CONFESSIONS OF A TRIDENTINE BOY

Submitted by AWL on 30 August, 2008 - 3:16 Author: Sean Matgamna

CONFESSIONS OF A TRIDENTINE* BOY
(THE PRO-CATHEDRAL, ENNIS, 1950-53)

“It has been said: ‘Ireland is one huge monastery’.
In spite of exaggeration [this] correctly
emphasizes the fact that religion and the
supernatural are a vital element in Irish life.
At every twist and turn of the day a man is reminded
of the affairs of the soul. Thus he meets priests
and nuns, he passes by churches and convents;
he hears bells ringing for Mass, the Angelus, etc.
— The whole atmosphere is conducive to spirituality.”
— The Furrow,
Organ of Maynooth College,
Ireland’s leading seminary.
1954.

[Glossary, and notes
on the Pro-Cathedral, Ennis, c1950,
and on religion in Ennis then, below.]

[see: Introduction]

White surplice on the long, blood red soutane,
Lieutenant at the Mass — “’Tis the holy b’y”
I am! Blue blinding smoke ascends like a cry:
I swing the chain-held charcoal-firing pan.

The smell of incense, candles, wax and wine;
Lost medals, beads and missals piled in store;
Marble, brocade, brass, flowers; priests galore;
The Life Eternal: Mankind and God entwine.

Infant Jesus, Mother Mary, Joseph - all
Life caught, transfixed, inverted. Let us pray
To Christ The King: sweet Saviour, we are clay!
Help us, migrating, not stray beyond your call.

II
Vengeful God, subversive Satan: desire;
The man-God crucified: Death like a bell!
Self-resurrecting Saviour, Heaven, Hell:
Baptism,sin, Last Judgment, eternal fire!

The Body and Blood of Jesus, bread and wine:
The finite, infinite, Death made a liar;
Pray for the Holy Souls in purging fire;
Faith, Hope, dear God, and Charity, be mine!

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost in one,
Both God and man: self-worship and self murder.
Eternal God, and bone and flesh: Great Herder,
Guide our steps to Heaven, this life done!

Peter, Christ’s Vicar, Rock of Popes: priest-rite,
Church, human and Divine: Dogma and yearning;
The sin of Eve and Adam; endless burning:
Mother of God, intercede against the night!

III
The Age of Reason: First Communion Day;
Route maps to Heaven: Confirmation rite,
Cleansing Confession — learn to self-indict.
God comfort us in death's sure disarray!

All powerful Mass-caste: Absolution; nuns;
And Mystery — Three Persons in One God —
Not to be grasped by reason, Faith unshod:
Pray for The North, where heretics have guns.

St Patrick, Bridget, all those gone before;
The Way of the Cross: the Via Dolorosa;
And holy water; Jesus, Gael-named Iosa:
Faith of our fathers, lore of Erin's gore.

Brown scapulars, Miraculous Medals; cold
Communion, kneeling; bright uplifted grail,
In spite of fire, jail, sword: praise the Gael,
God’s blessed, old, indomitable fold!

Pray that God’s own people will endure:
For God and Ireland! Faith and Fatherland,
Where Iosa, Lord of Hosts is in command:
Gallows, Mass rocks, Christ’s conquering allure.

Carnations, lilies; Blood upon The Cross:
Good Friday — kiss the Blessed Wounds of Christ!
Midnight Mass at Christmas; all life a quest
For Grace: the crucified God repairs your loss.

Retreats and Confraternities: a misty
Sea of flame, candle in every hand,
Renouncing Satan's "works and pomps", we stand:
Counting gleaned candles in the Sacristy.

The smell of incense, candles, wax and wine;
Lost medals, beads and missals piled in store;
Marble, brocade, brass, flowers; priests galore;
The Life Eternal: Mankind and God entwine!

IV
Four Sunday Masses, sleepy-eyed from bed;
Face-slapping priests; shoe-fights in the sacristy;
Adeste Fidelis: march at Corpus Christi;
Marriages, funerals, Masses for the dead.

In Nomine Patri; church-Latin at eight:
Proud hucksters’ sons, and farmers’, mis-plac'd prole
(A token two of us from National School);
Children, help priests to Transubstantiate.

