A month ago this column outlined my pleasant experience of participating at Mass from a parish pew rather than a presidential chair. Experiencing the broad inclusion of the laity into various parts of the Mass, thanks to the insights of Vatican Council II, proved quite heartening. That column was not only published in the RI Catholic, it was also transmitted via Facebook to assorted acquaintances, friends and relatives near and far. Quite a number of recipients were members of the Kiley/Kiely clan who had formed a friendly association after a Kiley/Kiely family reunion in Co. Waterford, Ireland, eight years ago. Members from Ireland, Wales, South Africa, Australia and the USA pop up on Facebook regularly presenting or mentioning assorted topics. Included here is a response to the recent Quiet Corner article received from Brida Kiely, of Kilmacthomas, Co. Waterford, Ireland, a town not far from my ancestral village of Leamy Brien. Brida’s observations on the Irish Mass experience during the pandemic and the Catholic Mass experience in general are both informative and reassuring.
Here are Brida’s thoughts:
“That was a very timely piece that resonated with me. I have only been to one Mass in the past fifteen months as all churches were closed here in Ireland because of the Pandemic. They reopened briefly for Christmas and closed again almost immediately as it was during a period of very high deaths from Covid. The Churches reopen tomorrow (May 9) again for congregations of less than 50. As we have not yet received our second vaccination we will not be encouraged to attend.
“We have had a choice of Online Masses and many priests have kept up daily talks and reflections on the readings of the day. I was just thinking to myself that I had grown so accustomed to these new routines that I wondered about going back to a “real live celebration of the Eucharist” in the future. Then I read your words and I realized that I was missing a vital element of the Mass, the participation of the Congregation. Thank you for your timely reminder and indeed for your up to date explanation of the parts of the Mass.
“It is easy to get set in a routine and forget the meaning of that routine. God knows I am old enough to know better but I needed a reminder and your words could have been written for me. I have been retired for 16 years now. I remember the Latin Mass. We read our prayers from a missal, which was in Latin also while the Mass took place. I remember Pope John 23rd and the start of the Vatican Council. I now remember again the sense of hope and joy that accompanied that Council. I remember the first time I heard the Mass in the vernacular — English in our place and the novelty of responses and greater participation. Later I attended several Masses in our Irish Gaelic which were another completely different experience. Our language has so many everyday greetings and sayings that mention God, Jesus, Mary and our local saints that it brought a whole new dimension to take part in the celebration of the Passion. How could I have forgotten all that?
How quickly the novelty wore off and routine set in again.
“So thank you Fr. Kiley for reminding me of all these occasions when the Mass was not just another Sunday ritual. I usually used to attend my small local rural church which has been well served by the same priest for over 20 years. He is great and Mass is never boring as he has little tricks to get our attention and keep us engaged but like us he is getting old and we are all a bit set in our ways. I like the local community element as I feel it is important. There is now only the one priest in the parish and we are lucky to have him. We can all start to take the Mass for granted however and forget what a privilege it is to be able to attend and take part. Thank you for waking me up with your post. It was timely and necessary. God bless and grant you good health to continue your ministry in retirement.” — Brida Kiely, Co. Waterford, Ireland
Ireland, like most of the Western world, has experienced a tremendous drop in Mass attendance over the past generation, certainly in the cities, perhaps less in the villages where the parish church and the local pub are still enduring sites of socialization. At the time of the American Revolution, 10% of Americans (mostly Protestant) attended Sunday services. At the time of the Civil War, 65% of Americans (largely Protestant) attended. This impressive statistic lasted a century. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 75 years to recoup our losses.
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