Saturday 25 February 2012

Strawberry Hill in Kildare and Leighlin - Ballon

Readers of CHRISTVS REGNAT may remember an extract from Bishop Bossuet's Histoire des variations des églises protestantes, where he wrote: "heresy, however old, is always in itself a novelty; to better retain their title of novelty, innovates daily and daily changes its doctrine." Bishop Bossuet might be a bit stumped if he visited some Parishes in Ireland, where the local Catholic Church, whether it is centuries old or decades old, has had makeover after makeover within living memory, while the local Anglican edifice has kept what is beautiful and ancient.

The Anglican church of Aghade in the Parish of Ballon retains many fine interior features including splendid apse decoration and a communion rail.

The Catholic Parish Church of Ballon is dedicated to Ss. Peter and Paul. Their images are to be found in the Strawberry Hill Gothic wooden reredos that has been mercifully retained. For the rest, frankly, I just don't get it...

A fine marble monument in the nave to the Parish Priest who built the Church reads:

Sacred to the memory of REV. JOHN KEHOE P.P. Ballon and Rathoe, born in parish of Bagnalstown, 2nd October 1815, after a year's preparatory study in Carlow College, he, in 1837, entered Maynooth, from which, after a conspicuously distinguished career, he was promoted to the Sacred Priesthood, in the year 1844. His first mission was the Curacy of Clonaslea, next, that of Arles, whence he was transferred, in 1849, to Ballon, where, although, meantime, offered high preferments, he chose to live and toil as Curate for twenty further years. On resignation of REV. Wm. Kinsella P.P. in 1869, he was appointed pastor of the parish, to the temporal as well as spiritual welfare of whose people, he had devoted all the vigour and earnestness of his earlier years. His kindness to the poor, and his zeal for God's glory, should ever be held in cherished remembrance by those, amongst whom to spend himself in unceasing exertion, was but a labour of love. After a most exemplary and useful life he calmly resigned his sinless soul to his Creator on July 21st A.D. 1883. May he rest in peace. Amen.

A monument in the Gospel Transcept reads:

THIS MONUMENT has been erected by Mr. Patrick Conran in memory of his Brother, the very Revd. Jas. Conran, formerly Vicar capitular of the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin, & for 23 years P.P. of Ballon & Rathoe. He departed this life the 9th of August 1825, in the 67th year of his age.

It was our Catholic heritage. Why couldn't they leave it alone?

Sunday 19 February 2012

Saint Maeldobharchon of Kildare

February 19 sees the commemoration on the Irish calendars of Saint Maeldobharchon, a bishop of Kildare. Canon O'Hanlon summarizes what is known of him in Volume II of his Lives of the Irish Saints:

St. Maeldobharchon, or Maeldobhorchon, Bishop of Kildare, County of Kildare. [Seventh and Eighth Centuries]

The Bollandists have a brief entry of this holy bishop, at the 19th of February. The Martyrologies of Tallagh and of Marianus O'Gorman, and of Donegal, on this day, record Maeldobharchon or Maoldobhorchon, Bishop of Cilldara, now Kildare, in the county of the same denomination. It seems likely enough, the Abbot of Kildare, Lochen, surnamed Meann, or the Silent, also called Lochen, "the Wise," who died on the 12th of January, or 12th of June, A.D. 694, as also St. Farannan, Abbot of Kildare, who died on the 15th of January, A.D. 691, may have exercised episcopal functions over this see. If so, it is probable, the present holy man succeeded this latter. According to Colgan, he died A.D. 704 but, the Annals of the Four Masters state, that this prelate died, A.D. 707. According to the Annals of Ulster, he departed this life in the year 708.

The entries from the Annals are also quoted in the essay on the Bishops of Kildare by the Rev. Michael Comerford:

A.D. 707. MAELDOBORCON, Bishop of Kildare, died on the 19th of February."(Four Masters.) "A.D. 708. Maeldoborcon, Episcopus Cille-daro, pausavit." (Annal Ult.) The death of this Prelate is stated by some to have taken place in the year 704 (Ware). Keating (Book, 2, p. 46,) relates that King Congall Kennmagar persecuted the Church at this time, and burned the secular and regular clergy of Kildare; but Lanigan discredits this statement, judging to the contrary from the peaceable and prosperous reign ascribed to this monarch by old writers. A great conflagration, it is true, laid Kildare waste in 709 (Four Masters), during this King's reign; and, as we may suppose that some clerics lost their lives in this fire, this circumstance may have given occasion to the story.