Town ladies fixing flowers; counting poor
Folks’ pennies; winter mornings in the dark;
Bishop like God; Brennan, the kind cowed Clerk;
De Regge, choir master: organ music's soar.

I chanted answers to the priest by rote
In long-set Latin words half understood;
Helped priests to dress as antique Romans would:
Rites old and set, fixed as in creosote.

I clanged the bell, not always timed on call;
Lifted the lectern-held ornate great Book
Across the altar: backwards, down you took
The steps, then up (too small, I let it fall!).

I held the silvered paten out to seize
And save our God, made bread, should He slide out
And down from some poor palsied, broken mouth:
I saw blind Dev there, cower on his knees.

The smell of incense, candles, wax and wine;
Lost medals, beads and missals piled in store;
Marble, brocade, brass, flowers; priests galore;
The Life Eternal: Mankind and God entwine!

V
Vengeful God, subversive Satan: desire;
The man-God crucified: Death like a bell!
Self-resurrecting Saviour, Heaven, Hell:
Baptism, Last Judgment — sin: eternal fire!

Peter, God’s Vicar, Rock of Popes: Church-rite
To Die, or Live, by: Dogma, Tradition, yearning;
The Heritage of Sin — and endless burning:
Mother of God, intercede against the night!

The smell of incense, candles, wax and wine;
Lost medals, beads and missals piled in store;
Marble, brocade, brass, flowers; priests galore;
The Life Eternal: Mankind and God entwine!

White surplice to the long blood-red soutane,
Lieutenants at the Mass — “’Tis the holy b’ys",
We were! Dark masking smoke, cascading lies:
And I swung the chain-held insense-firing pan.


*Tridentine here means the Mass in Latin,
------

GLOSSARY, AND NOTES ON THE PRO-CATHEDRAL,
ENNIS, AND ON RELIGION IN ENNIS THEN.

“TRIDENTINE”
Denotes the fact that the Latin Mass was
codified by Pope St. Pius V shortly
after the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
“Tridentine” is from the city's Latin name,
Tridentum.

SURPLICE/SOUTANE
— An altar boy wore black canvas shoes, a light
ankle-length red cassock, buttoned at the centre
to the neck, a soutan, and over it, to below the waist,
a white smock, the surplice, usually trimmed with lace.

THE MASS
— In the Mass, the priest changes bread and
wine into the "Body and Blood of Jesus Christ".
Though to human senses nothing has changed,
belief that after the priest has performed
the rites the bread and wine really is
the body and blood of Christ —"The Real
Presence" — is central to
Catholicism.

LIEUTENANT AT THE MASS
— Altar-boy, server, acolyte. A "server",
made responses to the priest as he said
Mass. Boy, man or other priest, the
responses of the server were an
essential part of the Mass, substituting for
the congregation. Women played no part, except
as congregation. Women could not go
into the chapel without covering their heads;
men, not without uncovering theirs.
(There were women choirsters.)

TRANSUBSTANTIATION
Changing the bread and wine into
the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

ALL POWERFUL MASS-CASTE
Transubstantiation is the core
activity in the Mass; the power to
do it is the unique atttribute of the priest.

THE HOLY "B'Y"/B’YS”
— Altar boys were forbidden to go to such
"occasions of sin" as the cinema; some.
nevertheless, did. I did, after, at the age of
11, I discovered — by way of Korda's The
Thief of Baghdad — the wonderful technicolour
world that could be visited through the gates of the
Gaiety cinema (in O'Connell street, where Dunnes
is now). Doing that involved keeping an eye out
for anyone you didn't want to see you going in,
and either lying when asked or having your face
repeatedly slapped. Defiantly going
to the pictures inevitably undermined
commitment. (On Monday and Tuesday evenings
the cinema dispensed with the earliest of its
two shows a day, so as not to compete with
Benediction at the Pro-Cathedral for the
men's Confraternity, at half seven on
Monday evenings and the womenn's equivalent
on Tuesdays.)

THE CHAIN-HELD CHARCOAL-FIRING PAN
— A thurible, a small ornate pan on a long chain
in which charcoal was fired and at certain
parts of the Mass or Benediction had
insence sprinkled on it to produce a strong,
sweet-smelling grey-blue smoke. It would be swung
and, the end of the long chain held in one hand
and grasped in the other close to the smoking pan,
shaken rythmically, billowing the
ceremonious smoke.

