|Illustration by Cathy Bartholomew|
I hesitated when I came to the front door and heard the hum of the mantrad voices from within. I knew instantly what the sound was. I have not heard it for years.
It was an echo of yesterday's Ireland; of my Ireland. My hesitation was only for a second. I opened the unlocked door and walked down the hallway into the kitchen. The man and wife and their two adult children were circled around the hearth and they were saying the family Rosary.
It has been such a long time since I heard the family Rosary that once was the ritual closure of every Irish day. I was touched to the heart.
I did what you always naturally did in years gone by when you came into a home where the Rosary was being said. There was a spare bare kitchen chair beside the kneeling daughter. I silently took it and knelt down and joined in the Hail Marys and the Holy Marys and the Glory Be to the Father at the end of each decade.
And I was slightly surprised how clear was my recall of the little prayer they always put in after the Glory Be: "Jesus forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of Your mercy.”
The father and the mother were seated in soft fat comfortable chairs either side of the glowing Stanley range. The curtains were not drawn on the window behind her head.
Through the glass I could see a wonderfully bright November moon and a scatter of stars.
The daughter beside me, and the son, are both in their twenties now, both primary school teachers. I know they both have homes of their own and the daughter is to be married next year. They would be the breed of children who will always stay close to aging parents.
The mother, though still hale enough, had ongoing health problems most of this year. Thinner than when I saw her last, silvered, she looked well recovered to me as I knelt and said my Hail Marys from the kitchen chair.
Another son, the oldest of them, is married now, lives less than a mile away, has children of his own and has taken over the farm.
The atmosphere of the farmhouse was special. It was contemplative in a highly spiritual way that I'd forgotten.
We said the Rosary in our house when the children were small but somehow, mainly because I was away so much covering all of Connaught for the paper, we lost the habit. So did the majority.
It's been many years since I've joined in a country house evening Rosary. The hum of the voices, blurring the individual words of the Hails and Holys into an unbroken undulating kind of vocal stream, is indeed a mantra with a power above and beyond the words themselves. Families pray on the same vocal frequency, they have the one harmony. My twangy Ulster voice was different. I lowered it after a minute or two so it better harmonized.
It was a night for the Sorrowful Mysteries. The daughter was leading the third decade when I entered. The fourth decade was led by her brother.
Clearly the parents had already led the first two decades. The images of the Scourging and Veronica wiping the Master's face were still hanging there somehow.
When the daughter came to the glory there was the briefest of pauses after her father said "The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord on the Cross,” and I knew that was my decade, as the visitor, if I was so inclined.
And, without a break, I began the 10 Hail Marys of the decade, feeling truly and deeply welcomed into the family circle.
They cut no corners of the ritual. There was the Hail Holy Queen after the decades and then the Litany to the Blessed Virgin: "Pray for us...pray for us…Mystical Rose...Mother Most Chaste...Mother Most Venerable...Tower of David...House of Gold..."
Then they had the trimmings, those venerable special prayers for family and neighbors and friends. And the closing prayers. And we blessed ourselves and those of us who were kneeling stood up.
And then I was hugged and welcomed and in less than 10 minutes I had a glass of whiskey in my hand. I hid from them the truth that I was emotional almost to the point of tears. I hid it with a joke: "You crowd pray so loud that I'd swear they can hear ye in Kilkee."
Coming home later under that moon, I thought to myself how cruelly treated and misled and abused our beautiful pure people were for so long by so many among the Catholic clergy up to the highest level.
I thought that it had been so long, in this modern and complex Ireland, since I heard such trusting and powerful and purifying fervor as I experienced in my kneeling behind the bare kitchen chair for the duration of one family's Rosary.
And I was uplifted. That's God's honest truth.