Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s Homily at Mass in St Mary’s Church, Rathmines , Dublin to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the founding of the Rathmines Mass Folk Group
Since its inception in 1972, the Folk Group has sung and played at the 6pm Mass every Sunday. In that time over 200 hundred people have been members. In a parish that has a significant ‘flatland’ population from all over Ireland, and more recently from all over the world, the 6pm Mass in Rathmines has always been a draw for students and young people, attracted in great part by the lively music provided by the folk group.
The Folk Mass in Rathmines was started in October 1972 by the priests of the parish, Michael Walsh, Brendan Quinlan, Joe Madden, Bert Moore, and Tommy Randles, with the support of the parish priest, Canon Pearse. Fr. Mick Walsh was at that time the chaplain of the local St. Louis convent, and it was from this school that the original members came, joined a few weeks later by the first three males. This team of priests and young people laid the foundations for many years of music and prayer at the 6 o’clock Folk Mass. In addition to singing at this Mass, the group have been regularly asked to sing in other parishes, or at fund-raising events, as well as television appearances. In 1997 the Group was presented with a Papal Blessing for its contribution to the Parish.
Currently a wide range of songs is sung, from folk through country to gospel. Whatever the origin or style of the songs, they are chosen for their appropriateness and relevance to the Mass. The Folk Group has been happy to host the annual Rathmines International Mass and Festival of Culture in recent years.
I am very pleased to join all of you here this evening for a truly joyous occasion, as we celebrate 40 years of service of the Rathmines Folk Group. These have been forty years of continuous and joyous celebration of the Sunday evening Eucharist in this Church over forty changing years. We thank God for this outstanding witness of fidelity and commitment and community.
I greet especially those members of the Folk Group and those of you here present who were here at the beginnings of this experience of Church, in particular Kevin McNamara. I greet those who have come from various parts of Ireland to be with us this evening and whose faith has been strengthened through taking part in the Folk Mass. We thank God for the many ways in which he has allowed his hope and his joy to be present and alive in this Church building and in the lives of those who have been part of this community.
I am also very happy during this Mass to be able to present the Papal Award Bene Merenti to Mr James Murphy, who until his recent retirement has for many years been sacristan in this Church.
We are going to listen now to readings about what is essential in our faith, about the love of God and the love of those around us. We begin by looking in silence into our own hearts and recognising where we have failed in living that message of love. For that we ask God for pardon and strength.
Fifty years ago in these days the Second Vatican Council opened. It was to bring change and renewal to the life of the Church. The Rathmines Folk Group was child of the change and the ferment that was taking place in the Church in Dublin at that time.
The Church of 1972 was very different to the Church of today, but there were also similarities, which perhaps we should be more attentive to when we reflect on the recent history of Irish Catholicism.
The Rathmines Folk group was an initiative which recognised that amidst the changes that were taking place in the Church after Vatican II there were also problems and challenges. It was clear that despite the changes, the Church was not making the inroads it ought to have been making among young people. Rathmines was then and still is today an extraordinary cosmos of those who then and today seem to be most likely to become estranged from the life of the Church: young adults.
The Folk Group set out to provide a space for young adults which was more responsive to their world and their culture than some of the traditional forms of liturgical celebration. The challenge of the Church today is to find similar ways in which we can ensure that the grace of baptism and our initiation into the sacramental life of the Church is kept alive among young adults and that they can find growth and nourishment in their faith in a manner which addresses and welcomes them in the world and in the culture in which they live. This is the challenge of New Evangelization.
It took courage to begin such an initiative like the Rathmines Folk Group. It took real innovation and commitment. The success of the group is due to its real professionalism. There is the technical professionalism. The first time I celebrated Mass with the Folk Group I thought that there was a live broadcast, as I saw equipment which rivals any professional music group. And all that equipment, week after week, has to be lovingly set up and taken down after each Mass: no mean effort.
There is the musical professionalism shown also in preparing a new range of music year after year. There is liturgical professionalism in which the music for each week is prepared to be consonant with the liturgical celebration and the texts are available so that the congregation can join in the singing and worship.
What could have been – and perhaps to a certain extent was – a controversial experiment met quickly with great acceptance and the group has become well-known and appreciated way beyond the parish. I was already in Rome when the Folk Mass began but news filtered through about this event which had already become admired. I must say that I had a privileged source of information and enthusiastic support for the Folk Mass. It came through letters I received from one of your earliest and most enthusiastic supporters who lived here in the parish: it was my aunt who was 75 years old at the time.
I say that to remind you that the intuition of the Folk Group was not just about a group of young people reaching out to their contemporaries. There was something in the initiative which responded to a need felt by many within the Church at the time, young and old. Perhaps those writing the history the Church in Ireland in the years after Vatican II fail to see that there was within the Church at that time a real felt-need for change, both among the young and the not so young.
We often forget that the Latin Mass as it was celebrated in our parishes was very often far from the magnificence of the great Cathedral celebrations or the beautiful austerity of monastic liturgy or indeed as the Latin Mass can be celebrated today. It was then very often marked by haste and routine and even a certain passivity. The Folk Group gave expression to a desire to participate, to celebrate in an atmosphere of joy and expressiveness, which were characteristics of those days. My 75 year-old aunt felt that need, just as much as did the many young flat-dwellers of Rathmines who were it not for the Folk Group might otherwise have drifted away from Church life.
