Saturday 26 March 2011

Masses in Carlow

Interior of St. Andrew's Church, Bagenalstown c. 1914 (NLI)

On Saturday, 16th April, at 2 p.m. there will be Mass in the Gregorian Rite celebrated in St. Andrew's Church, Bagenalstown, Co. Carlow, to honour the birthday of Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and the sixth anniversary of his Election.

Interior of Carlow Cathedral c. 1910

On Saturday, 21st May, at 11.30 a.m. there will be Mass in the Gregorian Rite celebrated in Carlow Cathedral to honour Our Lady's Month and the feast of St. Conleth of Kildare (3rd May).

Friday 25 March 2011

'Give your assent, Mary; you shall bear a beautiful son': The Feast of the Annunciation in Irish Sources

I have been trying to gather together some of the Irish sources for the feast of the Annunciation and turned first to the Martyrologies to see if the date of March 25 was that observed in the earliest Irish calendars. The entry for March 25 in the Martyrology of Oengus is an interesting one as it links this feast to not only the crucifixion of Christ but also to the martyrdom of the apostle James. Canon O'Hanlon supplies a translation from the Leabhar Breac copy of the Felire Oengusso:

“The Crucifixion and Conception
Of Jesus Christ, it is meet
On one feast with piety [to celebrate them]
With the passion of James”.

and comments:
The Incarnation and Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Martyrdom of the Apostle St. James. In the "Feilire" of St. Oengus, we find the foregoing festivals noted, as having been celebrated, on this day, in the ancient Irish Church. The feast of Christ's Incarnation is now usually called that of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There seems to have been a very generally received tradition, likewise, that the Crucifixion of Our Divine Saviour occurred on this day. Besides, the Martyrdom of St. James, the Apostle, who was beheaded by Herod, about the Feast of the Pasch, is celebrated in many ancient Martyrologies. Sometimes, the present Apostle is called "Frater Domini", and sometimes, "Frater S. Joannis Evangelistae." [1]

A more recent commentator, Father Peter O'Dwyer, looks at the Martyrology of Tallaght, which he describes as ' the immediate source of the Felire Oengusso' and records its entry for today:

Dominus noster Jesus Christus crucifixus est et conceptus et mundud factus est .... Et conceptio Mariae. (Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and conceived and the world was made ... and the conception of Mary.)

Father O'Dwyer also notes that the Crucifixion and the Annunciation are linked in the Stowe Missal. In a footnote he adds:
The tradition concerning the coincidence of the two dates is recorded by St. Augustine PL, 42, Cols. 893-94 and is found in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum on 25 March which is described as the anniversary of both events, the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. [2]

Thus it would seem that this double commemoration is not something unique to the early Irish Church.

Mrs Helena Concannon, who examined the history of Marian devotion in Ireland some fifty years before Father O'Dwyer, has an account of a sermon preached at the great Columban foundation of Bobbio:
A Bobbio sermon on the Annunciation has some beautiful passages. One reproduces a favourite Bobbio motif: the contrast between Mother Mary and Mother Eve:

“Satan by the serpent spoke to Eve, and through her and her hearing, brought death to the world. God by the angel uttered the word to Mary and poured out life on the whole world”.

And then it goes on: “Holy Mary was made the heavenly ladder, because God through her descended to the earth that, through her, mankind may deserve to ascend to the heavens. When the angel said Ave, he offered to her the heavenly salutation. When he said 'full of grace' he showed forth that now the wrath of condemnation was wholly set aside, and that the grace of full blessing was restored”. [3]

The Annunciation is also praised in Irish poetry. Scholar Andrew Breeze has published a number of articles on this feast. In one he looks at the theme of the Mother of God being the daughter of her Son. This motif, he suggests, is earlier than the one alluded to in the Bobbio sermon where the Ave of the angel reverses the sorrow brought by Eva 'Eve' to the world. Breeze locates the origins of the daughter of her Son motif in North Africa, and thus one automatically thinks of the writings of Saint Augustine as the most likely source for its dissemination into Ireland. Breeze, however suggests that it may have come directly from Spain, where the eleventh Council of Toledo in 675 declared Christ to have been both father and son to the Virgin Mary. It was a theme which had clearly reached the monastic poet Cú Chuimne of Iona (d. 747), for it is reflected in his Hiberno-Latin composition Cantemus in omni die (Let us sing every day) in praise of the Blessed Virgin. Stanza Eight as translated by Breeze reads:

Maria, mater miranda,
patrem suum edidit,
Per quem aqua late lotus
totus mundus credidit.

