Saturday 18 November 2017

Having a drink on Good Friday does not make us a secular state

It's the Church's job to ensure that its members respect Good Friday, writes Emer O'Kelly

Take 100 people; offer each of them a ticket for a rugby match between Leinster and Munster on Good Friday. How many of them would prefer to take up the offer rather than go to church that afternoon for Good Friday services, in commemoration of the hour when tradition holds that Christ died on the cross? Probably 99.

The one who would genuinely prefer to go to church is possibly suffering from a slightly unhealthy religious mania. But how many of the 100 would turn down the offer of the ticket because to go to the match on the most solemn day in the Christian calendar would make them feel vaguely uneasy? Maybe 10: and that's a generous estimate. The others would grab the ticket with both hands.

Does that make us a secular state? Or even a secular society? It does not. It merely means that Christians, or more particularly, Catholics, have become lazy, flabby, embarrassed, and too damn selfish to carry out the observances required of them for membership of their Church, however nominal.

Despite this failure of observance, however, Ireland is not a secular state, as suggested by Aine Lawlor on Morning Ireland when she interviewed Father Adrian Egan, Rector of the Redemptorist Church in Limerick.

Fr Egan was expressing extreme unease about the fact that Good Friday had been chosen as the date for the match, but said he was not so concerned about the application by the publicans for a special exemption to allow them to open for some hours after the match. (That application, of course, also says something about our inability to hold any sporting or social occasion without concomitant alcohol consumption, usually to excess.)

Fr Egan said, quite rightly, that we seemed to have lost the awareness of the sacredness and solemnity of Good Friday. In fact, he said, "we have lost the sense of being able to sacrifice anything" as a society. Right again. Good Friday observance, he said, was not only part of our Christian culture, but part of our heritage and our nature. And that seemed to have gone.

But in that, he was confusing religious observance, specifically Christian observance, with nationhood and citizenship, thereby seeming to condemn, however unconsciously, non-Catholics/Christians and secularists to lesser status. He did not speak of our being a secular "state", as Lawlor did, but said we are becoming a secular "society". And they are both wrong.

The Irish Constitution states that it is enacted in the "Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority, and to Whom as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred". That makes us a deliberately anti-secular State, specifically an exclusively Christian State. And given that the two services most closely related to our innermost beings, health and education, are under the control of the Catholic Church (the schools owned by, and the hospitals either owned by religious or controlled by Catholic-dominated Ethics Committees), it makes us not merely a religious observing state, but a theocracy, however hard (Catholic) Government tries to deny it.

The fact that pubs close on Good Friday under law points to the fact that we're not a secular "society" either, as does the fact that some priests of one of the Christian churches, the Roman Catholic one, are expressing unease about the staging of a sporting fixture on a major Christian feast dedicated to mourning, penance, and sacrifice.

What the Catholic Church should be doing is pointing out loud and clear, and with one voice, from every pulpit and in every parish magazine, that it is entirely unsuitable for any Catholic, however lacking in daily devotional observance, to attend a sporting fixture, however important, on Good Friday. They should be pointing out that for any Catholic even to consider drinking alcohol on Good Friday, much less getting raucously, mouldy drunk (as hundreds will), indicates not only that they are spitting in the face of the Crucifixion, but confirming the sad fact that as a nation we are controlled by alcohol.

Does that mean that the pubs in Limerick should be denied a special licence this Good Friday? No. Does that mean that the rugby authorities were wrong to set the match for Good Friday? No. It is not the duty of publicans to have regard for religious sensibilities ... nor for that matter, is it the job of legislators to do so, yet it was they who passed the laws which impose compulsory closing on Christmas Day and Good Friday. It is not the job of the officials running the Magniers League to have regard for the religious sensibilities of one faith.

Can you imagine if they had to sit down with the Jewish calendar, the Muslim calendar, the B'hai calendar, and the Hindu calendar as well as the Christian one every time they arranged their programmes? Nothing would ever get played.

But one thing is sure: if the rugby administrators knew without a doubt that no Catholic, however nominal, would attend the Munster/ Leinster match on Good Friday, and would instead go to church, then the match would not have been set for that date. Professional rugby is in the business of making money, not imposing religious observance on people.

It's the Church's job to instil enough fervour in its so-called members to ensure that they will respect the solemnity of Good Friday.

What Aine Lawlor called our "secular State" is merely a Catholic theocracy where the "faithful" have neither backbone nor a sense of decorum when it comes to their religion. The first corporate action of our first independent government was to write to the Vatican assuring the then Pope that he could depend on Ireland never to step out of line from Roman teaching.

Subsequent governments followed this tenet faithfully, with every civic sniffle of a bye-law being run past the Hierarchy, most notably in the person of the frightful John Charles McQuaid, who operated as the Dictator of Ireland, for approval.

It was moral observance through lack of the power to be immoral, notably in the area of sexual ethics and family welfare. And it worked because people were wretch-edly poor.

Plays failed; films and books were banned; festivals cancelled, all at the whim of the Church authorities. Prosperity (and we are still prosperous when compared with those days) changed all that, and for the better.

Now religious observance is voluntary under civil law, even if failure is still sinful in Church teaching.

And the fact that Thomond Park will be heaving on Good Friday, as it seems the pubs of Limerick may also be heaving on the same day, is indeed deeply shocking in what is constitutionally a Catholic country, but it's shocking because it shows how inadequately the majority Church has fulfilled its duty to teach the message of Good Friday.

Sunday Independent

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