My Mass of Celebration

Yesterday, in the Killimordaly Community Centre, I celebrated a public Mass for the first time in five years, since I was forbidden to minister publicly. I chose to do it to mark my seventieth birthday, and in the Centre because I would not be allowed to do it on Church property.
I thought a good bit before I made this decision, sometime in late November. (See an earlier blog for my reasons). I had no idea then what it would become. To sum it up in one sentence, I would say that yesterday would come close to being the loveliest day of my life.
It began to happen a couple of weeks ago, when I made my intentions public. Immediately, with only a tiny number of exceptions, messages of support and approval began to pour in from Ireland and many parts of the world. That was great. But what was even more remarkable was the groundswell of support I began to sense in the local area. People began to ring me offering to help, and within a short time the community had taken over all the planning of the event. What I had envisioned as a simple Mass in a hall holding about two hundred and fifty people soon developed into the prospect of something much bigger. One person, a well-known local musician and public representative, offered his services, and that he would bring some singers with him. Another couple sponsored a marquee. A young man who had recently purchased an outdoor screen, said he would be delighted to give the use of it for the day. My cousin offered to install a sound system. The local hurling club said they would look after traffic and parking, and Foroige would hand out leaflets. The Earl Inn would provide refreshments. Noirin Ni Riain was coming, and would add her special expertise.
The day itself was bright and crisp, but completely dry, which was important because we knew that many people would be out in the open.

I decided beforehand that this Mass was going to be a celebration, so I would have no negativity, rancour, complaining or criticising. And, on the day, I stayed strictly to that.

The Mass, for me, was emotional, but beautiful. I have celebrated many big Masses over the years, at missions and novenas, but nothing that touched me to the core like this one. My friend, Marie Morrissey, from Loughrea, introduced the whole event, and welcomed the people. I had not intended having any concelebrants, but Willie Cummins asked to join, and his presence definitely added to the occasion. The music was wonderful, both the choir of about thirty women with Ciaran Cannon, and Noirin’s unique contribution. People have commented to me about what a friendly, happy occasion it was, how everyone, locals and those who had come long distances, felt a strong sense of community. Sometimes necessity can bring blessing. I had five hundred hosts, and I knew they would not be enough, so I invited the people, when they took the host, to break and share it with others. This added to the closeness, the sense of belonging. In my homily I stressed that God is present in everyone of us, not just in the host, so by being together we were bringing God to each other. And I invited everyone, as long as they had any sense of the Divine in their life and in this gathering, to come to communion.

Killimordaly is a rural area in the centre of county Galway. It is traditional in many ways. The way they responded, and took part, showed clearly to me how much has changed in our Church. Diktats from the Vatican, or any Church authority, do not carry much weight any more. A Church leader, if he is to be credible, must in future be a listener, who is with the people. Otherwise he will not be a real leader. (What I am saying here is not original; Pope Francis is constantly saying this to the wearers of mitres.)

While I grew up in this community, and in the house where I am now living, I have spent most of my life away, and in a profession which traditionally created something of a barrier between you and the people. The past few weeks I have felt this outpouring of support, even of love. I am reminded of the quote from T.S. Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
That quote has taken on a new meaning for me. It is good.