Mary, wondrous mother,
bore her own father,
through whom the whole world,
washed in water, believed. [4]

He then goes on to an interesting discussion of how this theme might have reached Cú Chuimne, which centres around the fact that Cú Chuimne was linked to a group of scholars at the monastery of Lismore, County Waterford. Lismore had a monastic library rich in Spanish texts, including those of the Council of Toledo. Further proof that this Council's texts were known soon after 675 in Ireland is shown by their quotation in the Hiberno-Latin scriptural commentary De Ordine Creaturarum, which was written before 700.

The Iona link with this motif is maintained in an 11th-century poem attributed to Saint Columbcille, stanza eight of which reads, in the translation of Father Paul Walsh:

O victorious one, O founder,
O multitudinous, O strong one,
Pray with us to Powerful Christ,
The Father and thy Son. [5]

I close though with my personal favourite among the Irish poems, that of Blathmac, son of Cú Brettan:

151. Well did there come a stout messenger from God, the Father, to woo you! Well did you assume a modest sober countenance at the words of Gabriel!

152. ‘God be with you, Mary, full of grace’, said Gabriel (wondrous countenance!) – You are wholly blessed and the fruit of your holy womb’.

153. ‘The Lord has sent me on a journey’ said Gabriel, ‘concerning a message: that you will be the mother of Christ’ – fair tidings! – ‘a son that will save your race’.

154. ‘I declare that I know not man in the matter of cohabitation, holy bright one; true chaste virginity of body, this have I offered to God, the Father’.

155. Said Gabriel: ‘Give your assent, Mary; you shall bear a beautiful son; let Jesus be his name, he will be the saviour of the world.’

156. Then you conceived (clear telling!) on the eight of the calends of April; and you bore a son of whom I vaunt on the eight of the calends of January.

157. How well that you conceived Christ (victorious flame!) without marring of true virginity by the power of the Holy Spirit, a son that has caused great riches to us! [6]


[1] Rev. John O'Hanlon, Lives of the Irish Saints, Vol. III, (Dublin, 1875), 952.

[2] Peter O'Dwyer, O.Carm., Mary: a history of devotion in Ireland (Dublin, 1988), 58-59.

[3] Mrs H. Concannon, The Queen of Ireland - An Historical Account of Ireland's Devotion to the Blessed Virgin (Dublin, 1938), 42-43.

[4] Andrew Breeze, 'The Annunciation I: Mary, Daughter of her Son' in The Mary of the Celts (Leominster, 2008), 1-3.

[5] Paul Walsh, 'An Irish Hymn to the Blessed Virgin', Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. XXIX., 172-178.

[6] James Carney, ed. and trans., The Poems of Blathmac Son of Cú Brettan - Together with the Irish Gospel of Thomas and a Poem on the Virgin Mary (Dublin, 1964).

This post was first published on my own blog, Under the Oak, here.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Mass for St. Joseph's Day in Graignamanagh

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, 19th March, the feast of St. Joseph, Mass in the Gregorian Rite took place in Duiske Abbey, Graignamanagh. The third volume of Bishop Comerford's Collections Relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin (1886) includes:

"The town and parish of Graig-na-managh derive their name from the celebrated Cistercian Abbey, called De Valle Salvatoris, which formerly flourished here, and of the noble church of which a large portion still remains. The name signifies the "Grange of the Monks," and indicates what constituted the grange of the first foundation. In ancient records it is styled the Abbey of Duiske, and was so called because it was build upon the confluence of the streams Duiske, i.e., the Blackwater, with the Barrow. The original monastery was founded on lands granted for that purpose by Dermod O'Ryan, Prince of Idrone, which grant was confirmed by Dermod MacMurrough, King of Leinster. The foundation charter is still extant among the Ormonde archives. Mr. Gilbert has reproduced it in fac-simile, from whose work the text is here copied... It does not appear as if the pious intentions of the chief of Idrone were immediately carried into effect. The next information we have in connection with the monastery is that William Mariscall, Earl of Pembroke, introduced a colony of Cistercian monks from the Abbey of Stanley, in Wiltshire, about the year 1202. They settled first at Loughmeran, near Kilkenny; then they removed to Athernott (Annamult), and finally they established themselves at Duiske about A.D. 1212. The charter of this new foundation is also preserved amongst the Ormonde archives..."

