Michael E Daniel

by Edmond Gerard Cullinan
(Columba Press, 2010, 112pp, $33.00
ISBN: 978-1-85607-684-5. Available from Freedom Publishing)

Mention liturgy and the Catholic Church in Ireland and one is likely to think of items such as the Book of Kells. However, this is but one artefact of Ireland's rich liturgical tradition which Fr Cullinan traces in this short but engaging monograph.

One constant theme throughout the work is that Ireland's liturgical history cannot be understood without reference to that of Western Europe, for various trends and developments within the Latin rite were reflected in the liturgical life of the Irish Church, the only Western region outside of the Roman Empire that had an established Christian community by the time of the fall of the Roman Empire.

While most readers are familiar with the mission of St Patrick, it is interesting to note that Palladius was consecrated a bishop for Ireland in AD431 for Irish believers, which implies that there was already a Christian presence.

In discussing the early Irish Church, Fr Cullinan explores the possibility that the liturgy may originally have been offered in the vernacular. However, the major contribution that the Irish Church made to the development of the liturgy during the Dark Ages was its penitential system which mitigated the harsh and rigorous penitential system hitherto in place. Scholars generally note this as an important stage in the development of the administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

Due to its isolation, the Irish Church developed a different method of computing the date of Easter from the rest of the Western Church, with the result that when missionaries from Ireland went to the north of England, different communities celebrated different dates for Easter. The matter came to a head when in one Anglo-Saxon kingdom the queen celebrated a different date from the king!

Dark Ages

As with much of the continent, the monasteries were the centres of liturgy during the Dark Ages, with the shift to the cathedral as setting the paradigm for liturgy occurring during the 12th century. The liturgy that was generally adopted by the cathedrals was the Sarum Rite.

The singing of the Divine Office as well as the Mass were central both to monastic and cathedral liturgies. When the Protestant Reformation was imposed on Ireland in the 16th century, more simplified forms of the liturgy tended to become the norm. Although some religious orders were able to continue their existence, at least until the Cromwellian period in the middle of the 17th century, Fr Cullinan argues that the tradition of laity attending the Liturgy of the Hours largely disappeared.

Clergy then undertook their training and were ordained abroad which meant that the Sarum usage was supplanted by the Roman Missal. Given the straitened circumstances during the Penal Era - in which priests celebrated Mass on 'Mass rocks', in private houses, etc - the Low Mass became the standard form of Mass celebrated given the difficulty of celebrating High Masses.

The regard for Roman directives is illustrated by the permissions sought by Archbishop Oliver Plunkett. Another interesting phenomenon during this period is that funeral liturgies were generally lay-led celebrations, and many of these customs persisted in pockets of rural Ireland until early in the 20th century.

In the latter stages of the book, the author explores the effect of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, which sought to encourage people to participate in the liturgy by engaging with the liturgical text at Mass. He notes contributions by Irish clergy to the liturgical texts produced in the years following Vatican II, such as the Liturgy of the Hours produced by Glenstal Abbey, which is the standard edition in many English-speaking countries.

The Story of the Liturgy in Ireland is an interesting introduction, not only to Irish liturgical history but also to that of much of the Latin rite. While it appears to be well researched and contains extensive footnotes, this work is written for the average reader.

Although it is outside the scope of this work, it is interesting to consider the effects that the Irish liturgical tradition would have had on the Catholic Church in the Irish diaspora, such as in Australia.

Michael E Daniel teaches at an inde pendent secondary school in Melbourne.

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