin, that is nineteen years before the apparition at Knock:

To hear Mass with fruit, and to obtain from that adorable sacrifice abundant treasures of grace, there is no method more efficacious than to unite ourselves with Jesus Christ, who is at once our Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Separated from Him we are nothing, but even in the eyes of God Himself, we are truly great, by and with His Beloved Son. United thus with Jesus Christ, covered, as it were with His merits, present yourself before the throne of mercy.

This was written in a widely diffused household manual of Catholic piety 103 years before the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council. It is not a complete presentation of the mystery of the Mass. Its genre is that of the pious exhortation, not of a comprehensive theology of the Eucharist. That being said, it strikes me that this little Irish text goes to the heart of what is meant by actual participation: communion with Christ, Priest, Mediator, and Victim. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, all who partake of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood are priests, mediators, and victims, offering, and offered to the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Saint Joseph and Saint John

One last thing. The presence at Knock of Saint Joseph and of Saint John the Evangelist is especially significant to me. Although it was not so in 1879, both are now named in the venerable Roman Canon. They are the two men chosen by God to share most intimately in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Joseph obeyed the word of the Angel of the Lord: "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:20). Saint John, for his part, obeyed the word of the crucified Jesus: "Behold thy mother." "And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27).

Saint Joseph and Saint John entered in the silence of Blessed Virgin. One cannot live in the company of Mary without being drawn into her silence, that is, into the ceaseless prayer of her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, and into the mystery of the Mass: the Sacrifice of the Lamb renewed in an unbloody manner on the altars of the world.

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View from the roof terrace of the Pontifical Irish College. In the foreground is the Augustinian Monastery of the Santi Quattro Coronati. The dome of Saint Peter's is visible in the distance

The Reverend Mr. Bernard Healy invited me to visit him at the Pontifical Irish College today. Before lunch he guided me through the house, pointing out the various works of art. Bernard knew of my special devotion to Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion (1858–1923), an alumnus of the College, and of my interest in Archbishop Tobias Kirby, its rector from 1850 to 1891.

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The wood sculpture of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Regina Coeli, is the work of a contemporary Irish artist and is in the chapel of the Irish Martyrs.

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In the same chapel is this tabernacle with its fine Celtic tracery. Bernard explained that its design is based on ancient Irish house reliquaries.

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Would you have recognized him? This is none other than Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion, O.S.B. He was obliged to travel in disguise during World War I while searching for a refuge in Ireland for the monks of his abbey of Maredsous in Belgium.

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This is the painting of Blessed Marmion — looking very abbatial — on the College's grand staircase.

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On the opposite side of the same staircase one finds Saint Oliver Plunkett.

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And this is Archbishop Tobias Kirby. Born on January 1, 1804, he was baptized on January 6, 1804. Kirby wrote an important thesis on Papal Infallibility. He was ordained in 1833 and was appointed Vice Rector of the Irish College in Rome in 1837, succeeding Cardinal Cullen as Rector in 1870. He was appointed Titular Bishop of Lita in 1882 and Archbishop of Ephesus in 1885. Old age obliged Archbishop Kirby to retire in 1891. He died on January 20, 1895 and was laid to rest in Rome.

The Calvary of Ireland

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"There thou liest, O Rock of the Mass, most splendid of Ireland's treasures:
an imperishable monument, telling of Ireland's sorrow and of Ireland's glory!
For thou, O holy Rock of the Mass, art the Calvary of Ireland."
(W.J. Lockington, S.J., The Soul of Ireland)

Elena Maria Vidal has an excellent entry entitled "Mass Rocks and Hedge Schools." My Grandmother Kirby told me about the Hedge Schools when I was a boy. She, being at school in Kiltoghert, Co. Leitrim, Ireland, circa 1909, attended Irish language classes after official school hours. The transmission of Irish culture and language was still, at that time, a non-official and "private" endeavour.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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