"Though the Abbey was suppressed, Abbots continued to be appointed. In a Note of the names of preestes, semynaries, fryers, etc., in the Citie of Kilkennie circa 1618, appears the Item: "Melchier Ragged, a franciscan (sic) fryer, keepeth usually with his father, Richard of ye said citie, Alderman, and is reputed as Lo; Abbot of the Monastery of Dawiske, within the county of Kilkennie," And in the Spicilegium Ossoriense, Vol. II., p. 281, there is a letter addressed to Propaganda by the Rev. John Magher, dated Kilkenny, 27th August, 1686, which commences:- "Ego Joannes Macharius Abbas S. Mariae de Valle Salvatoris, vulgo de Duisque, ord. Cisterciensis in Hibernia in Comitatu Kilkeniensi," &tc. In this letter Father Magher refers to his appointment as Abbot of Duiske, by Bull of Pope Innocent XI. He also relates how, on his landing at Cork, he was seized by the enemies of the Catholic faith and detained a prisoner and in chains, for two years."

"The Abbey Church was a building of great extent. It has a fine octagonal tower, which fell in 1744, similar to one that stood at Tristernagh, County Westmeath. this tower, according to the Rev. G. Hansbow, was one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical structures in the kingdom. Three of the four great arches that supported it, fell at the same time, and also the fine groined roof of the chancel.

"'Graig now appeared,' writes Trotter in his Walks through Ireland, 1812, 'and has the air of a Welsh village. An ancient castle stands in mournful solitude at some distance. The whole population here, and in the surrounding country, is Catholic. Graig contains about 2,000 inhabitants... The celebrated Abbey of Graignamanagh now struck our view. I cannot describe how nobly venerable it looked. The aisle and arches afford beautiful specimens of the Gothic. The windows we thought remarkably handsome. They Abbey was well enclosed, and good gates at different entrances. A very ancient tomb is to be seen near the entrance of the Abbey. The figure of a man in armour is seen on it, and is said to be Lord Galway's. He is reputed, I know not why, to have been a son of Queen Elizabeth's. We discovered a very small chapel built and connected with this Venerable Abbey. A holy gloom seemed to pervade it. Crimson curtains nearly shut out the glare of day. We observed a few respectable people crossing the grand and deserted aisles of the great building, and enter this chapel to perform their devotions. Never was a place more suited for the solemnity and tranquillity of religious worship. they stayed a short time and retired. I left my companions, and rested half-an-hour in a seat on the gallery. It is a melancholy, yet sweet moment, when the soul is thus abstracted from the world. And the melancholy is pleasing; for in such solitude we converse with the Deity, and repose all our cares and anxieties in His eternal breast.' The aisles have disappeared, but the portions still remaining are very extensive. The ruin has been roofed in, and now forms the Parish Church of Graig, being, with the Black Abbey, Kilkenny, probably the only ancient Catholic Churches throughout Ireland that have been restored to the worship of the old faith."

"The circumstances under which the restoration took place, as related by the old inhabitants, are curious. It appears that the west end of the nave was roofed and prepared to serve as a Protestant Church (though never used as such), at the commencement of the present century; the windows having been glazed, it was found next morning that they had been broken by the jackdaws, who thus, as tenants in possession, resented the invasion of their prescriptive rights - again the glass was replaced, and again and again the aggrieved birds repeated their work of demolition. This was reported to Lord Clifden, who replied that the birds appeared to be the ministers of divine justice; that the Church had been built by Catholics, and for Catholic purposes; and, consequently, that it should be restored to the rightful owners. Lord Dover, in 1809, granted a lease for ever of the chapel and Abbey ruins to the Parish Priest and people of Graig, at a nominal rent of 10s, which has never been demanded. The present Lord Clifden is about to add to the holding the plot outside the western end of the church, in the Main Street. The walls of the chancel and transepts were pronounced secure, and remain; the walls of the nave were found to be ruinous, some of the arches having fallen. These were taken down and rebuilt, but, unfortunately, not in line with the walls of the west end of the nave; the consequence of which is that this portion of the old building, with its beautifully carved windows, cannot now be incorporated with the Church."

