The 11-minute Mass and the Book of Kells

Here’s Phil Lawler at Catholic Culture on his experience of the Catholic liturgy in Ireland. He writes, “(A)t a time when the Church in Ireland needs a fresh infusion of zeal, they might profit from the example of those dedicated illustrators [of the Book of Kells], and learn to take time reflecting on the Word, in the Scripture and in the Eucharistic liturgy.” PrayTell heartily agrees!


  1. I just checked the link Nick Baty suggested and ran across an anniversary-of-death Mass from the Augustinians in Cork. First time I’ve ever heard a celebrant recite the responsorial psalm by himself, saying the word “Response” rather than the actual response (and rather than letting the people say the actual response). Wow. What goes on in some celebrants’ minds to do stuff like that?

    1. Scott. This is normal. The priest (or other reader) will read the psalm and then say “response”. He (or she) will then say aloud the response along with the congregation. The priest almost certainly did not intend for the congregation to remain silent but I know a lot of people feel it is a bit of an innovation and for that reason stay silent, or, to be polite, move their lips. People often think the Irish Church is too “clerical” (without thinking that without a clergy the only Sacrament we’d have is Baptism). But we’re not: we expect our clergy to stick to the script – we are not there for them. Hence, a general dislike of innovation and too long sermons.

      1. The readings (other than the Gospel), including the psalm, are explicitly designated as ministerial rather than presidential texts so that someone other than the priest should be offering them. So that’s part of the surprise in having the priest read them.

  2. Having just returned from Ireland myself, I can also attest to Mr. Lawler’s experience. I travel to Ireland on a more or less regular basis and even in the monasteries, the Masses are almost universally AWFUL and music at Masses rare. And on the occasions that music is rendered, the Mass would have been better off without it!

  3. That is where the rot in the Irish Church begins — priests who do no scriptural study, never prepare their sermons, never plan the liturgy, which has become a sloppy and meaningless routine.

  4. I’ve heard the objection to the N.O. that it doesn’t lend itself to rubricism and mechanical recitation like the Ext. Form. I remember being not entirely in agreement when read that.

    I have frequently also heard the point made by one of the commenters about the fact that in Ireland, many of the seventeenth-century English laws would have made masses said at a relaxed pace less practical and sung masses all but impossible. The mass would have been cut down to the bare minimum.

    For more information, here is a sampling of some of the laws with which clergy had to contend.

    At this point, such masses may be the norm in Ireland. I guess I feel that it’s a little presumptuous for those of us who weren’t raised in Ireland to tell them how it’s supposed to be done. Such masses got the Irish through decades of humiliating persecution. Upon what basis do we base our critiques?

    1. “Upon what basis do we base our critiques?”

      Perhaps that it’s no longer the seventeenth century, and that they are no longer suffering humiliating persecution under English laws?

  5. One aspect of Irish spirituality that I admire is the intense private devotion. The rosary helped the Irish sustain their faith through the penal days. The rosary was one sacramental that could be hidden well on the body. The rosary is a meditation-prayer that can be reflected on quietly or silently almost anywhere.

    Unfortunately, as many of us know the rosary was often abused. The rosary should not take the place of active participation at Mass (meditation on the texts and actions of the liturgy and participation in the responses). Still, the rosary is a comforting prayer that elevates the mind with reflection. While all Latin Catholic cultures respect the rosary, the Irish and the Irish diaspora have elevated this prayer to a place of special significance.

  6. Sorry Ioannes, your scriptural jab doesn’t work here (and was uncalled for).

    We are not judging anyone (yet you seem to be judging us, at least me; see how this sort of thing works?). Holy Mother Church, through documents and papal teaching, has given us the basis for our assessment of poor liturgical celebration. It is simply not right.

    Poor celebrations weaken faith, whether those poor celebrations are nevertheless “by the book” or “historically conditioned” or are just plain sloppy and unprepared. We’re talking about the holy mysteries here. There is simply no longer an excuse for such celebrations in Ireland.

    1. Also, that jab is a double-edged sword: by the same token, one would be hard-pressed to critique any licit but deficient liturgical praxis. It’s a standard that both says too much and too little.

  7. Sociologists stressing the value of competition for religious vitality would be delighted with this data on very short Masses.

    Competition among providers has been used to explain the higher rates of religious attendance in the USA versus the lower rates in Europe with many established churches.

    Ireland and Poland have been troublesome for this theory. Both nations have had a strong national Catholic identity and attendance rates that are likely related to being challenged by surrounding non-Catholic countries.

    The Irish very short Masses are perfectly in accord with an explanation that the main competition in Ireland is who can deliver the weekly affirmation of Catholic identity most efficiently.

    Competition can explain similar time phenomena present in the USA Catholicism.

    Why do most Sunday Masses last almost exactly one hour? Or most weekday Masses almost exactly a half hour? In the last case, even when they have a beginning and ending hymn and a homily. Or why are four hymn Masses the Sunday norm?

    Competition theory suggests these minimize wasteful competition among Catholic parishes (for either shorter more efficient Masses or longer more uplifting Masses) while keeping sufficient engagement of Catholics in order to be competitive with non Catholic Churches.

    Vested economic interests (i.e. patterns of time use) of both ministers and people may be far more pervasive and far more difficult to overcome than ideological interests.

