Let’s see; by my reckoning, I’ve been to Ireland close to two dozen times in my half-century as a seminarian in Rome and then as a priest.
Each time, I make sure I visit one of the hallowed Mass Rocks. Just last week did I return from a glorious two-week vacation in Ireland, a grateful guest of the late Dennis and his very much alive wife, Carol Kelleher, at the Kenmare House right outside of Killarney.
Sure enough, on Sunday, we took the twenty-minute ride to Killaclohane, outside of Millbrook, there, in a hidden and secluded forest clearing, to offer the Sunday Eucharist around one such revered Mass Rock.
For the centuries of oppression by their neighboring island to the east, the Catholics of Ireland were forbidden publicly to practice their faith. These were the dark “penal days.” Did these Irish people forget or deny the “faith of their fathers”? No way!
Whispers would circulate that a brave priest would be offering Mass upon one of these rocks. Sentries would be posted around the clandestine wooded clearing to alert the brave if indeed the dreaded British would be raiding the Mass. It was like the catacombs in Rome, where the early Christians would huddle for prayers and the sacraments. And the faith was kept strong; the Holy Eucharist, as it had been since that Last Supper, would go on.
This Mass Rock is especially venerated, since there a daring Dominican priest, Father Thaddeus Moriarty, was arrested while offering one such Eucharist. The sentries had succeeded in warning the courageous worshippers, who were able to sneak back to the village. Father Moriarty would not leave until he had concluded the Holy Sacrifice and consumed the Blessed Sacrament, lest it be scattered and abused. He was arrested, dragged into town, tortured, and hanged.
You can imagine that Sunday Mass on that flatland boulder has a special fervor to it.
Here we are today. The statisticians tell us that perhaps 25% of our Catholics are today faithful to Sunday Mass. These experts also report that only a third of our Catholic folks understand and believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist. This is not so much a denial of their faith, as much as ignorance, or the deadly atmosphere of taking such a sacred gift for granted, a malaise or drifting in our belief and practice.
This should and does upset us. How many of you parents and grandparents share with me your deep concern that your children and grandchildren no longer are loyal to Sunday Mass. A local pastor did a study and found that only 10% of the children in the parish school attend Sunday Mass.
We, your pastors, priests, deacons, bishops, worry as well. As you may have heard, we’ve launched a three-year “Eucharistic Revival.” Many challenges beset Mother Church, as you are aware. The place for renewal to be sparked is Sunday Mass, with the Holy Eucharist an essential in our spiritual lives.
Let the whispers start again: get back to the Mass Rock! Today, our enemy is not penal laws or fear of arrest and persecution, although such is sure the case in dangerous areas of the Church Universal— Nigeria, India, China, Nicaragua—to name but a few. No, now our enemy is laziness, apathy, a smug dismissal of “doctrine and tradition.” Many are convinced that they can get along just fine without religion and the sacraments. (A realistic look at ourselves and our society sobers us up). A vague “belief” or squishy “spirituality” is enough, so many feel.
The Mass Rock beckons....Cling to this rock and neither the storm nor the drought we see within and without will destroy us.