With the rise of political Islam, and the migration of people of that faith into the main cities of Europe, religious conflict is now more central to politics in the advanced countries than for a very long time; in international politics, religion is more important than for centuries (unless you want to classify Stalinism as primarily a religion). Yet in our quasi-secular society fervent religion is a great mystery to many, and especially to young people. I grew in a world — small town mid-Twentieth Century Catholic Ireland — in which religion and its priests ordered and permeated most of our lives.
That Ireland, in the fierce Catholic-nationalism of its first half-century of independence, arguably, was the nearest thing to a theocracy, in a Western Europe that also contained Franco’s Spain and Salazar’s Portugal, both of them under Clerical-Fascist rule. Irish Theocracy operated within the structures of a parliamentary democracy. Priest rule in Irish society did not, as in Spain and Portugal, need the support of a police state. It had intense mass popular support.
The picture painted in the quotation from the Journal of the Maynooth Seminary (below) of mid-Twentieth Century Catholic Ireland as "one huge monastry" is close to the truth. Catholicism had been fused by history with our national identity and with an Irish nationalism that had more than a little of religious-political Messianism in it.
In the form of ethnic-sectarian history, Irish Catholics were taught the tremendous story of our people’s long ages of captivity in the grip of a terrible enemy, and our struggle against the ruling English state, which served landlords “alien in race and creed”, for the liberty to be what we were and wanted to be, what God wanted us to be. The cause of Ireland was the cause of Catholicism; the cause of Catholicism was the cause of Ireland...
From the mid 19th Century, Ireland sent out hordes of missionary priests and nuns to many countries, on the Catholic “Foreign Missions”. They were supported at home by propaganda about their work, linked in our minds to the stories we heard in school History about the Dark Age Irish missionaries who “converted Europe”, including most of Anglo-Saxon England.
Much that was in the religious forms, ritual and observances of that Catholic world was swept away in the 1960s and ‘70s by the reforms inaugurated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) and in its wake.
“Confessions of a Tridentine Boy" is an attempt to conjure up a glimpse of that Catholic world, and of an Ireland dominated by religion and its priests and their values and concerns, and to draw a sketch of the state of mind of those who lived in it, as I experienced it as a child.
[Tridentine here means the Latin Mass, which for decades was effectively suppressed. The regulation against the Latin Mass has recently been relaxed.]