Tag Archives: Protestants



St Fidelis was born at Sigmaringen in Germany in 1578. He was a lawyer, and then entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin at Freiburg in Breisgau. He lived a life of prayer and penance, and gained a great reputation as a preacher. He was sent by the newly-formed Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to preach the Protestants in Switzerland, where he was put to death by a group of fanatics in 1622.


you filled Saint Fidelis with the fire of your love
and gave him the privilege of dying
that the faith might live.
Let his prayers keep us firmly grounded in your love,
and help us to come to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Through Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.


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“…discovery in a Catholic place of worship could result in arrest and even death…”


A body of anti-Catholic legislation, known as the Penal Laws, was introduced in the late-16th and 17th centuries. These punitive measures were enacted by the English administrators in an effort to force the Irish renounce their Catholic faith. They removed Catholics’ voting rights and prohibited them from becoming members of municipal boroughs or parliament. They deprived Catholics of education, and from inheriting, buying or leasing land. They couldn’t even own a horse valued above £5! Membership to the legal profession, the army and public offices was prohibited.

From 1690 a number of discriminatory measures were introduced directed at strictly controlling the activities of the Catholic clergy and ridding the country of its religious leadership. The first two decades of the 18th century were particularly difficult. Restrictions on Catholic worship included the banning of public ceremonies involving clergy while many churches were destroyed or handed over to the Protestant faith. The 1704 Registration Act required Catholic priests to register with the authorities. Those who didn’t faced death or deportation. Many priests refused to register and went into hiding.


Penal Mass sites still dot the Irish landscape. These include Mass houses and Mass rocks. According to Fr Kevin Bartley, Editor of “Penal Places, Artefacts and People in the Archdiocese of Dublin”, Penal Mass sites also included fields, caves and ditches in rural areas, while stables and outhouses were used in the urban areas. Mass Houses were usually located in concealed places to ensure worshippers would not be easily taken unawares by the forces of the Crown.

The venue changed in order to protect those hosting the Mass as well as the celebrant and the laity. Word was put about locally that Mass would be said in a particular house on a particular day. The neighbours would gather for what was often the only opportunity to attend Mass for a long time. The priest would come with his “Mass kit”, which included a specially designed cross with short arms for easy concealment up his sleeve. This Mass became known in Ireland as the “Station Mass” because of the random location and the need to move from place to place.

Some houses became known as regular venues for Mass and so became referred to as Mass Houses. More of these emerged as the Penal Laws were repealed, allowing Catholics to worship more freely. In 1795, the first Catholic seminary in Ireland was established at Maynooth, Co Kildare. After Catholic Emancipation in 1829, which secured Catholics the right to take their place in civil society, Mass Houses continued to provide places of worship because of the lack of churches. From the middle of the 19th century onwards, the situation began to change as a church building campaign was undertaken to cater for the Catholic population, despite the after effects of the horrific Famine years.


Visitors to the Church of the Annunciation in the Dublin parish of Rathfarnham are often struck by a holy water font at the front door which bears the inscription: “Font used in Mass house of penal times in the parish of Rathfarnham from 1732”. The font is a link between the “new” church, which dates from 1878, and an old penal Mass House, which dates from 1730 and which parishioners attended prior to Catholic Emancipation. The remains of the Mass House are located behind the current penal times it was screened from the main road by thick shrubbery and was approached by the faithful via a discrete Mass path along the Owendore River. The historical record shows that there was, in fact, a Mass House on this site as early as 1697, when Fr Timothy Kelly is mentioned as the first parish priest of Rathfarnham.


Local historian, Tony Duffy, whose family goes back three generations in Rathfarnham, explains that in penal times networks were established to keep Catholics supplied with school teachers and priests. According to the parish newsletter, “Priests, especially, were hunted down by the Crown forces and put to death, usually by beheading. Despite it being an offence to send children abroad for education, many young men went to the seminaries of Europe – Paris, Rome, Louvain and Salamanca. There was a steady flow of young priests into Ireland with one particular route being from Salamanca to Kinsale. One story of the time refers to priests making their way through the countryside, posing as Spaniards. The code name used was “Pablo” when asked for identification, meaning in reality, “Padre”.

