There are probably even fewer people going to church now than before the pandemic, having gotten out of the habit. The decline in church attendance has been steady for a generation or two now anyway. In the case of the Catholic Church, it has only itself to blame. Former President Mary McAleese has articulated this quite well in recent years the many reasons why.

She speaks on behalf of those who remain devout yet angry with the hierarchy for the cover up’s, abuse, attitudes to women and same sex marriage.

However, (and we kind of have to whisper it nowadays) it should also be acknowledged that the ritual of going to a religious occasion is still fundamentally important to many people particularly in rural areas. It’s about more than religion. It’s nothing more than a form of mindfulness for some. The church is a sanctuary for people to reflect and can act as a meeting place for communities and neighbours. And for older people in particular, the church and practising faith is a very important part of their lives.

While the rest of us have plenty to occupy ourselves in this material world, we shouldn’t forget that in knocking the church, ordinary decent people are affected negatively by its demise. And by demise that includes the shortage of priests.

Where once Irish priests went abroad on missions, it may well come full circle with African, Asian and South American priests coming here to keep church doors open especially when women priests are not allowed.

One doesn’t have to be considered super religious or a slave to church teaching if they take time once a week to go to mass or to church to reflect. They should not fear professing their faith. We should respect this.

If you came up with the idea of young families gathering weekly for the ritual of going somewhere for a time of quiet reflection, you would think it a lovely idea.

Yet that is what we did once upon a time every Sunday. But we live in a different world now where religion and ritual have dropped away down the pecking order in terms of importance to us in our daily lives. Is that necessarily a good thing that we don’t gather for a time of quiet reflection once a week anymore? Are we the better for not having something to cling to?

Of course the litany of scandals, cover-ups and attitudes to social issues has disgusted people to the point of never darkening the door of a church again but it is a pity that the simple routine which going to church brought and brings to many others has had to be sacrificed in our collective punishment of the church for all its failings.

We have a right to be angry with the hierarchy for being the authors of their own downfall. It’s had the knock on effect of people not wanting to have anything to do with their local church or parish or organised religion or religious influence at all. That in turn has created a situation where people feel stigmatised for continuing to go to church. Apart from First Holy Communion or Confirmation day for those that chose those sacraments, children are growing up now having never experienced the positive side of a church service, of gathering as a family for a time of reflection away from the busyness of modern life. It is a traditional part of ordinary Irish family life from times past that has not been replaced with anything comparably meaningful. That’s a pity. CL

Stale bread

Is it too much to expect of delicatessen “fresh” sandwich making in petrol stations and shops that the white bread is, at the very least not hard and stale? Twice it happened to me last week, twice.