FOUR SUNDAY MASSES
Altarboys were obliged to serve at 2 of the
4 Sunday Masses; quite a few of us would
serve, from time to time, at 4.

MARRIAGES, FUNERALS
The priests would administer the Sacrament of
Marriage, conduct services at funerals, Baptise
children. A riddle we had summed that up: "He
killed his mother, married his sister and buried
his father — who was he?" A priest whose mother
died in childbirth. The Church controlled education,
the state's role limited to that of custodian of
"standards". Priests, nuns, Christian Brothers
(A monk-like order of celibate teachers) controlled
not only the schools but also the orphanages,
reformatories, charities, etc.

CORPUS CHRISTI
Mid-year feast of the Body of Christ and His
Real Presence in the Eucharist. In Ennis,
after a special Mass there would be a great
triumphal procession through the town led by
the Bishop and his priests with statues of
Jesus and a consecrated Host, held aloft,
at the front. Young women in summer dresses would
walk backwards in front of the procession, strewing
the petals of flowers on the ground before the
Host. All shops were shut, their windows and
doorways made into shrines fot the day,
displaying holy pictures, statues and lots of
shrubs and flowers.

THE LIFE ETERNAL
—The belief that each person has a soul that
survives bodily death, some to go to Heaven/Paradise
and some, those who die in a state of mortal sin,
to burn in the fires of Hell for all eternity.
There were two other places to which the souls
of human beings might go after death, both, so
to speak, transit camps to Heaven: Purgatory,
which had fires like Hell, where you burned,
but only for a while; and Limbo, a place
without fire or punishment, but cut off from
the joy of God's presence until the Last Judgment.
What you do or fail to do in life will determine
whether in the afterlife you go to Paradise
or burn forever in the fires of hell. As our
irreverent saying went:
"Out of Hell there is no redemption/
When you go there, you set your pension!"

HOLY SOULS IN PURGING FIRE/MASSES FOR THE DEAD
— Those who die in a state of "venial — minor —
sin" go to the Hell-like fires of Purgatory for
a certain time. Prayers, and Masses said for the
dead and Indulgences granted by the Church,
can shorten their time — and your own — there.
The "working assumption" was that everyone,
or most of us, anyway, would do time in Purgatory.
People would pray fervently for loved ones
dead, and have masses said for them (at a smallish fee).
The great pity and love, and the dread,
that went into concern for the "Poor Holy Souls"
burning in the temporary fires of Purgatory disarm
mockery, even now. The ghost in Shakespeare's Hamlet
conjured up Purgatory as we understood it:
"I am thy father's spirit,
Doomed for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away...
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres"
Hamlet 1.5.9-17

LAST JUDGMENT.
—The final reckoning with God at the end of the
world, when souls will have their records on earth
reviewed and be divided into the saved, who go to Heaven,
and those damned to Hell for all eternity. Those in
Limbo will then finally be allowed into Heaven.

THE SIN OF EVE AND ADAM
— "Original Sin". With one or two exceptions,
all human beings are born in a state
of congenital sin inherited from
our "First Parents", Eve and Adam,
who sinned by disobeying God in the Garden
of Eden, eating fruit He had forbidden them
to eat. They were banished for it into all the
troubles and tribulations of humankind,
including death; so are their descendents.

BAPTISM
— Infants are Baptised to clear them of Original
Sin; infants who die unbaptised, like the virtuous
people who lived before the Birth of Christ,
go to Limbo.

THE AGE OF REASON
— Is reached at about the age of seven.
The child makes a First Confession and has a
First Communion. First Communion day is a great
milestone in the child's life: thereafter
the child is capable of Mortal Sin, and
is answerable for it to God.

LEARN TO SELF-INDICT
— Before confession, from age seven,
the penitent "examines his conscience"
for sins of deed or omission.
These must be confessed to the priest,
from whom, as God's representative,
forgiveness must be sought and the soul
cleansed of sin before Holy Communion can be
received, (that is, before the body and blood
of Christ can be injested.) Absolution is
conditional on sincere inner repentance and,
where possible, the making of restitution.
Since God knows your innermost thoughts
there is no cheating, no escaping. To make a bad,
insincere or incomplete, Confession is
itself a mortal sin. The belief that God
will know if you cheat or are too soft on
yourself encourages strict and severe
self-appraisal and self accounting. You, so
to speak, have to denpunce yourself to a vigilant
and severe god, who already knows all about
you and your private thoughts and feelings.
It sometimes fosters, or helps foster,
an all-pervasive sense of inexpiable guilt.

