While there is no doubt that the Catholic Church’s tentative grip on the Irish public’s moral compass is slipping, there are still some sections of society to whom the church still has a massive still influence.
As mass numbers continue to decline and a once-steady flow of young men joining the priesthood has dried to a paltry trickle, there are still people, who remain as dedicated to their faith as ever and will nail their colours to the mast at any given opportunity. One of those times is around Easter Week which is the equivalent of Woodstock for Catholics as it offers numerous opportunities for pageantry and preaching, with Good Friday’s Stations of the Cross being the main event of the week.
The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation. The stations are commonly used as a mini-pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station. At each station, the individual recalls and meditates on a specific event from Christ’s last day. Specific prayers are recited, then the individual moves to the next station until all 14 are complete.
The stations are most commonly prayed during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays during a special ceremony in the church. However, on Good Friday the priest or priests lead members of the public on a set route around the local parish, usually with someone carrying a crucifix, and they go through all 14 stations at various points throughout the parish.
Having done this as a child in the late 90’s/ early 00’s I decided the time was right to embark on a Good Friday stations of the cross once more, around the town of Navan. I wasn’t expecting to be the only pilgrim on the trail, but I definitely wasn’t expecting there to be over 50, with very few of said 50 to be under the age of 50. So to find a crowd of 200 dedicated worshippers presents really caught me by surprise. Admittedly three-quarters of those present were aged 60 or over, but given the time (it was held at midday), it was to be expected.
I hadn’t been to mass for quite a while before attending the ceremony so I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but strangely enough, I found myself to rhyming away the prayers, keeping up with the songs and actually enjoying the experience.
The whole thing lasted about an hour as the priest and congregation enjoyed a garda escort around the town, much to the derision of motorists unlucky enough to get caught behind it (one elderly man driving a Renault Clio, stuck in the middle of the queue who declined to speak on camera, sneered ” are they f**king praying for good weather?”)
While the experience may not be enough to fully reawaken my lapsed Catholicism it, it caught my interest and may serve as a catalyst to restore my faith in the future.