A MASS IN THE HOUSE
By Muiris O Riordan
FOREWORD: The following article was written prior to the introduction of the new Liturgy.
The new Liturgy comes soon and its purpose - the greater involvement of the laity in the Mass- is fine and splendid. Most people will, no doubt, welcome it when they become used to it, but many will be a little sad at the passing of the quiet and mystic of the old form.
For me personally, the change throws my mind back over the twenty years to a time when I served Mass in almost every house in my own parish of Abbeydorney, Co. Kerry. There is a custom there which, with special permission, Mass may be said in any private house by a priest of the parish at the request of the people of the house. These are not "Station" Masses but Masses usually said annually or on a special occasion such as after a death in a house, on a Wedding Anniversary, or on a child's birthday. At dozens of these I was the curate's server and my knowledge of the houses in the parish and of the people who lived in them must have been unmatched by any other twelve year old.
Now as I look back, all those mornings seem to have been the same. There was a touch but not more than a touch of frost. A honeyed mist retreated slowly before the sun and revealed green hills rising to purple peak, brown bog and wet grass fields. Ceo meala la seaca, indeed.
The road, by today's standards, poor and pot-holed, was good by comparison with the bohereen into which we turned. There was a gate, two, three gates on the way but this morning all were opened and the cows were in.
The house, the walls and outhouses were shining white and smelled of new lime wash. In the little garden between the small gate and the front door clumps of straw coloured pampas grass were flanked by 'devils' pokers and the first daffodils - we called them March Lillies - were taller by an inch than the grass.
The rarely-opened front door was open for the priest but this priest passed the small gate and, as always, went in by the back door. In this, as in many other important matters, he was a grave disappointment to many a gaily overalled housewife but sure he was the priest an' what could you say. You'd ask the parish priest but sure he was nearly worse, God Help Him!
A collie came towards us, his tail wagging. The men who had been chatting with their backs to the gable wall, uncrossed their legs, tipped their caps ( a few with a fine mohail of hair took them off).
"Mornin men! A glorious day, thank God!"
"Tis so, Father, Thanks be to God!"
And it was. For by now the sun had splendoured all the valley and was glinting on the houses that perched on the hill by Laccamore and Laccabeg and higher up, on Stack's Mountain. And all the heights were purple.
I carried in the heavy bag. The priest went to the 'room' to hear confessions and dressed in a little brief authority, I gave instruction about the altar. A fire was livid in the big range and the women were agog with preparations.
Then the Mass began, the central point of all the morning. Never was a congregation more still, more attentive, more near the heart of the matter. A few feet from the altar, they were more involed than ever they could be in the Church. Not a sound was there but the occasional clucking of a hen in the yard, the croon of the kettle and the low voice of the priest. Now and again the whisper of an old man's prayer broke faintly into sound " an forgive us our trespasses" and then no more would be heard for a few minutes when the same old voice would murmur "an at the hour of our death, Amen". Everybody received Communion. All quietly answered the last prayers. Peace and calm filled the time.
When the priest went to make his thanksgiving the bustle began, women few here and women raced there and I was plied with questions. "Do he eat only the boiled egg boy bawn?". "Nothing but a boiled egg and a small bit of toast". I knew from experience and so did the woman of the house, but she was hoping against hope that he might have changed since last year.
"No bit of a rasher nor nothin?. "Nothing else"
"Oh, Mhuire Mhathair! "But" came then a pause that demanded silence and quiet "but he'll ate the bit of grapefruit anyway?".
A LITTLE PRIDE
The emphasis on grapefruit was great indeed and if the neighbours weren't impressed by the presence of this sort of style why then, they knew no better.
"He might try a little". I knew he didn't particularly like grapefruit but I hadn't the heart to pull the mat completely from under such admirable vanity.
"Well, thats good anyway. Hannie, half the grapefruit there. Is the caster sugar above in the room I'd know?" Well she knew that it was, but the caster sugar was another feather in her hat and she couldn't help showing it.
When the priest had finished his thanksgiving, the breakfast began. First man sent to the room was the man of the house. He was awkward about going but nevertheless twas his place and his day. Others were carefully picked to complete the table. Men of Substanance and men who could talk. A man here and there slipped by way of no harm like, to the front line, but herself, for reasons known only to herself, chose to ignore these. Too much talk maybe, saucer his tea maybe, swear inspite of himself maybe, or just possibly not an honoured guest. "The first shall be last" in severe and unbending operation.
A HEART PAIN
The men didn't eat very much nor did the priest despite Herself's coaxing, but I did eat. At first the men spoke only in monosyllables but this priest knew his hurling - the game in that part of Kerry. He knew ploughing too and some of Ireland's champion ploughmen have come from Abbeydorney. He knew cattle and crops also and soon the talk flowed freely.
The breakfast over, and the priest's bag in the car, we bade goodbye. As the car moved away towards the village and school, I had in my hand the half-crown I had been warned by my father not to take.
The sun was now in the full morning glory and the world was very beautiful. Is it any wonder then that while welcoming the new Liturgy in the Mass, I have a small pain in my heart at the going of the old?
Pictured at a mass in Hanlons house, Parknageragh in 1956;
Back (l to r); Paddy Hanlon, Jer
Glavin, Jer Hanlon, John Dowd, Fr. O'Brien, Mossy Healy,