ABSOLUTION
— The forgiveness of sin
by the priest on behalf of God.

CONFIRMATION RITE
—At the age of about 11, in a ceremony
conducted by the Bishop, children
are "Confirmed", as Catholics
in the third Sacrament of Initiation
(Baptism, the first, Holy Communion,
the second), choosing an additional first name.

SAINTS
Saints are dead human beings known for sure to be in
Heaven because prayers addressed to them, asking
them to intercede with God, are known, and certified
by the Church, to have led to miraculous cures and
other wonders.

INFANT JESUS, MOTHER MARY, JOSEPH
— The Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Jesus was the Son of God, and Mary. Joseph,
Mary's earthly husband and Jesus' foster-father,
who was a carpenter by trade, is the Patron Saint
of Workers. People would identify with Joseph the
Worker, Mary the Mother; and identify also
with favourite saints, whose biographies were known
from Catholic Truth Society booklets, articles in
the press on anniversaries and saints' name days,
and by tradition. The choice of your special saint
would have a big element of self-identification,
and even of class identity, in it. For instance,
my mother, and before that, if I undewrstand it,
her mother, identified with Blessed Martin de Pores
(now Saint Martin), who, son of a black slave
in Latin America 400 years ago, was rejected
by his white father and did lowly menial's work.
"Blessed Martin" was very popular with
many in the town. Statues and framed wall-pictures
of him were common. In our house we had both his
picture on the wall and his statue in the little
altar in the bedroom, in which a small linseed oil
lamp in red glass burned continuously; in line with
our family cult, I choose "Martin" as
my Confirmation name.

FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY
— The three theological great virtues.

FATHER, SON AND HOLY GHOST IN ONE
— The doctrine of the Trinity: God has three
persons, "God the Father, God the Son and
God the Holy Ghost", but nevertheless is one being.
A "mystery of religion" which cannot be
understood by common reason, but which is dogma —
something which you must accept as an
act of Faith in the Church. The
alternative to acceptance of this and other such
"mysteries of religion" is exclusion from the
Church for heresy, and, in consequence, damnation
in Hell forever; in earlier ages it also meant
incurring the earthly punishment of death
by fire, being burned at the stake.

PETER, CHRIST’S VICAR, ROCK OF POPES
— Christ's chief Apostle, Saint Peter, whose original
name was Simon, was the first Pope;
all the Popes are his successors, deriving their
authority from Christ's words to Peter:
"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock
I will build my Church". Peter means rock.

MOTHER OF GOD INTERCEDE
—Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus
was born without Original Sin and
at her end was taken up to Heaven alive.
She has power to influence her Son
on behalf of human beings. The
first account I heard of what a
Protestant is was my mother's:
"Ah, they don't believe in the Blessed Virgin."
The dogma — something a Catholic must
believe — of the Assumption of Mary alive
into heaven was propounded by Pope Pius XII
in 1950. It was announced and celebrated,
in Ennis as elsewhere, as a major event;
my own first encounter with the mutability
of Faith and dogma.

VIA DOLOROSA
— The "Way of Sorrows", which Christ,
carrying his cross, walked on his way
to be crucified. The "Stations of the Cross"
in fourteen pictures of the stages of the
journey, ending with Christ hung up to
die, adorn chapel walls. "Making
the Stations of the Cross", going from
picture to picture praying, is a very
common practice.

HOLY WATER
— Water blessed by a priest, holy water
is held in fonts at chapel doors, and
in homes; it is touched
before making the Sign of the Cross .

MASS ROCKS
—In the days of persecution, and for
decades after persecution ceased,
before the chapels and cathedrals could be
built, Mass was said in the open air,
with flat stones, "Mass rocks",
serving for an altar. Photos exist of the
congregation at such Masses. A haunting
piece of music about it survives:
"Were You At the Rock?"
In Ennis, the Pro-Cathedral was built
only in the 1840s, three quarters
of a century after aggrerssive persecution
had ceased.