The ones that got away - Ardattin

Huius Ecclesiae
Immaculatae Conceptioni Dedicatae
Hunc Lapidem Primarium
Benedictum Posuit
Rev.mus et Ill.mus Thomas Keogh
Epus. Daren. et Leighlinen
Die Festo Immaculatae Cordis B.V.M.
Anno Domini MCMLIV

Thus reads the 'corner stone' of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Ardattin, Co. Carlow, which is another that has, thus far, gotten away from the hands of the modernist iconoclasts. The Churches of Kildare and Leighlin built later in the halcyon days before liturgo-architectural reordering have seemed to suffer the worst at the hands of architectural moderisers. Of those nine Churches built during the reign of Bishop Thomas Keogh (1936-1967), most have been radically, even shockingly reordered. In the first part of my article 'The Builders of Kildare and Leighlin' I quoted Prof. Robert Krier: “If you wish to see great Modernist architecture you must have plenty of time and your own Lear jet” but I think an exception can be made for Ardattin.

The Diocesan Year Book says: "The new church has been designed to follow the established lines of historic Irish Romanesque tradition, evolved on principles consonant with the religious requirements and the materials available of the present age. No actual historical example has, therefore, been closely followed. It has been sought rather to let the conditions create the architecture and to reflect within it some of that sturdy and tenacious Catholicism, that spirit of fidelity and sacrifice, so typical of the parish in all ages and so well shown at all times by its people. The church has been built by Messrs. D. and J. Carbery Ltd., of Carlow, whose foreman, Mr. Thomas Corcoran, has produced for them a most excellent building. The decorative work has been carried out by Messrs. Michael Creedon and Co. Ltd., of Dublin, who, with the craftmanship of Mr. John Carney, have left here a memorial worthy of their reputation".

It also points out that two stained-glass windows, Our Lady and St. Joseph, that were in the sanctuary of the old Church are re-set in the windows over the main doorway of the new church. The window of the Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary is re-set in a nave window on the Gospel side. The sanctuary lamp that hung for many years in the old church, telling of the Sacramental Presence, will be used in the new church to tell the same message of love. The windows, so a notice across the road from the Church tells us, were presented to the old Church by Bro. Boniface Carroll of Ballinastraw, in memory of his aunt and uncle Honoria and Eugene O'Neill. Bro. Carroll went on to become Superior General of "the Order". The notice also tells us that the Church contains a prie-dieu once owned by Blessed John Henry Newman, donated by Major and Mrs. Stanley Barrett of Ballynoe. The Stations of the Cross, likewise, were a gift of Kilbride GAA in memory of Edward Butler of Ballinastraw (a former player).

The sod having been turned in April, 1954, that corner stone was laid on 22nd August, 1954, the Marian Holy Year, and the Church was blessed (but not consecrated, it seems, despite the land being a gift of Matthey Murphy, Ardoyne) on Sunday, 13th May, 1956. It features in the Irish Builder of 2nd June, 1956.

On first view, the Church reminds us of the ancient Irish churches of stone such as are still to be seen in Glendalough. The projecting triple-arched doorway is surely evocative of Killeshin as well as the massive west doors of Gothic cathedrals. Killeshin is, however, nearer to the door of Caragh Church, by the same architect as Ardattin. Over the door is a statue of Our Lady of Grace.

The interior is filled with light, courtesy of the alternating arrangement of the wall elements. Pairs of tall round-headed windows in six bays of the nave are alternatively shortened by confessionals and a side door but, where the windows are shortened to admit the Gospel side confessional recessed into the wally, the windows are full-length on the opposite wall of that bay, and so on.

If there is a criticism to be made of Powell as an architect, it is the striking similarity of all his church designs. His Whitefriar St. bears all the hallmarks of his Church of the Assumption and St. Patrick, Rathangan, and his Church of Our Lady and St. Joseph, Caragh, at least as regards the interior. A decade earlier, he was responsible for the side aisles of the Church of the Most Holy Rosary in Tullow. Perhaps only his Church of the Immaculate Conception, Allenwood, is notably distinct, although not so different, being in a Gothic idiom, although hardly so conventional a Gothic as his masterpiece 'Hatch Hall' on Hatch St., Dublin. Of his Churches in the Diocese, Allenwood, Rathangan and Caragh, have been 'reordered' so only Ardattin remains as an example of his own vision. It is a vision well worth preserving - and a higher and greater vision than those visions given form in the 'rearrangements' of his other Churches.

