Ramp Randoms: Mass, And How To Avoid It
Ah, Mass. More than just a religious obligation no one asked for, it’s a major factor in every Irish Catholic’s coming of age. For you see, there comes a time in an Irish Catholic’s life when his mam starts trusting him to go to Mass by himself, and he abuses that trust by immediately skipping his parochial duty to sit in Supermacs with his mates and eat smokey bacon burgers.
Though one’s mam would have to be quite the small town yokel to believe that her teenage children were diligently attending church services just because she asked them to, the rules of the countrywide Mass-skipping game are as enshrined in tradition as the religious ceremony itself. Here are some of our favourite methods of proving we were kneeling beatifically in the front row when we were really atein’ the face off Niall McCarthy around the back of the community centre.
Who Said Mass?
Back when the Irish Catholic Church was a force to be reckoned with, instead of a haphazard collection of elderly men gone blue in the face from insisting Ireland’s only problem is having no damn respect for its clergy, it was not unusual for parishes to have a full line-up of priests who took Mass-giving duties according to a loose timetable. Therefore, on any given Saturday night vigil, you could have one of maybe three priests MCing. Their rotation of duties might seem predictable – Fr. Farrell does the 7pm vigil, Fr. Geoghegan does the 9am, Fr. Farrell comes back to do the 11am after his well-earned lie-in and the other Fr. Farrell does the 12:30 – but because priests are elderly bachelors, they’re 800% more likely to be awkward than normal working folk. Meaning that making an educated guess as to who was mumbling on the pulpit at any given time was as foolhardy as hanging out the washing in February.
Easy. Sticking your ear to the glass of the side door or poking your nose through until you identified the speaker. It was best to wait until the priest was actually speaking, though, because opening the door of an Irish church during one of Mass’s lengthy silent pauses would serve only to let a howling gale in on top of a congregation already made miserable by chilblains, and earn you naught but a clip in the ear.
The Proof Is In The Publication
If your parish was anything like mine, there would always have been an appalling shortage of newsletters of a weekend. Typed up by an elderly parishioner (using a keyboard was for lowly women back before men discovered RedTube), the town’s only reliable free sheet would only have been photocopied a hundred times, because even priests know the value of demand outstripping supply. Therefore, one’s mother would be very glad to have the first of the newsletters from the Saturday evening vigil to prevent having to stamp on Bernie O’Riordan’s patent court shoes to procure one of the last copies on the Sunday morning. The price one had to pay to be allowed attend Mass on your lonesome on the Saturday evening was to bring home one of the precious newsletters, so that your mother could browse the week’s death notices at her leisure.
Again, easy. Newsletters were usually placed right inside the back door of the church, and the back door of the church was always shielded from the priest’s eagle eye by the countless middle-aged farmers who were so damn butch, they refused to move from the shadows of the porch, no matter how many seats were available within.
Of course, the best laid schemes could go awry when there was a veritable battalion of curtain-twitching biddies who might have turned a blind eye to their own children skipping Mass, but certainly weren’t bound by maternal love to do the same for your heathen arse. Getting spotted strutting the streets by one of these Holy Josephines could only mean a frosty reception when you returned home and your solo excursion privileges rescinded. Your mother deserved more than being shown up as a parental failure by the vengeful old bitch she beat into third place in the ICA Apple Tart Bake-Off circa 1987.
SUBTERFUGE. Employing all manner of oversized hats was a good start, but really there was no substitute for in-depth study of the alleyways, arseways and crossways of the church and its environs. Shortcuts had to be utilised, but if one had an older sibling whose catlike reflexes had been honed by many years of vigil-hopping, local knowledge passed down from a wise sensei was all but guaranteed. Also, you HAD to sit with your back to the window in Supermacs. Sure that led to a situation where you and your friends were pretty much sitting in forward-facing pairs like on a school bus, but it was still much cosier than listening to The Other Fr. Farrell’s sermons. Which brings us to…
The Insurmountable Sermon
When this writer were a lass, she were taught by nuns*. One of the nuns’ favourite methods of Monday morning torture was to quiz her class about what Sunday’s sermon was about, in that she would choose a bewildered smallie at random and demand a thorough breakdown of the priest’s lesson of the week. This was harsh carry-on even for nuns: though fledgling Catholics were too young to go to Mass alone, and therefore were almost entirely certain to have attended, it is a rare eight-year-old that can decipher the monotonous rumblings of a seventy-two-year-old man, whether it be a cautionary tale or a slow dispersion of malodorous gas.
Particularly harsh parents were well able to tread this same route, and demanded the nitty gritty about the priest’s sermon from their shifty teens. The problem here for the audacious Mass-skippers was that sermons were usually repeated over each of the Masses for the parish that Sabbath, meaning that both Fr. Farrells could well be using the exact same moral blah for their weekly improv. So if you told your ma that the sermon was about loving thy neighbour, you could be damn sure that the one she caught would be about false idols. Such was the danger in bearing false witness.
Now, it could be claimed that making up a ream of claptrap would suffice, but writing inoffensively vague sermons is a lot harder than it looks, especially if one’s devising under pressure. Best to admit that to your shame, you ‘were miles away’ when it came to the priest’s time to shine. Because technically YOU WERE, so it wasn’t a lie. Besides, your parents would rather a normal half-arsed Catholic than an attentive one, because… you know… creepy.
So there you have it. How we skipped Mass, and how we got away with it for so long. We’re not sure if any of this still applies, because going to Mass is, like, so last century. But learning how to avoid it, and learning how to lie convincingly enough to get away with it, was once an important step towards adulthood. Above all, it was character-building, kids. It was character-building.
*Typing like a Yorkshireman, she were. Don’t try this at home.