GOOD FRIDAY
— The day Christ was crucified. It is "Good
Friday" because Christ's self-sacrifice then
made it possible for humankind to be
absolved of Original Sin. On the third
day, on Easter Sunday, Christ rose
from the dead. Each Good Friday in the
pro-Cathedral a big cross was laid on a
cushion at the opened gates of the altar
rails, and for the three hours which Christ
took to die on the cross at Calvary, devotees
filed past and knelt to kiss the wounds,
marked in red paint, on the figure of the
crucified Christ.

FACE SLAPPING PRIESTS
— Physical abuse of children was the
norm then, in schools and in many homes
(not in mine) and for offenses against
discipline an altar boy would have his
face repeatedly slapped by Father
Quealy, the priest in charge of the servers.
The avalaunch of sex scandal that
has come down on the Irish Catholic clergy in
the last two decades raises questions here
that I can answer only in terms of my
own experience. Overtly sexual
molestation I neither experienced nor heard
of. The sexual ignorance and "innocence"
of that time and place is hard for
people now to believe or imagine. In my time
as an altar boy I simply did not know the
"facts of life". Neither, I'm reasonably sure
did most of the other servers.
The fear of the priests we had was
fear of being beaten. Even that didn't
happen all that ofter, though the fear of
it was always there. A while back, looking on
the internet at photos in the Clare County
Library, I found a group photograph in which
only some of the figures had been identified
by name. Amongst the unidentified stood the
prematurely white-haired, slight figure
of Fr. Quealy. To my astonishment, I found
myself feeling indignation that he had been
'forgotten' like that. I finally decided I was
still in the grip of a mild form of the
"Stockholm Syndrome"!

(Incidentally, one of the unexpected things
in the town was the public existence of a small
coterie of very camp, seemingly gay, men, one of
whom I remember by name, the small
hunch-backed Josie Cronin. You would see
them camping it up in the streets and,
late in the evening, at street corners. They were
there all through my childhood, when I didn't
understand about such things; the last time I saw
them was (my last visit home for 17 years)
in mid-1958, when I did. Some of them made a living
selling evening papers on the streets: if they had been
unpopular or widely disapproved of, that would
not have been possible. Memory suggesta that they,
or some of them, were popular. An agitating priest or
friar could, probably, have driven them out of the town;
that did not happen either. This in an Ireland in the
grip of a brutally repressive sexual puritanism, whose
devastations were given the same name by the
poet Patrick Kavanagh as the popular term for
the murderous potato famine of the 1840s,
"The Great Hunger". I have no explanation.
Evidently the townspeople's response to stereotypes
they also knew as people was better than their
own caricatural image would lead you "to expect".
Or maybe the ostensibly gay men were typical people
of that Irish time and didn't do anything! Or others
assumed that. I do not, of course, know the
whole story...)

MIDNIGHT MASS AT CHRISTMAS
— Mass celebrated at the beginning of
Christmas Day, the anniversary of the
birth of Christ; a tremenduous occasion
in Ennis, which everyone except the
few Protestants in the town would attend,
either at the Friary or the Pro-Cathedral.
A moment of great excitment, eagerly
awaited, at the Pro-Cathedral,
was the singing of Adeste Fidelis
(Come All Ye Faitthful) by a gifted choirboy.

A MISTY SEA OF FLAME/RETREATS
— Every year there would be two weeks,
one for women and one for men,
of fervant nightly preaching by visiting
missionary priests. (Retreats, we called them,
I think.) They were accompanied in their tour
of the parishes by sellers of religious statues,
medals, prayer books and other literature.
In Ennis, these would put up their tent
for two weeks in the grounds at the
front of the Pro-Cathedral and set out their
wares. The week would end with the packed
congregation, each person holding up a lighted
candle, answering "We do!" three times in chorus
to the question spoken three times by the priest:
"Do you renounce the Devil with all his
works and pomps?" In my memory, "We do!" in
reply to the third questioning was three
times repeated: "We do! We do! We do!" The
candles would then be quenched and
left under the seats in the Cathedral
to be collected and used on the altar
in the coming months. We would sort them
in the sacristy, seperating the slightly
darker wax from the cheaper, pure white
parifin-wax candles. The reader can get some
idea of the Sunday evening scene in the Cathedral
from Orson Wells' film. "Macbeth", in which a scene
of barbaric splendour, with massed lighted
torches, is, I think, based on that ceremony,
which Wells will have seen during his long stay
in Ireland in the late 1930s.

