Of Stag Weekends, Tuam Diocese, Cathedrals and Vatican II

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to the West of Ireland for my first cousin Alan's stag weekend celebrations. Next weekend I will be privileged to attend his wedding to the beautiful and erudite Michelle. They're a wonderful couple and I am really proud to be able to attend both legs of the wedding.

Despite a 5am start on Saturday, a car (well van) journey, the joys of Stanstead Airport, the joys of Ryanair, a plane journey during which I was constantly called upon to purchase various items of paraphernalia I neither wanted or need, the joys of Knock Airport and another car journey, and an afternoon and evening spent sampling the Guinness in every bar and pub in Galway City, I managed to haul myself out of bed, eat a hearty breakfast, and wander from the hotel through the quaint Galway streets, now horribly decorated with the necessary and somewhat unavoidable product of the over-exuberant libationary extravagance of literally thousands of Galway students, to Galway Cathedral for Sunday Mass.
Galway Cathedral as you approach from the town. Forgive the jaunty angle, I assure you I was quite sober at this juncture.
The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas (Irish: Ard-Eaglais Mhaighdean na Deastógála agus Naomh Nioclás), commonly known as Galway Cathedral, is situated in the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Tuam (Irish: Ard-Deoise Thuama). Tuam is one of the four Roman Catholic archdiocese in Ireland, the others are Armagh, Dublin and Cashel.

According to tradition, the "Diocese of Tuam" was established in the 6th century by St. Jarlath. It was promoted to the status of a Metropolitan Province in 1152 by the Synod of Kells. Stretching from Achill Island to Moore parish on the River Shannon, a distance of 193 km (120 mi), it is the largest in the country and has pastoral charge of the largest Gaeltacht area in the country as well as six island parishes. It also contains the major pilgrimage centres of Knock Shrine and Croagh Patrick.

The Cathedral shocked me somewhat—I'm not used to such beautiful religious buildings in Ireland. It felt very welcoming approaching it, I love visiting new places and getting to go to Mass there. It's like a really familiar part of it. A place in the new town or city where you really belong and feel welcome.

Inside, I found the building to be very beautiful indeed. The Cathedral was Constructed between 1958 and 1965 on the site of the old city jail. It was finally dedicated by Cardinal Richard Cushing. Most buildings at this time, used concrete structures, this makes Galway Cathedral the youngest of Europe’s great stone cathedrals. The architectural design seems to draw on many influences. The building is cruciform in the extreme, which left me rather disconcerted on entering—at least until I found my bearings. The dome and pillars reflect a Renaissance style, whereas other features, including the rose windows and mosaics, echo the broad tradition of Christian art. The Cathedral dome, at a height of 44.2 metres (145 ft), is a prominent landmark on the city skyline. The central feature is the altar, where the Bishop's chair or kathedra is situated, although I was somewhat surprised at its layout and positioning, off to one side of the sanctuary:

You can sit on all four sides of the altar, which leaves those at the back at some disadvantage I feel, I have been assured that the directions of Summorum Pontificum have been implemented in this Cathedral, which is exciting! The layout is a similar to that utilised by Bishop Thomas (my Bishop) on designing Brentwood Cathedral. The altar is in the middle of the Cathedral, although the focal point there is the altar. The kathedra is at one end facing the altar, but placed higher than it, and the ambo is on the other side facing the altar as you can make out if you look carefully at this picture:

Cathedral of St. Helen's, Brentwood (or is it a Methodist Hall?)
As you can see from the above image, this is where the similarities with Brentwood Cathedral start and end. Though Brentwood looks expensive, it lacks any Catholic imagery at all. Galway is richly decorated with religious mosaic, statues and pictures and has comfortable, practical seating (as opposed to the impractical seating shown above). It has many beautiful stained glass windows as well:

This one was above the door through which I entered, and this is the beautiful Rose window at the back of the Cathedral which is where the impressive pipe organ, which was originally built by the Liverpool firm of Rushworthe & Dreaper in 1966. It was renovated and greatly expanded by the Irish organ-builder Trevor Crowe between 2006 and 2007. It has three manuals and 59 speaking stops, and is used regularly during Mass as well as during an annual series of summer concerts.

Although it wasn't used during Mass while I was there, I was fortunate enough to hear it fired up before I left and it sounded really wonderful!

Mass itself was beautiful. Communion in Ireland can be awkward as they have an extreme penchant for EMHC and communion on the tongue seems to be a long distant memory despite everything I say here. This can make communion a very difficult and uncomfortable time. At Galway they have a marble altar rail where the priest and one EMCH came to distribute the Eucharist, so I was able to kneel and receive on the tongue from the priest, which made me very happy.

One strange thing that happened was the EMHC and the minister of the Word all processed onto the altar with the priest at the start of Mass. The EMHC were wearing sort of cloaks, well, they sort of looked like copes, which they wore for the duration. This I suppose is what Fr. Tim Finnigan is alluding to here. One of those weird things that, as one friend put it, if you had a Catholic bone in your body, you would immediately reject. Such practices have, however, been allowed to proliferate under the auspices of 'the spirit of Vatican II'. However, if you asked someone to show you where in Vatican II it says you should have three lay people in copes on the high altar of the Cathedral during the whole of Mass, I suggest you would be extremely hard pushed to find even a hint of anything remotely like it. Instead you would find that the Pope is infallible, that we should give religious assent of mind and will to his teaching even when he is not infallible, that Latin should be retained as the language of the Church, that “both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence”, that Catholics “may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law” and other embarrassing assertions that should be left covered in a reverent silence.

You can just about make out the altar rails at the front in this shot, and the bishop's kathedra off to the left of the picture in dark brown wood.

All that said, the young priest gave a brilliant homily and spoke about the rich man passing through the eye of the needle referring to the needle gate in Jerusalem, which no merchant could get through with his camel loaded. He would thus have to remove all the baggage from his camel in order to pass through. This was new to me, thus I was greatly impressed, and it made sense with regard to the Scripture, which was about leaving behind your worldly baggage and instead storing up the treasure of wisdom.

Afterwards, I went and had a look for Jesus as I hadn't seen where He had come from during the Mass, although I did notice the cope wearing EMHC disappearing off the altar at one point and the next thing, they were distributing Holy Communion. This meant (I assumed) Jesus was nearby somewhere. I know in Brentwood, Jesus is in a funny little Georgian dolls house in a corner of the building, so went hunting with this in mind. I found the shop easy enough, and a beautiful shrine to Our Lady of Knock was very prominent and populated with candle lighting worshippers:

I also found the windows and a beautiful mosaic of Jesus with two fellows either side praying. One of them was this bloke:

There were American tourists coming in to look at this and gasp. I was wondering who they both were, then I noticed the 'JFK' to the right of his head there.

Anyway, it took me two walks round the Cathedral, and I have to say I was getting a bit panicky, then I found Jesus:

He was in this beautiful side chapel, which I had missed.

I left the Cathedral and wandering back through the town, grabbing a latte as I went. It was a beautiful day and the Cathedral looked stunning in the morning sunshine.

Back at Eyre's Square, I was chased up by the boys, who wanted to get back to the real purpose of the weekend.

Me outside the Skeff in Eyre's Square.

Harold making sure we do it right!

Leenaun (Irish: An Líonán, meaning "where the tide fills")


Ceili in the Rock

Sinking a few pints

Made me laugh in the toilets!

Eventually made it back to Murrisk and Campbells.

With my cousin Sharon

Last men standing.

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