Saturday, 23 May 2009

Requiem Mass for Bishop Thomas Keogh

The mist was descending from the Blackstairs Mountains, standing at a distance but looking every inch of their grim title, as the minibus brought us from the train in Bagenalstown towards the small country Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Skeoughvosteen to celebrate, to remember and to pray for one of its favourite sons, Thomas Keogh, who was Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin for thirty years.

Skeoughvosteen, or 'Skeough' (pronounced Sh-kee-oc), as it is known, meaning thorn-bush, Skeough, of the hound, vosteen, is not easily found on a map but it is fully worth the search.

This place - there is no village - sits atop a moderately sized hill. From the churchyard (weather permitting) there are stunning views over the vales of Kilkenny to the west (first 'landscape' shot) and Carlow to the east and the Blackstairs of Wexford beyond (second 'landscape' shot).

The churches of this part of the Diocese, outside the major towns, are simple structures from the outside but they all bear the signs of centuries of devotion.

This church, built about 1825 - that is, about 4 years before Catholic Emancipation - has four entrances, two on either side of the west gable (customarily one side for ladies and one for gentlemen) and one at the western wall of each transept. The western gable is surmounted by a small campanile.

Inside, the most interesting and unique features of this church are the transepts, which are 'stalled'. That is, they contain stepped stalls.

These are separated from the rest of the church by a low wooden partition. In the corner of the transept to the right is a statue of the Christ with His Sacred Heart in what appears to be white marble, and in the corner of the transept to the left, a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a similar style.

Across almost the entire width of the Sanctuary there is a reredos in a classical idiom with four columns and two pillasters of the roman doric order flanking the tabernacle, from which the Altar has been moved forward. Although the columns are correct, fluted and channelled, they are surmounted by an entablature that is devoid of triglyphs, although the entablature is expressed that those points.

Over all, a rounded broken pediment contains a chalice and host motif. A modern ceiling makes the pediment appear almost oppresively high but was likely in better proportion to the original. The rounded broken surmounting pediment of the reredos is echoed in the rounded pediment of the tabernacle decoration. The tabernacle doors are embossed with the Agnus Dei and surmounted by the Heart of Jesus.

As with Vicarstown, the windows are of interest in the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. Indeed, there is a certain similarity of composition. Two windows in the side walls of the Sanctuary are fully coloured, as is a more modern window in the west gable, the precise meaning of which is difficult to interpret but the rich blues, traces of gold and dynamism of the composition could indicate Mary Mediatrix.

The windows in the Sanctuary are in a traditional style. On the left of the Sanctuary, the more customary side for the image of greater dignity, the image of Christ and His Sacred Heart appears in a benediction pose above St. Patrick, mitred with crosier. On the opposit wall, the Madonna and Child appear above St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland and the Diocese of Kildare.

The rest of the windows are largely of clear glass but with subtil decoration consisting of, in the example shown here, a chalice motif above and the crown of thorns at the centre of the cross. It is probably going too far to call this clear-glass a local style but it is certainly a recurring feature in a number of churches in the Diocese. An equally plausible explanation is lack of means.

73 intrepid souls made their way to 'Skeough' this morning for a Requiem Mass in the Gregorian Rite or the Extraordinary Form on the day following the 40th Anniversary of the death of their late Bishop. Some came from the Archdiocese of Dublin and a few from the Diocese of Ossory, which is nearby, but the great majority of those who came to pay their respects were of his own flock many of whom, including the celebrant, would have been confirmed by the man they came to honour.

Similarly, both the celebrant of the Mass and the deacon for the day were Priests of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin, as was also the intended Subdeacon.

The Priest who was to have been Subdeacon was prevented from doing so on account of an accident a few days earlier. We prayed for him on the way back from 'Skeough'. However, the two performed their duties with the reverence and attention of three. The full gregorian proper and common of the Requiem were performed correctly, although more voices would have been preferable.

The sermon was a reflection upon time and upon the Priesthood. This Mass marked, almost to the day, the 40th anniversary of the Bishop's death.

By a happy coincidence, the Mass was also just a few weeks short of the centenary of his ordination. We also heard that there were present Priests who had just celebrated or were about to celebrate 60 years of Priesthood and 40 years of Priesthood. As the Year for Priests was about to begin, we were given the opportunity to remember the precious and dedicated service of Priests, particularly Bishop Keogh, whose soul we prayed for at this Mass.

Incensation of the Gifts

Once again, I was very heartened to hear the local Mass times announced and everyone was encouraged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation.

There is no opportunity so slight that this reminder can't be made with value. Some misguided souls can slip into the habit of missing Mass just because they can't attend it in the Gregorian Rite. God is too good and the Mass is too precious to put even our legitimate preferences before our obligations of Religion.

Lord, this is an awe-filled place, says Jacob as he awakes from a dream in the Book of Genesis. The Church puts these words into our mouths for the consecration of a Church. We awoke from a dream today to see the ancient Rites of Holy Mother Church performed once again in an ancient House of God, to pray for the soul of our deceased Bishop. Surely, in the words of the Epistle of the Mass, from the Second Book of the Maccabees, it is a holy and a wholesome thing so to do.