In his homily on Pentecost Sunday 2012, when 500 members of the parish gathered at the ancient Mass House, Fr Des Hayden praised the dedication of the volunteers who worked to recover the ruin. “Three hundred years ago, even though it was dangerous for them to do so, people gathered where we are standing now to celebrate their faith. And so strong was their faith in Christ’s presence among them and in the Eucharist that they were willing to take great risks to do so. Despite the fact that they suffered discrimination and opposition because of their Catholic faith, they kept that faith alive. Think of the courage and determination it would have taken them to be standing here where we are today. How hard it is, thank God, to quench the spirit!” He also underlined to the assembled crowd, “In every generation it always is, and always has been, the people who keep the faith alive. You are the ones who pass on the faith as a living and lived reality from generation to generation.”… A recognition of people’s brave perseverance in the faith in times of persecution – an inspiration to keep the flame of faith alight in our own times.
– The above are excerpts from an article by Sarah MacDonald published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, October 2012 issue. For subscriptions etc. Contact: Messenger of Saint Anthony, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy


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Some years ago, as I pulled my rental car into the parking lot of the Catholic parish where I would be giving a lecture that evening, I glanced up at the large, non-denominational Protestant church standing prominently on a nearby hill. What caught my eye was a large banner stretched across its facade that read in big, bold letters: GUILT SHOW.

“GUILT show? What’s a guilt show?” I asked myself, puzzled by the enigmatic message. It didn’t take long, though, before I had figured it out. Those Protestants up there on that hill were mocking Catholics, I reasoned indignantly. The folks who attend this parish have to see that banner every time they come to Mass. Why else would it be so prominently displayed?

“Guilt show” must obviously express those people’s disdain for the Catholic sacrament of confession. After all, those Protestants believe in the doctrine of eternal security: “once saved, always saved”. In other words, that “true Christians” cannot lose their salvation. They regard the Catholic emphasis on guilt and confession and examining one’s conscience to be wrong and unbiblical. So I was certain that that’s what the banner meant. Clearly, those Protestants up on the hill were mocking Catholics! I asked the parish secretary what she thought it meant. “Oh, I never really noticed it,” she said. But when I explained what I thought it meant, a look of dismay crossed her face. It had never occurred to her that the next-door neighbours up the hill might be making fun of her and her fellow Catholics.

I decided to “take the bull by the horns” and call the Protestant church to ask them directly about the banner. “Hi, I’m from out of town,” I told the friendly receptionist who answered the phone, “and I am curious about the banner you have out front. What does “guilt show” mean? Is it intended to be some kind of message for Catholics?” “Guilt show?” she asked, befuddled by my question. She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, you mean the QUILT show banner,” she chuckled. “Yes, we’re hosting a quilt show here next weekend and everyone’s invited.”

Boy, did I feel stupid. Sheepishly, I explained that the banner must have been folded a little – just enough to make the “Q” in “quilt” look like a “G” as in “guilt”. She said she’d have the janitor smooth it out so it would read properly. I thanked her and hung up, ashamed of myself for having so quickly jumped to the (totally erroneous) conclusion that “those Protestants” up on their hill were taunting Catholics. In my haste to account for the banner I had assumed ill-will on their part, concluding without any evidence that their motives were dishonourable.

I had done, albeit in a minor way, exactly what Jesus tells us not to do: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).

The memory of that incident has never left me. Ever since, whenever I have been tempted to assume the worst of others based solely on appearances, or impute bad motives to someone who disagrees with me, or judge other people’s hearts, I think of that banner. Maybe God intended it to read GUILT SHOW, just for me. After all, it showed me I had something in my eye. –
This article by Patrick Madrid was published in “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, January 2013 issue. Contact for subscriptions etc.: “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, Basilica del Santo, via Orto Botanico 11, 35123 Padua, Italy.


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