A different era: Thousands of members of the Archconfraternity march through the streets in 1968 - below regular attendees at at the last Mass this week
THE last Mass solely for men has been heard in Limerick city, with members of the Archconfraternity claiming that they have been “relegated to the second division” and will now have to join the regular Mass with women.
For 150 years, men in Limerick enjoyed their own exclusive Mass, from which women have, in the past, been turned away from the church.
Now, due to falling congregations, members of the Archconfraternity of the Redemptorist Order in Limerick city have been requested to attend the earlier 7.15pm Mass with all parishioners, instead of having their own 8pm Mass.
Tim McGrath, from Corbally, said the faithful amongst the Archconfraternity feel as if “we’ve been relegated to the second division, to shared Mass status.”
“Our Mass has been taken away from us. Our Monday evening Mass was our space and we wanted the status quo to remain. It’s a sad situation and very disappointing,” Mr McGrath told the Limerick Leader.
“We were not given an opportunity to discuss this – there was no debate, no vote, nothing. The majority of the people don’t want any change. What a lovely present for our 150th anniversary.”
Up to 60 men have regularly attended the 8pm Monday mass in recent times – down from thousands each night at its religious zenith.
Fr Seamus Enright, rector of the Redemptorists, one of the few religious orders to have survived in Limerick – following the closure of the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Jesuits - said the move is “sad, but we have to be realistic.”
While having a Mass just for men “could be viewed as a bit anachronistic in this modern age," he said, he also acknowledged that "for many people it has proved to be a big break with tradition and a disruption in their lives.
"Others knew it was inevitable,” he continued. “It is the end of an era because they won’t exclusively have their own Mass, but it is the next natural step as our own numbers are down as well, and we have to adopt a policy of rationalisation.”
“Having two Masses on a Monday night just did not make sense. The Archconfraternity is directed by the Redemptorists. There is no distinction between us – we are one and the same,” he said.
Ger O’Brien, who attended the men’s Mass for 63 years, said their Mass was also a social outlet for many.
“It was a lovely men’s club. Everyone would congregate in the church yard afterwards and talk about sport. Men like to meet on their own and have their own discussions, the same as women like to meet on their own, but we don’t talk about crochet or knitting,” he said.
Sean O’Lochrain, 90, from Garryowen, and a minister of the Eucharist, said he has been left “heartbroken” by the move.
“It’s very sad. I’ve been coming here all my life, with my father and nine brothers. I’m heartbroken, really. There was a time when 10,000 men would attend the Archconfraternity Masses – thousands each night. But the priests are all old men now and so are we.”
Joe Kelly, from Richmond Park in Corbally, said he felt “rather nostalgic and a bit lonesome, because this is the end of a wonderful era.
“It was like an institution really; we’ll never see the likes of it again,” he said.
Tony Fitzsimons, from Ballinacurra Gardens, said they were “reared with the Archconfraternity” as young boys in Limerick city.
“It was either the Confraternity or the back of the brush, if we didn't go. Now, we’ll greatly miss it and are sad to see it go,” he said.
Church-goer Richard O’Connor said he would have preferred if it were “just left to die out, because there’s only a handful of us left. The youngest [man] here has to be 65.”
However, not everyone was opposed to the move.
“Mass is Mass,” said Rosaleen Collins, from the Ennis Road, who attended the earlier Mass this Monday evening.
“Before you couldn’t get in the door with the queues of people coming here. But Mass is Mass regardless what date or time it’s held. With everything in life, there’s only a certain time-span in it, the same as with ourselves.”
William Dillon, from Raheen, who also attended the earlier Mass, said: “It’s not a good sign of the times that the numbers have gone down, but I don’t think there should be a Mass just for men. I don’t think it’s right. It’s totally ridiculous, in my eyes.
“Do they not want to see progress in the Church? There should be women priests – they have to do something to reinvigorate the Church. I think the number of young priests joining has fallen because priests aren’t allowed to get married and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to get married. It’s not a sin –definitely not.”
Once hailed as the largest “Archconfraternity in the world”, it was described in the past as being “a splendid bulwark against the inroads of evil literature, and bad plays and pictures” and a “moderating influence in preventing unwise actions and dangerous trends and excesses.”
The Confraternity was founded by the Redemptorist Fathers soon after their development as a community in Limerick city in 1867. By 1880, they counted 4,200 members and this grew to 7,000 members by 1918.