Bishop MacDaid: Mass of Celebration St. Mary’s Church, Aghabog

Mass of Celebration

St. Mary’s Church, Aghabog

Sunday, 4th November 2012,  3.00p.m.

1812 – 2012


My dear friends,

The booklet for today’s Mass tells us that prior to the building of a church in Latnamard, Mass was celebrated in Penal Days in a Bohogue in a little glen between the townlands of Latnamard and Corlea. We are indebted to Fr. John E. McKenna for this information, which is found in his book “The Diocese of Clogher, Parochial Records” written in 1920. On wet and stormy Sundays, men used to take off their freize coats and spread them over the wattles on the roof of the Bohogue to protect the altar and the priest saying Mass. Another diocesan historian, also a priest, Fr. P.Ó Gallachóir tells us that a bohogue is the roofing of wood, thatch or other material erected as a covering for a field altar.

Fr. Ó Gallachóir also tells us that there were Field Altars or Mass Rocks in Annogoes, in Corleck and in Latnamard. There was a Mass Rock in Rakean in the centre of a marshy plain. Mass was celebrated in the Fort at Faltagh, and there were Mass Rocks in Corconnolly, Drumhillagh, Killykeaspin, Kinturk (in a sheltered hollow) and in Scarvy, all in Killeevan. The 1789 statutes of the Diocese of Clogher stipulate “that no priest celebrate Mass under the open sky but have at least some sheltering, both over and around him, so that, with this covering, both the Sacred Mysteries and the priest himself may be secure from the wind and rain.”

On the 10th June this year, at the opening Mass of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in the R.D.S. in Dublin, the exquisite melody of the Irish traditional air “An raibh tú ar an gCarraig?” lilted across the arena. For Irish pilgrims, it was a reminder of the sufferings of Catholics for the faith in penal times, when the Mass could be talked about only in coded language. “Were you at the Rock? ” In Ireland at that time, discovery in a place of worship could result in arrest and maybe death.

The Penal Laws of the late 16th and 17th centuries were punitive in the extreme. Irish Catholics could not vote, could not buy or lease land, could not own a horse valued above £5. Many churches were destroyed or handed over to the Protestant faith. Word was circulated locally that Mass would be said in a particular house or place on a given day. The neighbours would gather for what was often the only opportunity to attend Mass for a long time. They moved from place to place.

Eventually and gradually the Penal Laws were repealed, allowing Catholics to worship more freely. In 1795, the first Catholic Seminary in Ireland was established at Maynooth in Co. Kildare. At the time of Catholic emancipation in 1829, which gave Catholics the right to take their place in civil society, there still were few churches. But from the mid 19th Century onwards, there was a church building boom to cater for the needs of the Catholic population despite the after-effects of the horrific famine years.

More and more, Irish communities are now excavating with great care traditional Mass Rocks, Mass sites, and Mass houses to preserve our link with the past and to better understand what has shaped our thinking and feeling. In his homily on Pentecost Sunday this year, when 500 members of the parish gathered at an ancient Mass house, Fr. Des Hayden said “Three hundred years ago, even though it was dangerous for them to do so, people gathered where we are standing now to celebrate their faith. In every generation it always is, and always has been, the people who keep the faith alive. You are the ones who pass on the faith as a living and a lived reality from generation to generation”. Three hundred years later, parishioners remember a community that suffered for their faith.

In 1776, James Murphy, a native of Drumshevra in the parish of Tydavnet, was ordained priest, probably in Rome. In his episcopal report to Romein 1804 on the state of the diocese, he wrote “In many parishes we had until recently wretched cabins and chapels not half equal to contain the congregation, and in others there was no covering whatever for the people and scarcely a shed to shelter the priest and the sacrifice. But lately we have got many good chapels erected and covered with slate.” Bishop Murphy was a chapel builder. In 1814 he stated that “Upwards of thirty good chapels have been built and covered in within these twenty eight years, and there are two more on hands at present ” As well as Sunday Mass, catechism teaching, clerical and parish meetings were held in the chapel during this period as it was more often than not the entire extent of the parochial property. Often the school was held in the chapel.

St. Mary’s was built in 1812 by Fr. Partrick  Coyle, probably a native of the parish of Aghabog. He was born in 1746, and was awarded a doctorate in Divinity during his studies abroad. In 1784 he was appointed Parish Priest of the united parishes of Aghabog and Killeevan, so he was not a stranger when the decision was taken to site the church beside where the people had worshipped for many years. When he died in 1816, he was buried behind the church he built. Dr. James Murphy was bishop of Clogher at the time. He was a far-seeing man who recognised the importance of education and encouraged the instruction of people in the faith, expanding what services he could to this end. Both Bishop Murphy and Fr. Coyle are owed a great debt of gratitude for their work. The donations and gifts towards the building and furnishing of St. Mary’s chronicled in the booklet for today’s mass show the appreciation and support they received from the people. For good measure, all the priests who served the people of the parish have been shown appreciation by their inclusion in the booklet; as have all who were involved in the extensive repairs and renovations carried out nearly one hundred years ago.

Solomon was renowned for his wisdom. In the first reading of our mass today we find him before the altar of the Lord stretching out his hands in wonder and in humility towards heaven. He has built a house for the Lord but he acknowledges that no house is big enough to contain God. He bows before God and asks him to look after his people and to forgive the mistakes of their weakness.

In the Gospel reading, Peter is the center of attention, a confident and committed leader who seems to have no qualms about professing his faith. “You are the Christ”, he said “the son of the living God.” This is not the whole picture and the Gospels do not hide the dark side. Peter could give in to violence; when put to it, he denied he knew the Lord, he fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane; so he knew weakness and failure. Still he gave his life’s blood to bring the good news to all known corners of the world at that time and suffered grievously for his loyalty. The Lord knew what he was made of and treated him as leader and source of unity of the community of faith.

You have a fine chapel, a building on which you have lavished your care and your love. It had humble beginnings in penal law days. You had your own Solomons to lead the building of the church. Your people had suffering to endure and difficulties of all kinds in providing and keeping intact a place where you could listen to God’s word and have sacrifices offered for your sins. Through famine and oppression and poverty, your people never lost sight of the light and you kept it flickering so that your children would not have to walk in darkness. Maith sibh agus is íontach bhuir mbeart!

Like Solomon and Peter in their day, you wiped your brow, held your nerve and recognised  the son sent by God to lift you up. You held on to your belief in one rejected by man but raised by the Father to be the corner-stone of history. Peter, in the second reading, assures you that you have made the right choice and will not be disappointed. In the living stones with which you have built and maintained your church over two hundred years, you have welcomed and established the spiritual kingdom which Jesus in his birth and in his life brought us. You have accepted and made yourselves worthy of the fullness of life which God has gifted to you.

People of Aghabog, may God the Father reward you and those gone before you, for the sacrifices you made and the courage you displayed for the sake of those who were to follow you. May Jesus Christ the son of God continue to be accepted and welcomed among you so that your community may live in peace and harmony and your children may be enriched by the wisdom of the good news. And may God’s spirit ever protect you even as you sleep. May this spirit bring you wisdom, generosity and the capacity to forgive.

“Bhí sibh ar an gcarraig agus chonaic sibh scéimh na mná.” Bígí buíoch agus go raith Dia féin ar láimh libh ar turas na beatha.

+ Liam S. MacDaid

4th November 2012

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