For many of those who came here in the early days, the Folk Mass was a life-line to a Church which did not seem otherwise to be reaching out to them. Its success over 40 years is marked by the fact that it has continued to be such a point of reaching-out to young adults who live today, if anything, in an even more isolated existence. They are more remote than before from Church life at a particular time in their lives, as they begin to find their own path in life, whether far from home or away from home for the first time. The Folk Mass was a life-line of welcome and outreach and became for many a fixed point of nourishment in the faith and experience of a community of faith.
What is the secret of the success of this group? Where will it go in the future? Let me look at the first question first. The reading from the Old Testament gives a striking indication of where true long-term success finds its roots. The reading indicates how: “you will have long life, you and your son and your grandson”. It points out how long-term success over generations comes when: “you fear the Lord all the days of your life and keep all his laws and his commandments”. Long-term success is about a manner of living which is consistent and coherent. The reading, however, goes on to stress that fundamentally all those laws and commandments can be summed up in one: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength”. In the Gospel reading then Jesus the takes up the same theme and stresses that the love of God and loving your neighbour are intimately intertwined.
The long-term success of any initiative in the Church is linked with the manner in which it enables the men and women of their time to realise that what is essential in the Christian life is the ability to love God and love neighbour and that anyone who tries to witness to that double commandment of love is never “far from the kingdom”.
But that is not quite the full answer. Love of neighbour is not simply being superficially kind and being good. The key to understanding love of neighbour is to be found in the love of God and in understanding what that divine love means. There are many who proclaim to love God and who are not renowned for their love of neighbour. There are many who have had a Christian education, who may be seen prominently in our Churches and yet are not the greatest advertisement to what being Christian means.
There is however another form of lack of integration and coherence between faith and life. Many of us live a good life, but we do so “as if God did not exist”. Our love of God can often be marginal and not particularly relevant to the manner in which we live the good life.
The challenge of New Evangelisation is to bring people back into that deep personal relationship with the God revealed in Jesus Christ and allow the Spirit to help us live as true children of God. Loving God is not so much an effort on our part, but being caught up in the love that God has for us. God is love. The nature of God is to love, to communicate and to reach out to us in love. It is when we experience that love of God that we can take on ourselves the ability to love without counting the cost, as Jesus did, and to overcome a life-style that is closed in on itself within the anonymity of our modern culture.
To experience that love of God we have to encounter the Lord. The Eucharist is not just a moment of prayerful celebration but a moment in which through being in communion with God in the depths of our being we come to a different understanding of communion. It is the self-giving sacrifice of Christ which reveals the deepest root of meaning of what communion with each other means.
The hectic of modern life makes what we call contemplation more difficult. Silence can become alien to our lives. How many times do we find ourselves, the moment we encounter silence, turning to something to block out silence and today’s world has offered us so many new opportunities to do this. The first thing many of us do when we sit down in a bus or a train or a plane is to reach for the ear phones. All of us today need moments of silence and contemplation to be able to encounter God and thus to encounter our real selves and our need to be embraced by the forgiving and redeeming and liberating love of God.
And this brings me to my second question: “where will the Folk Group go in the future?” I see two areas where it might look more closely. The first is the scriptures: I am convinced that all our work of New Evangelization, especially here in Ireland, must seek to be more deeply scripture-based and I hope that as the Group works on new texts it will be even more deeply inspired by the new interest in prayerful understanding of the scriptures. The second area is precisely that of contemplation: part of the Folk Group’s challenge for the future will be to provide a musical accompaniment within the liturgy which stimulates not only joyful celebration, but also moments of reflective calm, celebrated collectively as a community.
This experience of the Rathmines Folk group celebrates its 40th anniversary. We thank God for what it has achieved. Today and tomorrow it will continue to be part of the challenging work of the Church of reaching out to young adults. That reaching-out means recalling each one of us to ask ourselves the question posed by our two readings: “which is the first of all the commandments”, which – put in other words – means asking ourselves “what is really essential in our lives and in our place and contribution in society”.
I wish to say a word of thanks to the priests who have celebrated the Mass over these forty years. Your art of celebrating and your ability to interpret the word of God and to celebrate the Mass as a Mystery of Faith has also been an essential part of this ecclesial experience and must continue to be so. I also wish to thank the Parish community here in Rathmines, the Priests of the Parish – Father Richard Sheehy, Father John Galvin and Father Patrick McCafferty – and the Parish Pastoral Council. The members of the Folk Group know well that there is no sense in which you are lodgers in this Parish but you are a vital part of a lively Parish which sees it role still today as being a place of outreach for adult faith formation for a generation living an a very different world from the one which gave birth to the Folk Group, but a world which is even more in need for such creative initiatives of evangelical outreach as was the case in 1972.
We give thanks to the Lord for this unique ecclesial experience and we pray the Lord that he will inspire new creativity in this Parish in its work of evangelisation and of making known the name of Jesus to our changing world in the years to come.