Rev. M. Comerford 'Collections Relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin' (Dublin, 1883), 5.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Ad Multos Annos, Holy Father!

Let us pray for Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, may the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

Red Scapular of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The small scapulars with which we are familiar as sacramentals owe their origin to a reduction of the large scapulars that formed part of the habit of Religious Orders and Congregations. This scapular was another of the scapulars approved during the reign of Pope Leo XIII without a confraternity. Although it was never the habit of any Order or Confraternity the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, founded at Antwerp in 1873 created this scapular in 1877 and were responsible for its promotion (Acta S. Sedis, XXXII, 633 sq.). It was approved at the request of the Archbishop of Marseilles, by the S. Congregation of Rites in 1900. Indulgences were granted to those who wear it habitually in 1901 and were enlarged in 1906.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, be Thou my Salvation!
Immaculate Heart of Mary, be thou my refuge!

Monday 6 February 2012

Saint Mel of Ardagh

Today the Irish calendars commemorate a saint very much linked to Saint Brigid, Bishop Mel of Ardagh. He is also linked to Saint Patrick, with a number of sources claiming that he is the nephew of the apostle to the Irish, being the son of his sister Dareca. This woman was reputedly a mother to no less than seventeen early Irish bishops and saints, which has led some scholars to speculate that she may have been a mother in the spiritual, rather than the biological, sense. Saint Mel figures most prominently in the Life of Saint Brigid by being the bishop who conferred not merely the veil of the religious life upon her but, 'intoxicated by the spirit of God' bestowed the rite of episcopal ordination. I have already described this incident in the entry for Saint Brigid's feast from the Martyrology of Oengus and in the Homily from the Leabhar Breac. We can turn now to Volume 2 of Canon O'Hanlon's Lives of the Irish Saints for an account of Saint Mel's life:

THE festival, commemorated by the Irish Church, on this day, recalls to our minds, that gratitude we owe to our early Christian missionaries, who helped to gather and labour, in the same field of noble enterprise with St. Patrick... This renowned saint is classed among the primitive fathers of our Irish Church. He was a contemporary, and, it has been asserted, a near relative to the great Apostle, St. Patrick. At the very dawn of Christianity in our island, an illustrious champion and preacher of the Gospel had been already prepared, for a strenuous encounter, with the spirit of darkness. He is named Mel or Melus, in old Latin acts; and, this title was typical of those honied stores of Divine wisdom and of saintly qualities, which had been hived within his breast. A special Life of this holy man is not known to exist. From various ancient Acts of St. Patrick, and of St. Brigid, as also from other sources, Colgan has compiled a Life of St. Mel, and he has admirably annotated it. In like manner, the Bollandists have inserted Acts of Saints Mel, Melchuo, Mune, and Rioc, Bishops, at the 6th day of February. From these authorities shall we chiefly draw succeeding materials, to render intelligible the recorded actions of the holy Bishop Mel, the special patron of Ardagh diocese.

He seems to have been born, in the earlier part of the fifth century. It is said, Saint Mel or Melus was a nephew to the great Irish Apostle Patrick, and whose sister Darerca is named as Mel's mother.

St. Mel built a famous monastery at Ardagh. At this place, also, it is recorded, he exercised the jurisdiction both of abbot and of bishop. Among other celestial endowments, our saint received the gift of prophecy, whereby he was enabled to predict future events. This was exemplified in St. Brigid's case, and soon after he had arrived in Ireland from Britain. He foretold the greatness and sanctity of that holy virgin, while yet carried in her mother's womb. Some time subsequent to St. Brigid's birth, St. Mel administered to her the Sacrament of Confirmation. In conjunction, probably, with his disciple St. Machaille, Mel likewise bestowed the religious veil on that youthful spouse of Christ. Afterwards, the greatest friendship existed between our saint and the future abbess, as recorded in St. Brigid's Life.

St. Brigid seems often to have visited St. Mel, when she resided not far from Ardagh. At one time, the king of that district entertained both these holy personages; and,- a remarkable miracle was wrought by the illustrious abbess, at a banquet, given in their honour. The kindness of St. Mel, interceding with the king for a supposed transgressor, on this occasion, pleasingly illustrates the holy bishop's character. St. Mel and St. Moelchu—both being regarded as distinct—are stated to have accompanied the abbess, to a synod, which was held at Tailten, in Meath.