TOKEN TWO FROM NATIONAL SCHOOL/CHURCH LATIN AT EIGHT
— Most of the servers, who numbered perhaps 30 in
all, came from the Christian Brothers School, only
two from the National School, where schooling
was set to end at 14. There were none, of course,
from the girls' schools. Inevitably there was built
in class selection. We were recruited at the school,
where volunteers were taught the necessary Latin by
an older boy, someone near school and altar boy leaving
age. We grouped at the back of one of
the classes once or twice a week, learning as best
we could. Most of those who started, dropped out.
Finally Fr. Quealy came and tested us, and told
two of us, Eddie Mulqueen and me, to get the
required server clothes — the boy's family
had to buy those — two sets of soutane and surplice,
and black canvas shoes, a black draw-string cloth bag
to carry them in and a clothes hanger to use in
the commom wardrobe in the sacristy.
[See also AN ACCOUNT OF THE BOY'S NATIONAL
SCHOOL, ENNIS
]

SHOE-FIGHTS IN THE SACRISTY
— The canvas shoes which altarboys wore
were handy weapons in the, frequent, fights
that broke out in the sacristy. A primitive
form of class conflict existed anongst
us, sometimes waged shoes in hand.
I was suspended once — being "fired", we called it —
after a severe face-slapping, when the priest
in charge of the servers, Father Quealy, walked in
on me leathering another boy with my shoe! (The
leathering was all too often the other way around.)
Being "fired" was a frequently used punishment;
after a while you would be sent for again.

BRENNAN, THE CLERK
Paddy Brennan was the Clerk, general
manager, of the Pro-Cathedral, under the priests,
to whom his manner, in the fashion of the time,
was always deferential. He had a helper, Packy Dignan.
A small, quiet, good-natured devout man, Brennan was
remarkably gentle, kind and tolerant with the altar
boys, and, certainly, with me; my father being away in
England, he — memory suggests that he had a big clutch
of children of his own — allowed me to adopt him as
surrogate. I would go and help him and Dignan,
who was also a kind, good-natured man, after school.
I remember Pady Brennan with great affection.

THE SILVERED PATEN
Only the priest was then allowed to handle the
thin, pure white, stiff lozenge of consecrated
unleavened bread, the "Host" into which he had
called up "the Body and Blood" of Christ. Those who
wanted to Receive would kneel outside the low rails
that fenced off the altar and a sizable area
surrounding it. The priest would go
along the line of communicants on their knees
and with their eyes closed and place a Host
on each extended tongue. A server would
accompany the priest on his repeated rounds
of the Altar rail and hold a silver, or silvered, paten
— very like a table tennis bat — under the chin of
each recipient, to catch the Host, should it fall
out of someone's mouth. It never did, in my
experience. The Hosts were manufactured
by nuns at the Convent of Mercy, where they had
a little die machine to cut the lozenges, one at a time,
from flat white sheets of the stiff unleavened bread;
boys would be sent to fetch a box of them; occasionally
you might be daring and eat an unblessed host, as
yet only the incipient Body and Blood of Christ.

BLIND DEV
— The TD for the Ennis area was Eamonn De Valera —"Dev".
He was elected first in a by-election, a famous 1917 early
triumph of the rising Sinn Fein Party. De Valera was
the sole surviving commandant in the Easter Rising
of 1916 and had been the political leader of the
Republicans in the Civil War of 1922/3. Leader of
the Fianna Fail party, he was, with a couple of short
interruptions, Taoiseach from 1932 for over a quarter
of a century. From 1959 until his death in 1974, he was
President. In his later years he was nearly, and then
completely, blind. He frequently visited his constituency.
He would walk through the town, with a small entourage
and very little visible fuss, to attend Mass,
taking his place amongst the worshippers in the pews.

