Today, Irish American Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York celebrated Mass at a ‘Mass rock’ in Killarney, County Kerry during a pilgrimage with roughly 40 people from the Archdiocese of New York
Cardinal Dolan shared in a video that he has had the honour of celebrating Mass in several special places such as St. Peter’s Basilica, Lourdes, and the Holy Land, but this location – he said – is particularly meaningful.
“I don’t know if anything is more meaningful than having Mass on a rock in the middle of the woods, hidden away, and recalling those brave Irish people who, because they were persecuted for their faith, at the threat of their lives, would sneak out into the woods when the priests would come, with sentinels watching for the British troops, and come to hold Mass and holy Communion here,” he said.
“I’ve had the honour of celebrating Mass in many places, but I don’t know if anything is more meaningful than a Mass on this rock, recalling those brave Irish people who sacrificed everything because of their hunger for the Holy Eucharist.”
During the 16th and 18th centuries, under the Penal Laws, all expressions of the Catholic faith were prohibited in Ireland. Priests risked fines, imprisonment, and death for celebrating Mass. This forced priests to celebrate Mass outdoors, in secret locations, using rocks as makeshift altars.
Many of these “Mass rocks” are still in existence today and serve as a symbol of the hardships Irish Catholics endured during British rule.
During the Mass for the group of pilgrims, Cardinal Dolan emphasized the importance of the Eucharist.
“We take it [the Eucharist] for granted. The stats tell us our people aren’t even showing up or believe in the doctrine of the Eucharist,” he explained.
Cardinal Dolan added: “When you’re in a place like this and see that people are willing to risk their lives for the joy and the grace and the mercy of receiving our Lord in holy Communion — I don’t know about you, but it does something for me.”
The group of pilgrims will be in Ireland until 28th August and are visiting locations such as Ballintubber Abbey, which was one of the only locations Mass could be freely offered during the Penal Laws in Ireland, as well as the Knock Shrine, the Dingle Peninsula, and the Cliffs of Moher.
Cardinal Dolan will conclude the pilgrimage by celebrating a public Mass at 11am on 24th August, the 150th anniversary of the dedication of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, Ireland, which took place on Aug. 24, 1873.