It is said, that St. Mel wrote the Acts, virtues and miracles of his uncle, St. Patrick, while this latter holy man had been living for, the great Apostle of Ireland is supposed to have survived our saint five years. For his death, a.d. 466 has been assigned. Mel departed this life, at Ardagh, however, about the year 487 or 488. St. Oengus the Culdee, the Martyrology of Tallagh, Marianus O'Gorman, Cathal Maguire, and the Martyrology of Salisbury, record this holy bishop's festival, at the present date. It was probably that of his death, which is usually assigned to the 6th of February, and according to accounts left by our Irish hagiographers. This corresponds with the 8th of the February Ides.

Notwithstanding the celebrity of this saint, Mel, Epis.—meaning bishop— is the only entry, in the Martyrology of Tallagh, concerning him. Besides this, we read, in the Martyrology of Donegal, as having a festival on this day, Mel, Bishop of Ard-achadh, in Tethbha. He was a disciple of Patrick, according to the same authority; but, nothing has been noted, about his relationship. Mel is regarded, as the first bishop over the see of Ardagh, and, he has been constantly venerated as the special patron saint of that diocese.

The Martyrology of Donegal entry reads:


MEL, Bishop, of Ard-achadh in Tethbha, disciple of Patrick, A.D. 487. Darerca, sister of Patrick, was his mother.

and the Annals of the Four Masters records his death thus:

The Age of Christ 487. The ninth year of Lugaidh. Mel, Bishop of Bishop of Ard-achadh, in Teathbha, disciple of Patrick died.

The photograph below shows a painted scene of Saint Mel and Saint Brigid preaching to the people of Ardagh. It is from Saint Brigid's church in Ardagh, County Longford.

Saturday 4 February 2012

Black Scapular of the Passion

The Black Scapular of the Passion apertains to the Congregation of the Passionists. Saint Paul of the Cross, it is related, was privileged to receive in apparition the black habit of which the Order now wears, with the badge displayed upon its breast. The Scapular which members of the Confraternity may wear is a replica of the badge adopted for the Order by St. Paul of the Cross, namely a heart surmounted by a cross with the inscription "Jesu XPI Passio", beneath which are the words "sit semper in cordibus nostris" and hanging at the back is a simple piece of black woollen cloth. Priests having received the necessary faculties from the Superior-General of the Passionists may bless and invest with the scapular, which grants indulgences approved by the Congregation of Indulgences on 10th May, 1877.

May the Passion of Christ be always in our hearts!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

A Meditation for Saint Brigid's Day

In 2009 I published the text of the homily for the feast of Saint Brigid from the Leabhar Breac here and here. I found as an interesting contrast a meditation on the life of Saint Brigid by a nineteenth-century priest, written as one of a series of model homilies for the use of priests and seminarians. The view of Saint Brigid here is that of an exemplar of purity, charity and the religious life, this is Brigid the saint not Brigid the social worker. It is deliciously politically incorrect, the author considers that God's glory is revealed by the choice of a weak woman to be a tower of strength. Our patroness embodies the innocence of Eve before the Fall with the strength of Judith and the perfection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I find it particularly interesting to see how the writer perceived Saint Brigid's role as a national patron, although the idea of Ireland being under the triple patronage of Ss. Patrick, Brigid and Columbcille had been established after the Norman conquest, here Patrick's primacy is re-asserted and Brigid assigned the role of female auxiliary. What he is to the entire Irish Church, she is to Irish women in particular. Inevitably though, as this is a priest writing for other priests, the author is most concerned with Saint Brigid as a nun and he concludes with a prayer asking her to act not only as a patroness to the people but as a special intercessor for the clergy.


"Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri."— Judith, Xv, 10.

ST. Brigid, one of the first of our saints, and the queen of our virgins, shed a lustre and a purity on the ancient Church of Ireland. Innocent like Eve in the garden before her fall, animated with strength and fortitude such as Judith had when God nerved her arm and made her the protection of Israel, endowed with the greatest perfections like the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the refuge of all sinners and the mother of many virtues, St. Brigid was the light and glory of the infant Church, and contributed in no small degree to the spread of the faith, and to the observance of virtue among the people.

What St. Patrick was to the whole Church generally, St. Brigid was to those of her own sex in particular, instructing and infusing into them the spirit of true religion, and leaving them the example of perfect virtue. Though St. Patrick was the great founder and apostle of the Church in this country— though his labours were great and unceasing—though his missionaries went on all sides, and he himself "exultavit ut gigas ad currendam viam" still it was impossible for him to do everything required. The special need which the Church then had, the Almighty God supplied by raising up St. Brigid, who not only greatly contributed to the conversion of the people, and to the practice of piety amongst them, but also infused into many of the women of Ireland the love of the religious life, and the devotion to the virtues and perfections of the cloister, which have never since passed away. This was the flame which St. Brigid lighted up in faithful hearts, which was symbolised by that perpetual fire burning for many ages at her shrine, which has survived the change of manners and the lapse of time, and the spirit of which is to-day as rife among the people as when St. Brigid laboured at her noble mission with so much success, when God spoke through the wonders of her power, and through the works of her hands.

