14 December 2011

Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent

I was ordained in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, known to Dubliners as 'The Pro', on 20 December 1967. A priest concelebrates at his ordination Mass, the only occasion in the old days when concelebration took place. I never had a chance to celebrate Mass again in 'The Pro' until 19 November this year where I was one of around 40 priests who concelebrated with Cardinal Seán Brady for the annual Mass for Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, who died on 7 November 1980. The church was packed but most of those present, including the priests, were on the older side. One exception was the young priest to my left, an Angolan studying in Dublin. I was a few young people in the congregation, some of them Filipinos.

I was shocked, to some degree, though not entirely surprised to read a story by Patsy McGarry in today's Irish Times, Archbishop says Dublin diocese facing crisis, in which he quotes Archbishop Diarmaid Martin as saying, The change that will take place between now and the year 2020 – just eight years away – will be enormous. I am more and more convinced that they will be the most challenging years that the diocese has had to face since Catholic Emancipation. Catholic Emancipation was the act of the Westminster Parliament in 1829 that lifted nearly all of the remaining anti-Catholic laws in the United Kingdom, which in those day included the whole of Ireland. One of the first churches built in Dublin after Emancipation was St Paul's, Arran Quay, where my parents were married in 1942, is now closed as a church of the archdiocese. I'm not sure if it is used on occasion.

Archbishop Martin was speaking a week after a report found that weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent (164,000 out of a Catholic population of 1,162,000). More than 30 years ago I heard such figures about some parishes in poorer parts of the city. The archbishop said some time ago that in such parishes now Mass attendance is about two or three per cent.

For someone who remembers packed churches on weekdays during Lent in the 1950s such figures are hard to take in, even though I've seen the decline over the past four decades. Mass attendance on Sundays in those days was probably more than 95 per cent.

The Irish Independent carried a story by Lynne Kelleher on 10 December, Archbishop urges lapsed Catholics to leave the faith. Archbishop Martin said, It requires maturity on those people who want their children to become members of the church community and maturity on those people who say 'I don't believe in God and I really shouldn't be hanging on to the vestiges of faith when I don't really believe in it'.

Two young persons close to me chose last May to have a civil wedding rather than a church one, even though they were raised as Catholics. But the Catholic faith doesn't play any part in their lives now, though I have never heard either of them say a word against the faith or the Church. They made the kind of choice that Archbishop Martin was speaking about. I also made my choice to attend the wedding, since the groom was my only nephew. Many of my generation in Ireland, especially parents, whose faith is strong are finding themselves having to make choices in situations that they never imagined in their younger days.

As I see it, there is a huge loss of faith in Ireland. I don't belong to the school that thinks some vague 'spirituality' is the same as faith in Jesus Christ, God who became Man, who died for us on Calvary and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. I don't belong to the school that thinks you can be a good Catholic if you rarely go to Mass. Nor am I saying that such persons are bad. I see an integrity in the choice of someone who says clearly that he no longer believes in the Christian faith and lives with the consequences of that.

I pray each day that those close to me who have lost the faith will re-discover the precious gift they received at baptism. I have no doubt whatever that my prayers are fully in accord with God's will and that He will answer them in his own time and in his own way.

Pray for the Church in Ireland, especially in the Archdiocese of Dublin.


Fr John Abberton said...

Heartbreaking! I sympathize with you. My nephews and my niece no longer attend and my two nephews have a mixture of beliefs or none. Having said that, I do believe they are sincere in their lack of belief. The causes are complicated but include the past failure of the Church to catechize properly (of this I am sure). Like you I believe my prayers will be answered.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Father John. On February 22 in his address to the Cambridge Group for Irish Studies Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, 'Young Irish people are among the most catechised in Europe but apparently among the least evangelized'. Much of the catechesis in the English-speaking world since Vatican II has been without substance and a common language of faith doesn't exist now for many.

I wonder too if poor liturgy has been part of the problem.

My own generation has largely durrendered to aberrations such as same-sex 'marriage', living together, the acceptance of abortion and euthanasia (the latter legal now in Belgium and the Netherlands, two countries that were once so strongly missionary.

At Mass in Dublin I see young Filipinos, Indians, Nigerians, Poles, etc. I hope that they will help bring about a renewal of the faith and not be drowned by the lack of faith around them.

Nine years ago I heard the new Archbishop of Manila, then Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of Imus, commenting on a survey on the beliefs of young Filipinos. I think that it represented the more affluent. but what he projected would happen here in the Philippines is what had been happening in Ireland since the 1970s and what happened in Quebec, a society very similar to Ireland, in the 1970s.

But we must live in faith and hope - and with joy.

Crux Fidelis said...

Only one of my nine nieces and nephews attends Mass these days, albeit infrequently. I find it very sad as all were raised as Catholics. None of them are married but some are living with their "partners". I myself feel guilty about this as I am godfather to one and Confirmation sponsor to another. What should I do?

Re St Paul's, Arran Quay: A couple of years ago it was being used for the Syro Malabar rite. I'm not sure if this is still the case.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Crux, I checked the website of the Syro-Malabar Church in Ireland and Arran Quay is not listed as one of their current Mass centres. My brother's parish, St Brigid's, Blanchardstown, where I go home to, is one of seven centres in Dublin.

Arran Quay used to be used for the Tridentine Mass. I attended once about 20 years ago. The population in the area has diminished and there is no shortage of churches in that part of Dublin, both north and south of the Liffey.

One thing we can do for our nephews and nieces is to pray that they will re-discover the gift of faith. Such prayer is surely in full harmony with God's will. and trying to live the Gospel honestly, aware of our personal sinfulness, won't do any harm either.

Crux Fidelis said...

Fr Seán: I'm very familiar with that part of Dublin - my mother, being a Liberties belle, was baptised in Meath St church and James's St Church is where my parents were married. I have cousins still living in that parish. There is a plethora of churches in that area but all seem to have their main Sunday Mass around the same time.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Another St Paul's that closed in that area maybe 20 years ago is St Paul's, North King Street, that belonged to the Church of Ireland. It once had a primary school attached to it. there used to be many working-class Protestatns in Dublin. That St Paul's is still there but is now being used for business purposes.

St Paul's, Arran Quay, has a dramatic painting behind the altar of St Paul falling off his horse on the road to Damascus.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Crux, this is slightly off topic but you list jazz among your favourite kinds of music. You note that your mother is a 'Liberties Belle'. I love military music and traditional jazz. Here is a great rendition of Sousa's 'Liberty Belle' combining these two genres by the Band of the Royal Dutch Marines and the Dutch Swing College Band playing together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP0hfYKvXYQ . Happy Christmas!

Crux Fidelis said...

Ha! Ha! Thanks very much, Father, but not my taste! I prefer my jazz cool.

Of course, John Philip Sousa's 'Liberty Bell' is probably better known in this part of the world as the theme from 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'.

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Crux, I prefer 'Pre-Vatican II' jazz!!!