Letter from Ireland

February 08, 2008


St. Mary's OratoryI write from the National Centre for Liturgy at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Maynooth is unique in being the national seminary and two universities. The Centre was established in 1973 as a response to the Liturgy Constitution’s call for “some kind of institute for pastoral liturgy” to assist the work of liturgical agencies of the Bishops’ Conference. Mgr Seán Swayne was asked to be the secretary for liturgy and he established the Centre at Mount St Anne’s, near Portarlington, Co. Laois. In September 1974, a one-year course in liturgy began. The Centre was relocated at Carlow in 1978 and transferred to Maynooth in 1996, the same year that Seán Swayne died. Idir dhá láimh Chríost go raibh sé. (May he be between the two hands of Christ). Seán, in speaking about his vision for the Centre, often used words like prayer, reflection, hospitality, welcome, study, mission, celebration. It is so important today to continue that vision –I think that we do, in our work, our programmes and our gathering each day for Eucharist in St Mary’s chapel in the College.

The Centre houses the national secretariat for liturgy, thus serving the Conference and the national agencies. It continues the programme of liturgical formation, as a one-year Diploma course and a two year Masters in Theology, specialising in liturgy. The MTh in liturgy has been one of the most important developments in recent years. These are awards of the Pontifical University of St. Patrick’s College. Our students bring a lot of experience in liturgy -and life- and give an international character to our programmes. The majority of our students are Irish but over the past ten years we have had students from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Malta, England, Taiwan, Ghana, Nigeria, Myanmar (Burma), Slovakia, Fiji, Sudan and Tanzania.

The Centre also works with the Department of Music of NUIM (National University of Ireland Maynooth, the second university on the campus) in a part-time Diploma in Arts (Church Music) programme.

Our Church Buildings

Some time ago in a survey we discovered that almost half of the churches built in the twentieth century in Ireland were built after Vatican II’s Liturgy Constitution, including 89 in the diocese of Dublin and 65 in the diocese of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast. Ireland was one of the first countries to publish a directory on church building and re-ordering to assist parishes in this vital area. The small 1966 publication was greatly enlarged by the pastoral directory issued in 1972. A third edition called The Place of Worship was published in 1994 and its updated version will be available later this year.

A few years ago, new planning legislation brought in new and stricter regulations for buildings that are of historic interest. The legislation concerns the Republic of Ireland (and I might add that those working in Northern Ireland seem more satisfied with the way the regulations on heritage in that jurisdiction are implemented). The legislation applies to churches that are on the Record of Protected Structures (RPS). When work, including within the building, is proposed, planning permission must be obtained from the local planning authority.  In the process the planning authority must “respect liturgical requirements.”  The word “respect,” we were told when the legislation was being drafted, places “a heavy obligation” on the local authorities, and they also must consult the relevant Church body to ascertain the liturgical requirements. The bishops accepted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Sacred Art and Architecture to establish Historic Churches Advisory Committees on a diocesan or inter-diocesan basis. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government drafted guidelines, Architectural Heritage Protection for Places of Worship, in consultation with representatives of the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland (Anglican), Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. These were accepted by the Churches in November 2003 and are a chapter in the handbook of guidelines for planning authorities.

A number of church buildings on the RSP have been subject to the planning process. The most notable was St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh in the Diocese of Cloyne, a magnificent neo-Gothic building, designed by Pugin and Ashlin and built over a period of 47 years from 1868 to 1915. Permission for the re-ordering of the sanctuary, the final phase of a major renovation project begun in 1993, was obtained from the local planning authority and was reversed on appeal to An Bord Pleanála (national planning appeals board) in June 2006. The board accepted the need for changes due to liturgical requirements but did not accept the design plan proposed. Yet serious questions remain, particularly about the weight that is given in such cases to the requirements of worship today. If liturgical requirements are not considered decisive for re-ordering our churches, is the building suitable for worship? Who is in the best position to state what these requirements are? In the end our historic churches must remain churches, that is, places of worship.

Rev. Patrick (Paddy) Jones is the Director of the National Centre for Liturgy at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland.

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