The roof of the Church is stunning. It is cusped but the central arch runs the length of the building with no distinction made between nave and Sanctuary. The effect is stunningly dynamic, drawing the eye forward to the Sanctuary.

The Altar rails run from wall to wall just before the Sanctuary. They were the gift of Edward and Michael Donohoe, Thornhill, in 1956. The rails are slightly curved at the centre and consist of white marble pierced in triplet round-headed arches with light yellow marble pillasters between. Wonderful to say, the Sanctuary gates are intact and in situ. An original picture of the Church in 1956 shows no pulpit and none is present now. The Baptismal font, perhaps another element from the old Church, was a gift by the parents of Rev. J. Murphy, Ardoyne, who died in Toronto, 1st February, 1911, aged 26. It is a white marble octagonal bowl standing on a red marble pillar with a white marble plinth.

The Sanctuary is a model of sensitive 'reordering' that manages not to break the lines of the Sanctuary. The 'east' wall has three round-headed arches, two being windows, the central one being a blind niche running the full height of the Sanctuary and containing the Crucifix for the High Altar. The High Altar itself, a gift of Michael Murphy, Newstown, in memory of his parents, is fully intact. It is in white marble with two low gradines either side of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is domed with a pedimented front face in which the Holy Ghost is represented over the Tabernacle door, which is flanked by pillars in yellow marble. The mensa is intact and is supported by six yellow marble columns that reveal seven yellow marble panels of round-headed arches.

The modern Altar, erected in 2000, is plainer than the original, standing on two bulks of white marble, each with a pair of white marble pillars flanking a yellow round-headed panel. It rests upon two wooden steps on the level of the first two steps of the High Altar. One remarkable point is that in a sizeable Sanctuary, the front of these steps drops sheer in front of the modern Altar. The cliff, whereby it is impossible to celebrate Mass 'versus Deum' from in front of the Altar, is a common liturgical symbol of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin!

If there is one discordant note it is the anomaly of the first bay of the nave. The double windows clearly indicate that a choir loft was intended. I wonder what happened. The Church is painted in shades of green and is a riot of light and colour. However, I think it easily avoids garishness and remains another gem of the Diocese that has, so far, gotten away - Deo Gratias!

It's our Catholic heritage and we want it preserved!

Saturday 12 March 2011

Requiem for a Priest

Grigoir Belóir - The Irish Church and Pope Gregory the Great

March 12 is the feastday of one of the most revered figures of the early Irish Church, Pope Saint Gregory the Great. In the Leabhar Breac copy of the Martyrology of Oengus the entry for this day reads:

Before arriving in his country,
For Christ he mortified his body,
The slaughter [er] of an hundred victories
Gregory of Rome, the intrepid.

This notice is but one example of the esteem in which Pope Gregory was held by the Irish, and so I will try to draw together some of the other strands to illustrate what an important figure he was for our native Church. Let's begin with a brief summary of the Pope's life by Luned Mair Davies:
Gregory the Great... was pope from 590 to 604. Since the eighth century he has been regarded as one of the four Fathers of the western Church. Gregory has been referred to as the master of spiritual exegesis. According to Beryl Smalley, for him 'exegesis was teaching and preaching', and it was the didactic element in his works which made Gregory's strongest impact on medieval biblical study. Gregory was born c.540 in Rome to a senatorial family, and in 573 he was prefect of Rome for a year. He founded seven monasteries in all and in 585 he became abbot of the monastery of St Andreas in Rome, one of his foundations. Pope Benedict I named him as one of the seven regional deacons of the city of Rome and in 579 Pope Pelagius II sent him as apocrisarius to the emperor's palace in Constantinople, where he remained for six years. In 590 he himself became pope. Before his death in 604 his achievements included organising the Patrimonium Petri, attempting to convert the Lombards and sending a mission to the Anglo-Saxons. [1]
The details of Gregory's election to the Papacy were recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters:
The Age of Christ, 590. St Gregory of the Golden Mouth was appointed to the chair and successorship of Peter the Apostle, against his will.
to which John O'Donovan, in his edition of the Annals, added:
The memory of this Pope was anciently much revered in Ireland, and he was honoured with the title of Belóir i.e. of the Golden Mouth.

