Catholics must grow in real confidence to share the Faith

Perhaps a revival of traditions would help us find our identity again

On holidays in Co. Galway last week, we had the unexpected pleasure of taking part in a Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Clifden. I had not taken part in one since I was a child, and it was a touching experience.

Local people, and especially the older, more established businesses in the town had made real efforts to mark the event. There were small altars decorated with flowers outside many establishments, including, I noticed, many of the local pubs.

While the tradition of Corpus Christi processions remains strong in some parts of the country, it has died out in most places. It is a shame. While a liturgical purist might sniff at the statues of the Child of Prague or pictures of the Sacred Heart on display on the little altars, it was impressive that many workers in this tourist town emerged to bless themselves as the procession went by.

The procession was a very respectable size, with the newest Holy Communicants in their finery as a central part of it. I saw tourists filming us as we walked, no doubt intrigued by a procession that included Benediction under the awning of a local hotel.

Feminist flash

The Corpus Christi procession ended with the singing of Faith of Our Fathers back in the church. I had a brief feminist flash as I thought, “What about the mothers? The mothers did as much, if not more, to keep the faith alive”. Then, I was distracted by the words of the chorus.

“Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee ‘til death.” I think there was a time when the majority of Irish people would have sung that and truly meant it. Our faith was bound up in our history, and for many, it was a badge of identity, a way of keeping our dignity as a colonised people.

Even after the 1920s, the fledgling Irish State depended on the Church to provide a social infrastructure which it could never have afforded otherwise. We now spend our time excoriating the failures of that system as if it were something alien imposed on us, rather than something which was deeply entwined at the heart of Irish life.

Of course there were failures, the greatest of all being the failure to see the ‘little ones’ as those whom we should have cherished the most. There are other failures today, but it is much easier to focus on the failures of the past, rather than ask why we are failing the children, and the poor of today, if we are now supposed to be so much more enlightened.

Yet there was also much that was of value in our Catholic tradition. Perhaps a revival of traditions like this procession would help us find our Catholic identity again, or at least be less shy about expressing it publicly.

Our local curate, Fr John Bracken CC, decided to do the Stations of the Cross differently in our home parish in Dublin this year. After consulting with a group of young people, he decided that we should process through the local area.


The fact that our local parish is Dundrum, better known for its enormous shopping centre, added a certain piquancy to the Stations of the Cross. Our route took us, with permission, through part of the shopping centre. It was fascinating.

People eating out on Good Friday looked sheepish as we held one Station outside a restaurant window. A group of young people hanging out looked as if they were mocking us, but one girl broke away from the group and came towards us. She looked genuinely curious.

Other people joined the procession, and followed it back to the church. There was a real sense of bringing the Gospel into the marketplace.

However, before we left the church at all, some people had departed, muttering that this was not what they had signed up for when they came to the Stations of the Cross.

I suspect that they were embarrassed at the idea of processing through the streets. If you think of Jesus, mocked and spat on as he painfully limped through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Calvary, attracting mild curiosity or experiencing embarrassment seems like a small price to pay in comparison.

Going out to the highways and byways has biblical precedent in other ways. Some of Jesus’ parables speak of going out to call people from the streets, when expected guests have made their excuses not to attend.

However, it is not just literally taking to the streets that we need, but a humble yet confident belief that we have treasure to share. The people of Clifden, in keeping their Corpus Christi procession alive, help us to remember not only tradition, but how relevant this treasure is for today.