IRELAND: The longings and the lessons in the Mass Rocks

One of our frequent, fecund, and most flexible of commentators here alerted me to a piece at National Catholic Register.

I find this simultaneously discouraging and encouraging.

Ireland’s ‘Mass Rocks’ Are Becoming Popular Again

Remote flat rocks in the hills of rural Ireland were once popular places for small groups of people who had gathered to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the mid-16th century and beyond. They became known as “Mass Rocks” and there were thousands of them dotted all over Ireland, helping the Catholic faith survive under persecution while providing the Catholic Church with thousands of priest-martyrs — including famous saints such as St. Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh.

During the 1650s, when Oliver Cromwell and his troops came to Ireland, many of the clergy had to flee for their lives, while others stayed and remained faithful in order to minister to their scattered flocks — albeit in secret and in disguise. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was said in the open on a rock which more than likely came from one of the monasteries or churches that Cromwell and his thugs had burned down and looted. The Penal Laws were enacted in 1695 whereby bishops and priests were banned from Ireland. Many went to safe countries like France, Portugal and Hungary, as was the case of Bishop Walter Lynch of Clonfert, who brought with him a miraculous image of Our Lady, “Consoler of the Afflicted.” Ireland was consecrated to Our Lady before this very image in 1662 by all the Irish bishops before their departure from Ireland.   [I did not know that!]

Since March 2020, with the COVID-19 lockdown in Ireland, people have begun returning to the Mass Rocks to pray while the churches up and down the country were closed. While some faithful priests offered the Mass with small groups of the faithful at the Mass Rocks, other groups of laity would gather [NB] and place priestly vestments on a Mass Rock while praying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. [*sniff*] This way, in the face of the lockdown and other obstacles, the Catholic faith and prayer is being preserved in the rural countryside of Ireland.

The Catholic bishops in Ireland will admit to having lost a large portion of the Catholic population who will never return to the Church or to the sacraments. Much of the blame lies with the bishops themselves, who for years ignored the call to instruct, to teach and to abandon sugarcoated homilies, while ignoring the steady advance of same-sex unions and abortion in the country.

Should another lockdown be enacted again for any period of time, the faithful people, like their forefathers before them, will return again and to Ireland’s beloved and revered Mass Rocks to pray, with or without their priests. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary now triumph over all evil and every sickness — let Christ be Over all Viruses and Infectious Diseases (COVID).

That image of people at a Mass rock, with vestments but no priest…. gosh.

We are seeing the Church experience a Job-like testing. If Christ endured a Passion, the Church must endure a Passion as well. The Passion reveals the radical, unfathomable depths of God’s love. We must learn to recognize this love, and manifest it. We are going to experience painful but purifying down-sizing. We must creatively form places where the Faith and love can “dwell”, habitats of Faith.

In the wake of the terrible scandals which deluged Ireland, Benedict XVI urged in a letter to the Irish people that they return to traditional faith and faith practices.

That doesn’t apply to Ireland alone, but everywhere.

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14 Responses to IRELAND: The longings and the lessons in the Mass Rocks

  1. ex seaxe says:

    There has been a sudden and steep rise in cases in the last three weeks, both in Ireland and the UK. The Irish have reimposed the ban on public religious services, which they dropped many weeks ago. I suspect this surge has more to do with the start of the football season than other factors. Although the matches are behind closed doors, fans want the crowd atmosphere so gather to watch in bars. The Irish government at least has the sense to ban that as well.
    Some of my most memorable liturgical experiences involved crowd roaring as well, for example shaking the roof of Westminster Cathedral with the congregational parts of Credo III. (Though we would be no match for the organ at full throttle).

  2. Kevin says:

    Pray and Fast, then pray and fast some more, lest, to a man our Bishops may be lost! The Silence, is black and it’s deafening.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    Pope Benedict, I believe, saw this coming. Before everything went south he mentioned the likely, smaller church that was coming.
    Fr. Z I’m not proud of this, but I’m not ashamed either. I haven’t been to Holy Mass since March. I hope to go tomorrow, but will not approach for Holy Communion because I haven’t been to Confession. The church has left the faithful behind. The church, chases the world. We know the church still exists, in the Traditional Latin Rite. It seems likely that until the people are again hearing Mass in the fields, the church will continue to chase the world. When the money runs out, so will the hirelings who are in the seats of power. But when will China run out of money. China has very deep pockets.
    The Irish people going to the Mass rocks are the faithful, the blessed ones, the lucky ones. It is sad to imagine them putting the vestments on rocks. What wonderful zeal. God sees them all.

  4. tho says:

    Poor Ireland, betrayed by the English because of their faith, now betrayed by the curse of modernism. Ireland hasn’t had a decent leader since Brian Boru. The last time I looked their leader was a Hindu homosexual.

  5. JustaSinner says:

    Cromwell, ANOTHER reason I root for Australia during the Ashes…

  6. APX says:


    Who are you speaking about?

  7. OssaSola says:

    Ha! May God bless those Irish Bishops for “spiking the well” with a consecration to Our Lady before getting on the boat!

  8. Pingback: Mass rocks, the devotion of the people, and encouragement for priests from St John Paul

  9. JonathanTX says:

    I’m reminded of the opening scene from the Martin Sheen movie Catholics, where he arrives while the TLM is being celebrated outside on a Mass Rock. IIRC, Father Z even had a still shot from this very scene in a post not long ago.

  10. Charivari Rob says:

    Yes, numbers increasing in Ireland and the UK (and other places as well) with precautions and restrictions increasing, but particular hot spot in Northern Ireland.
    That’s why the Republic has put higher restrictions – levels 3 or 4 on their current chart – on the counties bordering the North.

  11. tho says:

    APX… That is my take on the sadness of Irish history. The bright spot of Irish history had been it’s unswerving faithfulness to unadulterated Catholicism, sadly it seems now to have joined the Spirit of VII with gusto.
    Perhaps my take is a bit over stated, if so, I meant no harm.

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    Better a Mass Rock than a Rock Mass :)

    Challenge: find other situations where adjectives and nouns may be interchanged leading to different definitions.
    1. light candle vs. candle light

    The Chicken

  13. Fr. Kelly says:

    Perhaps not quite what you had in mind, Chicken, but how about

    Better a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

  14. Aquinas Gal says:

    I remember in at least one of his Holy Thursday letter to priests, Saint John Paul spoke about the sadness of the faithful not having a priest to celebrate Mass, and he mentioned something about draping the vestments over a rock.

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