First Holy Communion at Holy Family Home for Girls, Bacolod City, Philippines
A few months ago, at a large funeral in a mid-western Irish town for a devout, much-loved 88-year-old family man, his 13 handsome, 20- and 30-something grandchildren brought joy and life to the occasion. The one thing they failed to bring was a knowledge of basic Mass etiquette. Throughout the consecration, oblivious to the bowed and kneeling congregation behind them, all 13 remained seated, exchanging the odd friendly word. Then they all trooped solemnly up for Communion.
It generated some quiet exchanges afterwards. The local priest said cheerfully that all were welcome in his church, regardless of their knowledge or devotion – “sure, isn’t that what we’re here for?” A visiting priest remarked mildly that “nearly all Irish Catholics were infantilised – their spiritual development was arrested back around First Communion time”.
A 50-something layman shrugged and said : “They’re gone in any meaningful sense. They’ll turn up in church because they know their grandad would have wanted it and they like the sense of community it gives them – but do they really believe in any of it anymore . . . ?”
The above is the opening of an article by Kathy Sheridan in today's issue of The Irish Times, Never less cause for celebration with just a third of Catholics attending weekly Mass.The article is related to a recent poll in the Irish Republic commissioned by the paper and in the wider context of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin from 10 to 17 June.
First Communicants at Holy Family Home for Girls. Some had just been baptised and confirmed. Most of these girls come from backgrounds of poverty and many have experienced far worse than that.
Carl O'Brien's report on the poll says, When it comes to the church’s teachings, many Catholics do not subscribe to key tenets such as transubstantiation. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ.
May is the traditional month in Ireland for First Holy Communion. In my kindergarten school, Stanhope St, Dublin, there used to be First Holy Communions also in December. I made mine on 20 May 1950, which was a Holy Year. Kathy Sheridan of The Irish Times had an article in the 12 May issue of the paper this year, The first holy conundrum. She began this way:
To some families it’s a holy sacrament, to others it’s an excuse for a party, and to many it’s an exercise in hypocrisy and mass delusion. So why is First Holy Communion a tradition we can’t let go of?
So you thought the meringue dresses, stretch limos and cash-stuffed envelopes were the worst of it? Think about the people behind the scenes. This weekend, the Catholic priests of Ireland will don their festive vestments, set their jaws to smile mode and pray they get through the season without having to arm-wrestle someone in the aisle.
First Communions can be trying affairs.
And this bit is similar to the opening of her article today, quoted above:
Ann Buggie, principal of the 408-pupil Scoil Mhuire in Portlaoise town, attributes the increased noise and random movement partly to multicultural factors but also to a general social shift towards inappropriate behaviour. “It’s a reflection of what’s happening in the home,” she says.
“It’s to do with the number of people in the church who are not familiar with those surroundings any more and who are determined not to be respectful in those surroundings,” says Msgr Byrne. “I think there is a need in them to display their dissatisfaction with the church by not respecting the building.”
So why are they there? “They’re there for the child, and they’re not really interested. But it’s just not a lack of interest in the ceremony. They’re very uncomfortable at being there.”
One of the girls being baptised at Holy Family Home
A few years ago I celebrated Sunday Mass in a parish in Dublin. I think it was the feast of Corpus Christi, which will be celebrated on Thursday in countries where it is a holyday of obligation and on Sunday elsewhere. I gave very simple and direct teaching in my homily, stressing that the bread and wine brought up at the offertory become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ the Risen Lord at the Consecration. This is something I often do. A middle-aged man came to me afterwards and thanked me because, he said, such teaching was seldom heard anymore.
The Pope's two prayer intentions for June are very relevant to the situation in Ireland.
General intention: Christ, Present in the Eucharist. That believers may recognize in the Eucharist the living presence of the Risen One who accompanies them in daily life.
Missionary intention: European Christians. That Christians in Europe may rediscover their true identity and participate with greater enthusiasm in the proclamation of the Gospel.