The Irish held the memory of this Pope in such veneration that their genealogists, finding that there were some doubts as to his genealogy, had no scruple to engraft him on the royal stem of Conaire II, the ancestor of the O’Falvys, O’Connells, and other families. His pedigree is given as follows by the O’Clerys in their Genealogies of the Irish Saints:

“Gregory of Rome, son of Gormalta, son of Connla, son of Arda, son of Daithi, son of Core, son of Conn, son of Cormac, son of Corc Duibhne [the ancestor of the Corca Duibhne, in Kerry], son of Cairbre Musc, son of Conaire”.

The Four Masters have given the accession of this Pope under the true year. Gregory was made Pope on the 13th of September, which was Sunday, in the year 590, and died on the 12th of March, 604, having sat thirteen years, six months and ten days. [2]

Not content with turning a Roman aristocrat into a Kerryman, the Irish also applied an epithet more usually associated with the great Eastern Saint John Chrysostom to Pope Gregory. That this happened early on is shown by the reference to the golden-mouth in the Paschal Epistle of Cummian, who, writing in the 630s, cited Pope Gregory to help make his case for the Roman computation of the date of Easter:
I turned to the words of Pope Gregory, bishop of the city of Rome, accepted by all of us and given the name 'Golden Mouth', for although he wrote after everyone, nevertheless he is deservedly to be preferred to all. [3]

It seems that this Irish tradition of referring to Pope Gregory as the golden-mouth was something that was passed on to Northumbria. Patrick Sims-Williams sees evidence of it in an anonymous Vita of Gregory the Great produced at the Monastery of Saint Hilda at Whitby:
In ch. 24 the Whitby writer asserts that the Romans called Gregory ‘golden mouth’ (os aureum) because of the eloquence that flowed from his mouth

‘Ut a gente Romana que per ceteris mundo intonat sublimius proprie (sic) de aurea oris eius gratia, os aureum appellatur’ (Life of Gregory, ed. Colgrave, pp.116-18). Colgrave translates ‘therefore he was called the “golden mouthed” by the Romans because of the golden eloquence which issued from his mouth in a very special way, far more sublimely and beyond all others in the world’.

In fact, of course, the Romans called Gregory no such thing – ‘golden mouth’ was rather the epithet of St John Chrysostom – and the writer is probably drawing, directly or indirectly, on an Irish source. In Ireland, as early as c. 632, Gregory was commonly styled os aureum; in vernacular texts this is bel óir or gin óir which suggests that the epithet had its origin in an etymological interpreation of Grigoir, the Irish form of Gregorius, which might be associated with Latin os, oris ‘mouth’ and with Irish óir ‘of gold, golden’. In Anglo-Saxon England, however, the epithet only reappears in the Old English version of Gregory’s Dialogi by Alfred’s assistant, Werferth, bishop of Worcester c. 873 – c. 915, who similarly speaks of a stream of eloquence issuing from Gregory’s ‘golden mouth’ (gyldenmup) and says that the Romans call him Os Aureum, the Greeks Crysosthomas. [4]
Irish interest in the writings of Pope Gregory started during the Pope's own lifetime, as Luned Mair Davies explains:
Gregory’s writings are copious and diverse, although less abundant than those of Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine; some of them reached insular circles at an early date. The 848 letters which he left us in his Registrum Epistolarum are the primary historical source for this period….Gregory also left a collection of homilies, 40 on the Gospels and 22 on the Book of Ezekiel… Gregory enjoyed enormous popularity and prestige among seventh-century Irish ecclesiastics. Columbanus requested the Homilies on Ezekiel in his first letter to Gregory:

Wherefore in my thirst I beg you for Christ’s sake to bestow on me your tracts, which, as I have heard, you have compiled with wonderful skill upon Ezekiel.

In the same letter Columbanus refers to Gregory’s Regula Pastoralis. This work Gregory had written in 591, in response to a communication from Archbishop John of Ravenna, as a directory for bishops and priests. Columbanus also asked Gregory for more of his writings. His letter to Gregory shows how rapid was the dissemination of Gregory’s works in monastic circles.