  8. As an Irishman I get rather tired of reading how the English condescend towards our 1,600 years of unbroken Catholicism. We don’t need anyone to teach us how to be Catholic. We attended an NO Mass an Ireland last week and there were breaches of the rubrics – an EMHC brought the ciborium to and from the Tabernacle, for example, and clearly was not needed given the presence of two priests at the Altar. Anyway, it is sad to see Americans get in on the act (although I don’t know where all commenters here are from, this is a US base site). BUT: the most heartening thing I saw was that almost everyone genuflected when passing the Tabernacle, just like we all used to. So may priests in the US could learn from them on that score.

    1. I’m half of Irish descent and I don’t mind at all admitting that the influence of ‘my people’ on Catholic liturgy and music in the US has been mostly for the worst. (See Thomas Day.) When my uncle died and my Irish aunt asked me to concelebrate, she told me without batting an eye that they have a pretty good funeral choir in the parish but she asked not to have it sing. “We don’t need all that just for a funeral on a weekday, do we, Father?” Oh well.

      1. I hope you don’t mind my laughing on reading that but it seems so familiar to me I can completely understand that!.

  9. Ceile, speaking as the grandson of an Irishman whose father came from County Meath, we don’t knock your “1600 years of unbroken Catholicism” – we can’t afford to condescend as there were times when we attended the reformed services simply because we couldn’t afford the fines and feared the gallows. However, we ask questions.

    I was brought up in a very Irish part of England. Even as a child I didn’t understand why the Irish people came to Mass late and left early. I didn’t know why the elderly Irish ladies refrained from joining in with the rest of us but tolled their beads long and hard. And I didn’t understand why the Mass celebrated by our Irish curate – of our three priests, at least one was always Irish – was the shortest.

    Last week, I looked after the music at yet another Liverpool-Irish funeral. Few people appeared to take part in the ceremony. At first I thought the congregation was “unchurched” – horrid term but I’m sure you know what I mean – but I was amazed that almost everyone received communion. And the PP tells me they were delighted with the music.

    I’m about to begin an MPhil, researching the liturgical music brought into our port city by the many cultures who have joined us over the centuries. Interestingly, nothing came from the Irish – not surprising when you consider they were fleeing starvation and the Penal Laws.

    So please don’t be offended but help us to discover why we have such differing cultures.

  10. Nick – sorry for being so thin skinned in my comment but I have read so many comments (especially on Damian Thompson’s blog) which make us out to be peasants scarred for life by the penal laws! I am maybe not the best Catholic to ask but – at the risk of overstating the case – many of those old ladies are practically in a trance (in a good way) genuinely feeling at one with the Communion of Saints: you don’t need “quantity” of time. Active participation need not be externally obvious to others. I can assure you that most Irish people could tell in a flash if a priest got one of the words or rubrics wrong. We all know all the words (pretty much by heart; my parents (very average Catholics) know them in Latin too and yes, even understand them!) so we don’t need them lingered over. I led a decade of the rosary at our church in the US and afterwards my wife berated me for going so fast. She thought it rude. I must confess I thought the others must have been on sedatives they were going so slow: I know Irish people have a certain rhythm to the prayers which it takes a fair speed to maintain. This rhythm is as familiar to me as the prayers. For what it’s worth, I would expected 20 minutes for a weekday Mass and 35-45 minutes for a Sunday Mass in Ireland. I was most surprised to attend weekday Masses in the US and still be in situ an hour later!! I am in the Vatican today and enjoying the Italian form of our faith – their Masses do not seem *much* slower. On a light note, I went to a Jesuit school in Ireland and in our yearbook was a story from a hundred years ago about a priest giving too long a sermon. One of the other priests brought about a resolution by loudly saying “Mother of God would he ever shut up!”. On the other hand, I read of one priest who went so fast that the congregation made him go back and repeat the Canon. It’s not a race but I suppose we don’t need to dawdle over what wer know intimately. Here’s a comparison: my wife doesn’t speak to her sister that often, so when she does, they spend hours catching up. I telephone my parents almost every day do there’s rarely any need to speak for longer than five minutes. Neither form of keeping in touch is better. Perhaps those who find Irish Masses short don’t attend daily Mass?

  11. Ceile – you’re not at all thin skinned. In the UK, Irish people still suffer forms of racism which would be unacceptable if aimed at any other group.

    I’m interested in how many Irish practices have become customary in my home city – particularly close to the docks where many Irish people landed during the famine. They settled around Scotland Road. Although the main church there is French style, it was one of the biggest Irish centres in Britain. And we soon had 12 churches within walking distance of each – a problem these days when we only have four serving them! Thousands of poor Irish were buried in plague pits following the typhoid epidemic – recently we’ve moved dozens of them into the crypt of St Anthony’s Church and commissioned a beautiful memorial to them. and

    I’m waffling, I know. But it all explains why Irish practices are so ingrained in the culture of this area.

    Back to the funeral I mentioned earlier. The deceased was only in his 60s but ancient Irish customs were observed: a neighbour dressed a room in the house (white curtains and drapes everywhere) so mourners could gather to pray the rosary around the open coffin. On the day of the Funeral, as all waited outside, then followed the coffin and chief mourners.

    These practices are peculiar to the North End of Liverpool, rarely seen in other parts of the city and, as far as I know, nowhere else in our region.

  12. Nick – I was on a trip to Castel Gandolfo & the Vatican with limited internet access – thanks for your reply. It reminds me of my paternal grandfather’s death. He was put in the guest bedroom after he died; my grandmother stayed in her room. All those coming to pay respects ate and drank downstairs but a few people were always left in the guest bedroom to keep my grandfather company and to pray the rosary there. I’m not sure those customs survive now.

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