Restoring Ireland to Christ

Ireland_(MODIS)In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred . . . .

Thus begins the Constitution of Ireland. It is fitting that we recall these words today, on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity. All actions both of men and States must be referred to the Most Holy Trinity: an extraordinary affirmation, and one that we do well to ponder today.

Over the past fortnight, events in Ireland have generated discussions, commentary, and lamentations among the clergy and laity alike. A sorrow hangs over the land. I am hearing groaning and witnessing tears. Amidst all of this, there is scant reference to the Most Holy Trinity, the wellspring and model of all inter–personal, familial, and societal relations. Some have spoken of the end of Catholicism in Ireland, noting the fulfillment of what Father D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. in 2003, had already described and analysed in his prophetic book, The End of Irish Catholicism. Others have described feeling something akin to what Ezekiel experienced when he witnessed the Glory of God departing from the temple. "And the glory of the Lord went forth from the threshold of the temple" (Ezekiel 10:18).

You will recall that on March 19th, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. The letter was a lifeline extended to the Church in Ireland. Like all the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, the letter, although it addressed a painful reality fraught with shame, was serene, luminous, and full of hope. It was, at once, a challenge, an opportunity, and a grace. Five years later, one wonders if the letter ever reached those to whom Pope Benedict XVI addressed it. Was the letter delivered? If it was delivered, into whose hands did it fall? Was the letter read at all? If it was read, was it taken to heart? Did the challenge provoke any response? Was the opportunity seized? Was the grace welcomed? I am put in mind of Our Lord's parable about the sower and the seed:

Behold the sower went forth to sow. And whilst he soweth some fell by the way side, and the birds of the air came and ate them up. And other some fell upon stony ground, where they had not much earth: and they sprung up immediately, because they had no deepness of earth. And when the sun was up they were scorched: and because they had not root, they withered away. And others fell among thorns: and the thorns grew up and choked them. And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, and some thirtyfold. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:3–9)

benedettoThe reality remains that, twelve years after Father Twomey's book, and five years after the letter of Pope Benedict XVI, the Church in Ireland finds herself in a crisis from which, not a few are saying, she will not emerge. People of goodwill are attempting to identify the root of Ireland's spiritual pathology. Some would argue that it has to do with the cultural shift away from immutable objective values, and the consequent spiraling down into the tyranny of relativism. Others would wish for an Irish Savonarola to rouse sleepy consciences, denounce vice, and spearhead moral reform. Still others would wish for a new rising of intellectual insurgents and articulate theologians capable of appealing to reason: teachers of the true faith gifted with eloquence; orthodox catechists; zealous apologists; a new Frank Duff and a new Fulton J. Sheen.

I would identify a different pathology and propose a different remedy. Allow me, if you will, to relate a fact communicated to me not a fortnight ago. Two men well known to me attended Holy Mass — it was a Sunday — at a national shrine here in Ireland. They returned disheartened by the manner in which the Holy Sacrifice was celebrated: the rushed pace of the sacred rites, the breezy disregard of the rubrics, and a general impression of liturgical minimalism. What shocked them most, however, was this: although the Mass was that of a Sunday in Paschaltide, the priest arbitrarily, and in flagrant violation of what the Roman Missal prescribes, omitted the Gloria of the Mass. You may be asking yourself, "What of it?  Is this not a mere detail in the bigger scheme of things. With all that is going on in Ireland at present, surely there is no need to get worked up over the fact that a priest deprived God and the people of the Gloria at a Sunday Mass". I would argue that this omission of the Gloria at a Sunday Mass in a national shrine is patently symptomatic of Ireland's spiritual pathology. One believes as one worships, and one acts as one believes. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. Worship is the ground of doctrine, and doctrine shapes morality.

The glory of God comes before all else. Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting in 2013 on his experience of the Second Vatican Council said:

I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration. "Operi Dei nihil praeponatur" [Let nothing be put before the Work of God]: this phrase from the Rule of Saint Benedict (cf. 43:3) thus emerges as the supreme rule of the Council. Some have made the criticism that the Council spoke of many things, but not of God. It did speak of God! And this was the first thing that it did, that substantial speaking of God and opening up all the people, the whole of God’s holy people, to the adoration of God, in the common celebration of the liturgy of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this sense, over and above the practical factors that advised against beginning straight away with controversial topics, it was, let us say, truly an act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy, God, adoration.

One who is dismissive of the liturgical praise of the Most Holy Trinity will, inevitably, slide into a dismissive attitude with regard to Catholic doctrine; and one who is fuzzy about Catholic doctrine will, inevitably, descend into moral relativism and, ultimately, social chaos. The restoration of Ireland to Christ must begin — not in the media, nor in the schools, nor even in the pulpit — but at the altar. Not for nothing have some perceptive wits quipped that to save the liturgy is to save the world. This is, in fact, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council:

Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of His Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree. . . . The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, articles 7 and 10)

In making this declaration, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council were echoing the timeless teaching that Pope Saint Pius X promulgated 112 years ago, at the dawn of the last century:

Filled as We are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful, We deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.

If the true Christian spirit is not flourishing in Irish society, might this not be because the glory of God has not been put before else? Might it not be because the vertical dimension of Catholicism has been mortally compromised by an approach to the sacred liturgy that offers no piercing through the limitations of time and space into the eternity of God and the unfading beauty of His kingdom? Might it not be because in too many churches there is not a whiff of the fragrance of a lavish love? Might it not be because in too many sanctuaries there is no evidence of a precious ointment poured out without regard for passing concerns? It is no mere liturgical peccadillo to deprive God and His people of the Gloria at Sunday Mass. It is a cheap compromise with relativistic pragmatism, evidence of doctrinal confusion, and a symptom of the prevailing secularism that places the convenience and comfort of men before the praise of the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Others are free to expound on what they perceive to be the right means by which Ireland will be restored to Christ. I respect their intuitions and honour their zeal. "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 4:15), by placing at the beginning of this glorious restoration, what the Fathers placed at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, the liturgy, God, and adoration, and what Saint Benedict enjoins upon us in his Holy Rule: Operi Dei nihil praeponatur, "To prefer nothing to the Work of God" (Rule of Saint Benedict 43:3). «In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred . . .» Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.