An Irish woman's social, political and domestic commentary
Wednesday, April 06, 2005  

Last Sunday's article

Here is last Sunday's article. I have to write a fourth one now. The pressure is starting to get to me. I have new found respect for columnists. I had a meltdown yesterday but fortunately M. stayed home from work (thank god for public service jobs) and by lunchtime I could breathe again without feeling nausious. Baby woke twice last night. A minor hiccup I hope. And my father informs me that my absence at mass is being "noted". I thought I left conversations like that behind me in my teens. With pressure like this it's hardly any wonder I'm stressed.

Ireland: Forgive me Father, for my envelope is emptyHaving missed the chance to pay her dues at the parish church Sarah Carey is wondering if there isn’t a better way to get us to cough up

I really did intend going to Mass on Easter Sunday. As it’s the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year, attendance is the minimum requirement of any Catholic interested in eternal salvation. But, between the loss of an hour and a failure to find clothes that would fit me eight weeks after childbirth, I failed to make it past the front door.
As I recovered from the ensuing self-pity, I turned my attention to a box of envelopes that had been dropped outside our door last week by a parish worker. Given my failure to appear at the Paschal ceremonies I now had to figure out how to deliver them.

Parishioners are supposed to put appropriate amounts of money into the various envelopes as a contribution towards the priests and the maintenance of the church. The envelopes are meant to be dropped in the box at Mass a number of times a year, Easter being one of the five significant offering days. Now I had missed the boat.

This eagerness to get my envelopes to the church on time might lead to you to conclude that I am a God-fearing person. Far from fearing Him, I am not entirely convinced He exists. True, I rapidly find faith in the middle of the night when reflecting on the sick or dying or dead. Incantations are offered just in case there is a God who may have a say in the matter. Otherwise, the old man in the sky narrative does not survive long when exposed to the rigorous rationality developed through an education foolishly purchased by my parents who, in a cruel irony, have an unshakeable faith.

Why then would I bother paying up? Why even try to attend? My reasons are threefold.

Firstly, the attendances, though rare enough, provide a welcome opportunity for uninterrupted reflection. I know I could go for free and many do, but if the gym makes me pay every month regardless of whether or not I actually show up, the church seems quite justified in making the same request. While the rewards of gym attendance are earthly in nature, it involves a lot more work than going to Mass.

So desperate is the church for a full house each week, it has abandoned many of the obligations previously required from its congregation. Asking us to help pay the electricity bill is a long way from fasting and confessing. It’s hard to begrudge the few euros while enjoying the architecture and the music and disapproving of other people’s children.

Secondly, I got married. A bride intending to walk down the aisle is in need of an aisle. No adolescent nuptial fantasy involves alighting from a vintage Rolls outside a register office. Your preferred version of Ave Maria just doesn’t have the same effect without the acoustical aid of a house of God. While a small fee is payable on the day, my consulting background has endeared me to the concept of a retainer instead of task-based payments. Priests have to eat every day and it seems churlish to offer them a glorified tip on top of the beef or salmon at your reception.

Indeed, were I chief financial officer of a particularly picturesque chapel, I’d request that like all the best schools, brides put their names down several years in advance of a proposal and would ensure that regular payments were forthcoming in return for using the church as a background for photographs. Given that, allowing for a decent interval, the bride will be back thrusting her adorable infants forward for Christenings, a members-only policy seems reasonable.

Finally, regardless of your marital or reproductive status, there is one inevitability that should encourage us to shell out in support of the church. A perusal of the death notices in the papers reveals that, despite the decreased number attending Mass every week, we all attend one in the end: our funerals. Maybe once a week a single individual carries their atheism to the grave and refuses any religious obsequies. In prodigal style, the rest of us sign up for the incense, prayers and hymns. While we don’t really believe in heaven, there’s no harm in observing the formalities, just in case.

For our relatives, the ritualism is a psychological necessity in the grieving process. How could they direct their undivided attention to one’s passing if they had to figure out the format of their farewells? On a logistical level, just think how inconvenient our deaths would be if the church decided to refuse ceremonies to those who failed to contribute throughout their lives? A hall or hotel-based meeting-room would be needed in order for such friends as one might have to gather in. In the absence of an accessible graveyard, the bureaucracy involved in disposing of a body would only be the start of the problem. Passing through the portals of death is a complex matter and one in which the church is expert. There are some affairs best left to the professionals and priestly qualifications are hard to dispute in the case of death.

I once lived in the Smithfield area of Dublin. Every Sunday morning I would join the other unwashed, hungover Irish people in Spar. Slinking home with the sausages and papers required passing a rather dingy hall, packed with Africans in their finest clothes; starched collars on the men, fabulous costumes on the women, and children in their Sunday best. They’d sing and pray for half the day. The devotion in the face of our indolence was quite shaming.

It forced me to consider that the Irish church’s willingness to dumb down has not succeeded in keeping numbers up. If the examples of plastic bags and waste disposal are anything to go by, it is clear that Irish people respond more readily to the stick than the carrot.

In Germany, religious funding is organised in a methodical fashion whereby the state collects taxes from registered Catholics on behalf of the church. As we are reluctant to pay voluntarily, isn’t it time that the Irish Catholic Church got tough and taxed our souls?

posted by Sarah | 10:56 0 comments
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