Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

The silence of Ireland’s Catholics: a St. Patrick’s Day lament

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 17, 2021

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and the Catholic people of Ireland are celebrating. But not in church. Public religious celebrations are banned in Ireland these days.

It’s because of the Covid epidemic, of course, not—we’re told—because of religious persecution. But whatever the reason, bear that central fact in mind: the public celebration of the Mass is not allowed.

The Irish bishops are restive; they are complaining that the strict limits on the ceremonies that are allowed are are “harsh and unfair.” (Funerals, for example, are limited to congregations to no more than ten people.) The prime minister, or Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, professed to be “surprised” by their discontent. In other words, he is not likely to ease those onerous restrictions.

Archbishop Dermot Farrell of Dublin has issued what I am told is a “strong” statement in his homily for St. Patrick’s day. “Faith and communal celebration of faith make a difference to people,” he said.

Well, yes; faith—and the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice—do “make a difference.” But would it be too much to ask that a bishop—a successor to the Apostles—would take an even stronger stand?

Archbishop Farrell argues that the Irish government should allow more people to gather for Easter Mass. And he’s right; the government should do so. But did St. Patrick wait for the permission of the druids before he lit the Easter fire on the hill of Slane? No! He lit the fire, and accepted the consequences—which, as things turned out, made Ireland a great Catholic nation.

Here’s what I would consider a “strong” statement from an Irish Catholic bishop: Throw open the doors of the cathedral, invite all the faithful, celebrate the Mass, and accept the consequences once again.

During the 1970s, in the time of “the troubles,” I would occasionally step into an Irish pub and hear the strains of a song that quicken Fenian pulses:

This Ireland of ours had too long been half free.
Six counties lie under John Bull’s tyranny.

This week the Catholic bishops of those six counties announced—ever so cautiously—that public celebration of the Mass would resume in Northern Ireland in time for Holy Week and Easter. Attendance at Mass will be legal in what was once considered the “Protestant” section of Ireland, in the part of the island since under the rule of the United Kingdom. “John Bull’s tyranny,” I guess, is less hostile to the Catholic liturgy than the once-Catholic republic: the nation whose constitution begins:

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,…

Please, Irish readers, reassure me. Tell me that somewhere in the republic, stalwart priests are celebrating Mass, regardless of government restrictions. Tell me that loyal Catholics are gathering—perhaps at the “Mass rocks” where their ancestors celebrated the Eucharistic liturgy during an earlier era of repression. Tell me that Irish Catholic families are lighting a candle in their windows at night, to invite priests who might be willing to defy government bans. Tell me that the fire St. Patrick kindled has not burned out.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: CI93 - Mar. 20, 2021 11:09 AM ET USA

    Sadly, Phil, it's even worse than you describe. You state that "Attendance at Mass will be legal in what was once considered the “Protestant” section of Ireland" but Mass has been "legal" here for months - it is the Bishops themselves who refuse to permit the faithful to attend: "... the Northern Catholic Bishops have decided that, until 5 March ... the celebration of the Eucharist and other liturgies should continue to take place without the physical presence of the faithful."

  • Posted by: Cory - Mar. 20, 2021 1:07 AM ET USA

    Crickets? From Catholics, priests and bishops. Some spine is what is needed especially from the clergy.