NOT STRAY BEYOND YOUR CALL
—It was recognised that many, indeed most, of the
young would leave Ireland, and face the danger
that in a less religious environment they might cease
to "practice their religious duties", and lapse
as Catholics. Amongst the concerns was that they would
fall in with the "communist" "Connolly Clubs."
[See also The Connolly
Association and its Work: a Critical Memoir]

VENGEFUL GOD
— The idea we had of God was of a relentlessly
vindictive, jealous tyrant, obsessed with regulating
even the pettier details of our lives, and forever
threatening us with punishment in the afterlife
grossly, crazily, out of proportion to anything we
might do. (For instance, we couldn't eat meat on Fridays,
the day on which He, in one of his personages,
was crucified. To do so — so my memory suggests —
was only a "venial sin", for which you
would not be damned to Hell but would be sent
to burn in Purgatory for a spell.)
The attitude to Him drilled into us was
the abject, subservience of venal
courtiers and petitioners at the court of
an absolute monarch. (It derived, of course,
from the long epochs of human history when
caesars and kings ruled with irresistable power.)
We sang the praises of His "goodness" and "mercy"
and "love" of humankind, though in human terms,
self-evidently from what we knew, and feared, about
Him, He was neither good, nor merciful nor loving.
What strikes me most about our mental world
then was the addled celestial monarchism of
it all: "Christ the King", "Mary Queen of Heaven",
"Our Lord", "Our Lady" etc., and how very oddly
it sorted with our democratic republicanism
in politics.

SUBVERSIVE SATAN
—Satan, the defeated rebel against God in the supernatural
world, is now confined to his own kingdom of Hell.
From there he intervenes in our natural world to
wage an endless guerrilla war on God and humankind.
His great obsession is to lead human souls to
break God's laws and thus merit an eternity
in the fires of Hell. He tempts, misleads, sows disaffection
and foments rebellion and sin against the Lord God, the
King of Heaven and earth. His greatest success was in temping
Eve, the first woman, who then tempted Adam, the first
man, to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
Thereby he provoked God into a retaliation against
all mankind that will last until the end of the world.
It is Satan who is responsible for all the evil
to which humankind is heir, because at his instigarion
Eve and Adam robbed God's orchard and ate the interdicted
apple.

LORE OF ERIN'S GORE
— Telling and retelling the story of the
long persecution of Catholics in Ireland
at the hands of Protestant English governments
and their Irish Protestant subordinate Irish
governments, and of the staunch
fidelity of Irish Catholics to the Faith,
in spite of jail, sword, gallows and
despoilation. Nationalism and Catholicism were for
us closely entwined, to the point of being
merged in one, a sort of two-pronged religion:
the cause of Ireland is the cause of
Catholicism; the cause of Catholicism
is the cause of Ireland. The discovery
that in real Irish history it was not
always so, that the Catholic Church instigated
and Pope Adrian IV — an Englishman, Nicholas Breakespear —
authorised the Twelfth Century Anglo-Norman invasion of
Ireland, that Nineteenth Century bishops
denounced the Fenians (leftist Republicans), etc.,
etc., etc., shattered for some of us — in me
at 15 — all trust and confidence in the priests,
in their Church, and in what they told us
about this world and the next, and about God.
It reduced me, like many others, to the
condition which Karl Marx avowed,in the
passage from which too often only one summary
sentence — religion "is the opium of the people"
— is quoted, that critics of religion like
himself, by their criticism, aimed to induce:

"Religion.. is an inverted consciousness of the
world . Religion is... this world['s]... logic
in popular form ... its moral sanction, its
solemn complement, and its universal basis of
consolation and justification. It is the
fantastic realization of the human essence
.... Religious suffering is,
at one and the same time, the expression of
real suffering and a protest against real
suffering. Religion is the sigh of the
oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless
world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory
happiness of the people is the demand for
their real happiness. To call on them to give
up their illusions about their condition is
to call on them to give up a condition that
requires illusions. The criticism of religion
is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of
that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers
on the chain not in order that man shall
continue to bear that chain without fantasy
or consolation, but so that he shall throw off
the chain and pluck the living flower. The
criticism of religion disillusions man, so
that he will think, act, and fashion his reality
like a man who has discarded his illusions and
regained his senses, so that he will move around
himself as his own true Sun. Religion is only
the illusory Sun which revolves around man as
long as he does not revolve around himself."
— "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's
Philosophy of Right" (1843)