1. Her virtues and her miracles.

Consider and admire the inscrutable ways of that God who is "wonderful in his saints" and who chose a weak woman to be a tower of strength and a prodigy of virtue. No flesh should glory in his sight, for he has made the weak to confound the strong, he has selected a poor virgin, who was an outcast and a wanderer, not only to be an example of the greatest perfection by the subjugation of her passions, and to reflect in her life the virtues of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also to exercise a wonderful influence in leading souls to God, and in bringing them to the observance of the counsels of the Gospel, and to the highest practice of religious discipline.

St. Brigid not only excelled in the ordinary Christian virtues in an uncommon degree, but God gave her gifts and powers which are bestowed on few. St. Brigid had great humility; she had a heart full of kindness and compassion; she had the open and melting hand of charity. Her purity shone above all her other virtues, shunning and flying from every thing which could wound it in the slightest degree. In this she most resembled the Blessed Virgin Mary, and hence was she truly called "the Mary of Erin," because of her angelic purity, and of the perfection of her divine love.

This holy soul, so full of God's grace and such a vessel of election, God did not suffer to pass her tranquil years in the quiet and innocence of her cloister life, and in the strict observance of holy discipline. God had other designs, and for their accomplishment in his Church he gave to St. Brigid extraordinary gifts, and mysterious power. Accordingly, like her Divine Saviour she went about in signs and wonders. Wherever she went she left the evidence of her merciful compassion, and she spread around her the gifts and the blessings of God. She made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the dead she restored to life, until all confessed that God spoke through the mouth of his servant, and that his power was in her hands.

As our Divine Saviour went through Palestine, visiting different places, so St. Brigid went about doing good in different parts of Ireland. She passed her early youth and made the vows of her religious life at Ussny, under the care of St. Maccaille. She visited the sainted prelate of Ardagh—St. Mel, who was rich in faith and in many virtues. St. Patrick, who was her great and sainted friend, she saw on his death bed, hearing his last prayer, and receiving his last sigh. Many years of her life she passed in the South, founding, wherever she went, houses of religion, and maintaining in them the observance of discipline and the practice of virtue, but it was on the vast plain of Kildare, by the Cell of the Oak, that she fixed her permanent home, and at the foot of that tower which even now exists, and which is the memorial of the ancient days and the mystery of our own, she lighted up the fire of true religion, and spread around far and near the faith and the love of Jesus Christ in the hearts of the people.

2. Her special mission.

Consider also the noble work and special mission which God called on her to fulfil. Even at that early period of the conversion of the island, the Christian religion took such hold, and made such progress in the hearts of many, that they not only observed the precepts of the Gospel, but they were also anxious to practise and to observe the evangelical counsels. Men and women with holy enthusiasm went to the altar, to give their lives to God as a perpetual sacrifice, and it was in the religious life, which regulates and sustains this divine ardour, that they found the fullest gratification of their hopes and wishes.

Inspired by God, St. Brigid continued, if she did not commence, the conventual institution in Ireland, and brought it, even in her own time, to a most happy issue, and made it produce the most wonderful results. Communities of holy virgins, overcoming the weakness of their sex, and the temptations of the world, sprung up under the hand of St. Brigid, and living under the rule which she prescribed, served God in holiness and fear, and made their lives the practice of the perfection and of the praise of God. This was the seed which St. Brigid sowed in Ireland, which even in the worst of times has produced the most happy fruits, and which, thanks be to the Almighty God, the Father of mercies and the giver of every good gift, is reviving to-day with a strength and power which are worthy of the best and most noble ages of the faith.

O holy St. Brigid, thou who art the light, the ornament, and the glory of the Church of Ireland, be the heavenly patron of its people, and be the especial friend and the protectress of the priests of the sanctuary. Let those who offer sacrifice to the name of God, be worthy of their exalted duties. Shew forth in their lives the form of all perfection and cover them with the robe of holiness. Let them love justice and hate iniquity. Let their prayer be like incense in the sight of heaven. Let their doctrine be saving and salutary to the people, and let the odour of their lives be the delight of the Church of God.

Ecclesiastical Meditations Suitable for Priests on the Mission and Students in Diocesan Seminaries by a Catholic Clergyman (Dublin, 1866), 250-255.