Friday, July 27, 2012

The Mass Rock

During the era of the Penal Laws in Ireland, which would have been around the late seventeenth century, if you were caught by the English going to Mass, you were shot. The same would be true if any kind of sign of Catholicism was found on you – a rosary, or especially a crucifix. The "penal crosses" were the result of such terrorism: it was a crucifix with very small arms, one that could be tucked up inside a jacket or shirt and instantly hidden.

So when Catholics wanted to go to Mass during this period of persecution, they explored the countryside for safe, secure, isolated places that would still have the dignity appropriate for the mystery they knew as the Sacrifice of the Mass. And they found what they were looking for with mass rocks.
Here in East Clare, close to the McNamara family, we had the great privilege of being led deep into the mountains yesterday and shown an immense mass rock. They dot the countryside of Ireland: random sentries of granite that have a solitary existence, found in some forest or on a hilltop.

The Mass Rock in Clare is an immense formation, a huge hunk of stone that actually serves as a backdrop to a smaller rock – this smaller one ideal as the altar.
During the times of the Penal Laws, sentries would be placed at high points at the periphery of the place where the mass was to be celebrated. It was a covenant of trust for an entire community, for if one person turned coat and became an informant, the whole village could be facing a firing squad. Our friends, Joan and Pat, showed us these points where the sentries would've been able to see the entire landscape.

It was a bright morning, and we quietly walked around this compass point of history and faith. Throughout the journey, I kept being reminded of how dangerous it was to be a Catholic under English rule, of how deep go the roots of this thing we call the Catholic faith. And I kept wondering how all of us in America still might have a hand in assisting the faith of these, our ancestors and kin.

I say this because the Irish, on their spiritual road, now face something far more threatening than a firing squad. They face money, pop culture, betrayal by some of their shepherds, and a wholly apathetic generation.

And yet, this is a country that died for its faith, died for its language, died for its song, died for its own freedom and expression. They built those convictions hundreds of years ago, built them on rocks, secretly hidden from their persecutors. Surely... surely there is something here to build upon.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Newgrove, County Clare,Ireland

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