The Regula Pastoralis was one of the books by Gregory which were especially influential in the Middle Ages. Another was the Dialogi, a collection of popular edifying stories about Italian saints written by Gregory in the years 593-4. In his Vita Columbae, Adomnan, although he makes no explicit mention of the Gregorian Dialogi, in at least three places clearly borrows phrases from the Dialogi to weave into his own narrative.

The evidence of manuscript transmissions shows that of Gregory’s works the Moralia in Job had geographically the widest circulation: this work also was known early, and used early, in Ireland. The earliest known abridgement of Gregory’s commentary on the Book of Job (the Egloga) was Irish, composed about 650 by Lathcen or Laidcend, the son of Baeth, who is most probably to be identified with the Laighden whose obit is given in the Annals of Ulster under the year 661. [5]
Davies has made a particular study of the use of Pope Gregory's work in the Irish Collectio Canonum hibernensis (CCH). The CCH is a collection of excerpts from biblical and medieval sources, divided into over sixty books which cover the behaviour appropriate for a Christian under various subject headings. It survives in a number of manuscripts and a Breton version attributes it to Ruben of Darinis and Cú-Chuimne of Iona. Both of these reputed authors are known to history, the Annals of Ulster record the death of Ruben in 725 and Cú-Chuimne, called sapiens died in 747. Davies continues:
Five of Gregory’s works are quoted in the CCH. They are: the Pastoral Care (Regula Pastoralis), the Homilies on Ezekiel (Homiliae in Hiezechihelem), the Homilies on the Gospels (Homiliae in Evangelia), the Registrum Epistolarum and the Dialogues (Dialogi)… Of the extracts in the CCH from the Dialogi, five are introduced as in vita patrum, four as Gregorius, one as in vita monachorum and three as De dialogo Gregorii et Petri. Of the eleven other extracts from Gregory the Great in the CCH, four are introduced as by Gregorius Romanus and seven as by Gregorius. The epithet Romanus used for Gregory the Great may reflect the fact that the Romani party in the early Irish Church, who followed Rome’s directives in the dating of Easter, looked to Gregory the Great for guidance. [6]
The Pope's homilies were also influential as Davies explains:
Gregory’s Homiliae were a collection of homilies on selected passages from the Gospels written down in the last decade of the sixth century. They were addressed to Roman audiences on various feast-days of the Roman Church. The texts of Homiliae 32 and 37 were quoted in another sermon, the bilingual Old-Irish-Latin Cambrai Homily, which was copied into one of the manuscripts of the CCH. The Latin parts of the homily contain the scriptural quotations and the patristic authority; they are paraphrased in the Old-Irish part to clarify them for an Irish audience who perhaps did not understand Latin. The Cambrai Homily has been dated to the seventh century. How soon after their composition Gregory’s Homiliae reached Ireland is uncertain. In the first decade of the seventh century Columbanus used them on the continent. [7]
In addition, the Pope's works are cited in the collection of sermons known as the Catechesis Celtica. The Irish Liber Hymnorum contains a collection of extracts of the Psalms of David which are attributed to Gregory. His work is also referred to in The Book of Armagh and the Codex Maelbrighde.
Finally, the Irish regard for Pope Gregory is also reflected in the hagiographical record as the lives of a number of saints seek to associate their subjects with the great Pope. St. Finbarr's tutor, Mac Cuirb, was described as a pupil of Gregory in the Vita Sancti Barri. The formidable seventh-century Irish theologian, Cummian Fota, was likened to Gregory in the list of parallel saints. The entry in the Annals of the Four Masters recording Cummian's death in 661 includes a poem which says:

" If any one went across the sea,
To sit in the chair of Gregory the Great.
If from Ireland no one was fit for it,
If we except Cummian Fota."

Cardinal Moran has written of another Irish saint, Dagan, a disciple of Molua, who also claimed a link to the Pope:
St. Dagan is designated in our martyrologies by the various epithets of the warlike, the pilgrim, the meek, and the noble. He was one of the most ardent defenders of the old Scotic computation of Easter, and as such is commemorated by Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History. About the year 600 he visited Rome, and sought the approbation of the great pontiff St. Gregory, for the rule of his own master, St. Molua, in whose life we thus read –

" The abbot, Dagan, going to Rome, brought with him the rule which St. Molua had drawn up and delivered to his disciples; and pope Gregory having read this rule, said in the presence of all: ‘the saint who composed this rule has truly guarded his disciples even to the very thresholds of heaven.' Wherefore St. Gregory sent his approbation and benediction to Molua.”

