Mass rocks, the devotion of the people, and encouragement for priests from St John Paul

Mullaghgarve Mass Rock, Slieve Anierin - stone altar

It was very sad to hear that in the Republic of Ireland, the celebration of Holy Mass in Churches has recently been suspended once again. The Irish Republic is now the only country in Europe where it is not possible to attend a public Mass in Church.

Public Masses had previously been suspended from 13 March, until 29 June when they were allowed again, but with a limit of 50 people attending. They were suspended anew on 5 October, though Churches are open for private prayer. These measures were taken in response to guidance from the government of the Republic of Ireland.

Yesterday, William Thomas at the National Catholic Register posted an article Ireland’s ‘Mass Rocks’ Are Becoming Popular Again. (H/T Fr Z: IRELAND: The longings and the lessons in the Mass Rocks) After Oliver Cromwell's destructive violence, Catholic bishops and priests were banned from Ireland, though some remained, at the risk of their lives, to offer the Mass and the sacraments for the people, but only in secret.

In the early days of this persecution the place agreed for Mass was often a Carraig an Aifrinn, a Mass Rock. Typically, a stone from a vandalised Church would be taken to an isolated rural spot and people would pass around the news by word of mouth that Mass was to be offered.

William Thomas reports that this practice has begun again with a few priests getting together with small groups for Mass at one of the Mass rocks. Apparently also, some laity are gathering at the Mass rocks and laying priestly vestments on them while praying the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

This reminded me of St John Paul's first Letter to Priests on Maundy Thursday 1979. I remember being enthralled when reading it as a young student, and particularly this paragraph:

Dear Brothers: you who have borne "the burden of the day and the heat" (Mt 20:12), who have put your hand to the plough and do not turn back (cf. Lk 9:62), and perhaps even more those of you who are doubtful of the meaning of your vocation or of the value of your service: think of the places where people anxiously await a Priest, and where for many years; feeling the lack of such a Priest, they do not cease to hope for his presence. And sometimes it happens that they meet in an abandoned shrine, and place on the altar a stole which they still keep, and recite all the prayers of the Eucharistic liturgy; and then, at the moment that corresponds to the transubstantiation a deep silence comes down upon them, a silence sometimes broken by a sob… so ardently do they desire to hear the words that only the lips of a Priest can efficaciously utter. So much do they desire Eucharistic Communion, in which they can share only through the ministry of a priest, just as they also so eagerly wait to hear the divine words of pardon: Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis! So deeply do they feel the absence of a Priest among them!... Such places are not lacking in the world. So if one of you doubts the meaning of his priesthood, if he thinks it is "socially" fruitless or useless, reflect on this!

St John Paul, pray for Ireland, pray for all priests.

CORRECTION: This post was edited on 19/10.20 to reflect the correction received from a priest correspondent, that public Masses were not strictly legally prohibited, but were suspended in response to guidance from the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

Picture Credit: © Copyright Colin Park and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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