Christmas in Ireland seems to be different to some other countries.
Our Christmas celebrations begin for most of us on the 23rd of December,
and continue until the first Monday in January.
In effect two weeks off work.
It is an eagerly awaited holiday. One in which family is of the utmost importance.
We all try our best to meet up, regardless of past relations.
Sons and daughters return home from all over Ireland and abroad.
Aunts, uncles and cousins gather together.
A boiling pot of camaraderie and tension.
As well as exchanging presents, drinking, fighting and playing games,
attending mass is still for the majority in Ireland a large part of Christmas.
Ireland is a christian country who have over the past few years greatly fallen out of love with the church.
However come Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, all is forgotten,
and the churches which are relatively empty for the rest of the year,
are packed out the door.
My friend was telling me at a night out last night about one such a mass he attended years ago,
it tells it’s own tale of the many different reasons we attend mass.
The mass in question took place in a relatively large town in Ireland.
My friend was a young alter server at the time, serving at midnight mass.
Now midnight mass is generally regarded as a very special mass.
It is the first official mass of Christmas Day,
so is a very special mass for the more devout Catholics.
For others, attending it is a tradition in their family,
with the extended family all gathered and sitting together as tradition dictated.
However there is a third group who also always attend Midnight mass.
These are the young people who have been out for the night,
as well as older people who have been drinking aplenty,
aware that the pubs will be closed all day Christmas Day.
My friend was telling us that as expected this mass was packed,
with a very large number gathered standing at the back of the church.
The priest arrived for his big gig.
He was really getting into it when he became aware of the continuous conversation,
which was going on at the back of the church among those who were well lubricated from a nights drinking.
The priest stopped speaking and eventually silence was achieved.
However the noise began again.
Obviously frustrated the priest stopped once more, but once again the silence was shortlived
As the mumbling became louder it got the better of the priest.
There was one individual who was standing in clear view, out on the aisle.
He was a well know character in the village, and even though he had come to mass,
he was far from interested.
He stood chatting away as if he was still in the pub,
loud from an evening drinking and oblivious to his surroundings.
The priest stopped the mass and addressed this individual who was standing at the back of the church.
“How dare you”, he began. The church was silenced. “How dare you come in here disrespecting this church.
You are disrupting the mass and interfering with those who have come here to pray and give thanks.”.
You could have heard a pin drop.
He continued. “Leave now. Go on you know who you are” he said, pointing to the back of the church.
As the rest of the church sat in silence, shifting uncomfortably, slowly but surely people began to leave.
Within minutes a couple of hundred had left the church.
Needless to say our friend was not among them.
The priest could do nothing but go back to his mass,
and my friend and his fellow alter servers did their best to hold in the laughter.
This story perfectly describes the differing attitudes to attending mass over Christmas.
Some do it to pray.
Some because their family always go.
And others because it is on their way home from the pub!
For myself I attend because my family do, and I am happy to stand alongside them.
I am comfortable with my reasons, which are not religious.
The church does not hold a real place in my heart,
but I cannot deny it’s place in my husband, family and friends lives.
Today was a prime example of it’s place in our society in general.
Today December 29th was the months mind of my young friend.
This date one month ago he fought his final round.
As is tradition today there was the “months mind mass”.
This is a time when family and friends gather together and attend a special mass.
A mass that marks the passing of the first month.
As my friend is one of seven and her husband is one of ten there were a lot of family present.
We their friends were there in force also.
I sat there in the full church and I wondered at the point of the occasion.
Who could forget he was gone one month?
Why would we have to mark the occasion?
How sad that a month of forever has already passed.
For myself I thought it was a painful thing to have to go through.
His family had to sit there whilst his football team, who came to pay their respects,
took their seats.
It was mind blowing to think that he was never again to sit among them.
It was so sad, and at times, as my youngest says,
“my eyes were too full, and the tears spilled”.
However hopefully my friend did gain comfort from it.
She and her husband have a very deep faith.
The priest who spoke is a wonderful, sincere and caring man.
He spoke eloquently and beautifully about sadness, heartache and loss.
He spoke about finding strength, and Gods understanding.
The church is many things to many people,
I hope it was of help to my friend and her family today.
However for myself, I think I have a lot in common with those who come to church,
because it’s on the way home from the pub!
When I pass, I’d like them to gather in a pub and remember me there.
To each their own I suppose.
To my young friend,
whether I’m in church, at home, out walking or chatting with your mom,
I remember you.
And I expect I will do so for a long time to come.