St.Dagan, however, was not the only one of our sainted forefathers that sought the sanction of the Holy See for the religious rule which they adopted. In the Leabhar-nah-Uidhre, it is incidentally mentioned that "St. Comgall, of Bangor, sent Beoan, son of Innli, of Teach-Dabeog, to Rome, on a message to pope Gregory (the Great), to receive from him order and rule.” [8]
Even if one is uncertain about the historical value of hagiographical accounts, one Irish saint we can be sure had a demonstrable link to Pope Gregory is Saint Columbanus. John Martyn has published a most interesting paper on Pope Gregory the Great and the Irish in which he examines the correspondence between the two. Columbanus, like Dagan, was a committed supporter of the Irish Easter and didn't hesitate to let his illustrious correspondent know it. In the nineteenth century, some Protestant scholars tried to argue that the robust style of Columbanus was proof that the Irish did not hold the Papacy in high esteem. Martyn, however, feels they rather missed the point:
Pope Gregory the Great's apparently close links with Columban and the Irish clergy between 592 and 601 are revealed through five of his letters: 2.43 (July 592), an encyclical sent to the Irish clergy, almost certainly including Columban; 4.18 (March 594) about an Irish priest valuable to the Pope in Rome; 5.17 (November 594) about Columban's reception of Gregory's 'Pastoral Care'; 9.11 (October 600) praising Columban; and 11.52 (July 601) about an Irish Bishop Quiritus. My version of Columban's letter to the Pope follows, with brief analysis of his irony, word-play and literary style. It shows how the Irishman's erudite and very rhetorical letter would have tickled the Pope's fancy rather than offend him. [9]
Thus there can be no doubt of the very high esteem in which Grigoir Belóir, Gregory of the golden-mouth, was held by the early Irish Church.


[1] Luned Mair Davies The ‘mouth of gold’: Gregorian texts in the Collectio Canonum hibernensis in Próinséas Ní Chatháin & Michael Richter, eds., Ireland and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: texts and transmissions (Dublin, 2001), 250-251.

[2] John O’Donovan, ed. and trans. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, Vol. 1 (2nd edition, Dublin, 1856), 214-215.

[3] Maura Walsh and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, eds., Cummianus Hibernus, De controversia Paschali, 83. Online version at

[4] Patrick Sims-Williams, Religion and Literature in Western England, 600-800 (Cambridge University Press, 1990), 186-187.

[5] Davies, op.cit., 251-252.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Rev. P.F. Moran, Essays on the Origin, Doctrines and Discipline of the Early Irish Church (Dublin, 1864), 148.

[9] John R.C. Martyn, 'Pope Gregory the Great and the Irish' in Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association, Volume 1 (2005), 65-83. Online version at

This post was first published at my own blog here.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Mass in Graignamanagh

One of the first fruits of the Novena of Grace has been the kind permission to have a Mass in the Gregorian Rite in Duiske Abbey, Graignamanagh (or Graiguenamanagh), Co. Kilkenny, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, 19th March, feast of St. Joseph. A location map can be found here. The last Mass organised by St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association in this Parish was a Requiem for the 40th Anniversary of Bishop Thomas Keogh.

St. Joseph, pray for us!
St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!

Friday 4 March 2011

The Novena of Grace

St. Francis Xavier by Murillo

Dear reader, today is the first day of the 'novena of grace,' so called because of the many miraculous favours obtained through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier by means of this devotion. You are earnestly invited to pray for the whole-hearted implementation of Summorum Pontificum in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin by making this novena:

O Saint Francis Xavier, well beloved and full of charity, in union with thee, I reverently adore the Majesty of God; and since I rejoice with exceeding joy in the singular gifts of grace bestowed upon thee during thy life, and thy gifts of glory after death, I give Him hearty thanks therefore; I beseech thee with all my heart's devotion to be pleased to obtain for me, by thy effectual intercession, above all things, the grace of a holy life and a happy death. Moreover, I beg of thee to obtain for me . . . (here mention the spiritual or temporal favor to be prayed for). But if what I ask of thee so earnestly doth not tend to the glory of God and the greater good of my soul, do thou, I pray, obtain for me what is more profitable to both these ends. Amen.

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.
Raccolta N. 500