By Anne Friel
Remember the parish missions? How could you forget? They made an indelible impression on my childhood.
I must have been about six when I was brought to my first mission. It was the evening ceremonies and there was a big announcement that all children should go up and sit around the altar rails.
Correction, not SIT but kneel! Yes kneel at the cold hard altar rails.
This idea did not appeal to me much, I thought, “one wee child like myself will not take up much seat room as I’d hop on my Daddy’s or Mammy’s knee for the sitting down part.” In order to conceal myself I slouched down between my parents, shrinking my little stature to an almost invisible form.
Invisible, I thought.
Whatever else the Canon was, he was not blind and my little polka dot dress caught his eye and my poor shoulder caught the full brunt of his bony finger, he paraded me up in front of the whole congregation. He was not amused, and neither was I.
Naturally a lot of it went over my head. Saying that the singing took on a new gusto, and we sort of imbibed the whole atmosphere. Fast forward to my teenage years, now less went over my head, if you get my drift. There were usually two missionaries. One advanced in years and the other younger, and easier on the eyes.
I can still see and hear the older one giving a sermon on chastity. He’d launch forth, “Young people, remember the lonely roads, company keeping and the dangerous occasions of sin,” and pounding the pulpit he’d go on to say, “For those who love the danger will perish therein.”
He’d conclude by saying, “Remember my dear people the words of the holy missioner,
One Soul to Save
One God to Serve
If not, Hell forever more, Amen”.
Some of my friends were wondering where you’d find these lonely roads. My Granny said, “It’s avoiding them we should be.”
I’ll not forget my Dad’s reply when I started criticising the missioner.
In my playful innocence I queried, “How could he know about lonely roads and dangers of sin, sure he’s a priest.” My father’s quick reply was, “You don’t have to be a sheep to appreciate mutton.”
That put me in my box.
We all loved the stalls. St. Martin and the other saints were available in miniature and large sizes and every size in between. We also loved the snowy pictures with the glass domes, you shook them and the snow fell. Brown scapulars, green scapulars and miraculous medals were visible around every ones neck.
For that full week, everything revolved around the mission. Cows were milked earlier in the morning and likewise in the evening to free people for the ceremonies. All the farmyard chores were hurried.
All the children would attend Mass ahead of school. How we stayed awake during our lessons must have been a challenge. Remember we would have walked or cycled the three miles and our day would have begun so much earlier.
Of course the missionaries would visit the school.
You know, as children, we loved any and all interruptions. The missioner may have come across as stern on the altar, but they had us kids eating out of their hands.
They had a swish and a vibrancy about them. The younger one had a few magic tricks up his sleeve. He could pull coins out of your hair without any ado. What child would not love this? Most of all we loved how school work and home work alike were put on the back burner.
All the sick and housebound of the parish were visited and given the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist. Those who had lapsed or fallen away from the Church were also sought out. In my curiosity, I often wondered was it ‘the hell-fire and brimstone’ approach or the model of the Prodigal Son and Merciful Father that was employed.
All in all, it was a great week.
It brought about a kind of renewal or feel good feeling. To this day when I hear Faith of our Fathers I get the goose bumps on the back of my neck, and am transported back to the close of the ceremonies. Pardon the pun, but those priests were certainly on a mission.