By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — And a grand and glorious Sunday morning was Sept. 20 — birds chirping, a light breeze and a whole lotta sunshine. What a day to celebrate Mass outside!
It was the second annual Hedgerow Mass, sponsored by the St. Joseph Ancient Order of Hibernians and held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, near Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. About 200 people joined the Hibernians in remembering the centuries of British persecution of Catholics in Ireland, when priests were forced to celebrate Mass in hidden caves, remote wooded areas or on hillsides for fear of discovery by forces of the Crown. Discovery could mean banishment, imprisonment or death. But the Catholics of Ireland persisted in their faith, and those who fled Ireland to start again in America brought that faith with them.
The Mass that morning was outdoors, but in the open, in front of a thickly grown “wall” of tall trees, which served as the hedgerow.
Those attending brought blankets or lawn chairs or sat on chairs brought from the K of C hall. Students from the Bishop LeBlond High School Singers, Ellie Huey, Matthew Huey and Duncan Ottinger, accompanied Allison Stewart, cantor and musician at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in the liturgical music and hymns. A color guard clad in kilts, came from the Overland Park, Kan., Hibernian Division, bearing flags, led the entrance and recessional processions and stood behind the altar during the Mass. Charlie Lamont carried the Papal flag; Gerard Walsh carried the Irish flag and Larry Shepard carried the U.S. flag. A member of the Padraig Pearse Division in Kansas City was also present, so three Hibernian Divisions were represented.
In the homily, the congregation was reminded of the last Sunday’s Gospel, in which Jesus said the Son of Man would suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, then rise after three days. The Apostles were disturbed and Peter argued with Jesus, saying don’t talk like that! Jesus rebuked Peter, saying “‘… You are thinking like men, not like God.’” (Mark 8:27-35)
“The Jews were expecting a victor king, a Messiah who would ride in with an army and kick the Romans out of Israel. But Jesus taught the Apostles about his suffering and death, adding his resurrection to the mix. The Apostles still had no clue, and they stopped asking him questions because they were at the limits of their understanding. They then began arguing among themselves, who was the greatest among them.
“Jesus knew what they were arguing about, and put his arms around a small, pre-verbal child standing nearby, ‘he said to them, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.’” (Mark 9:30-37).
Jesus is a victor king, the celebrant said. “Christ is the Greek word for Messiah. He conquered sin and death without armaments. He had nothing, no one was there,” except John, his mother and a few other women, “to thank him when he died on the cross and changed the world.
“The Irish know what it means to need a Messiah,” he said. “Large sections of the people would do whatever it took to attend Mass in out of the way, hidden places. The priest would be disguised and lookouts posted.
“On the holy altar today, we celebrate the sacrifice that changed the world and assured us we would have every opportunity to have the possibility of peace in the world. That same sacrifice was offered at every Mass of our Irish ancestors. They would rather have died than miss a Mass, hence the hedgerow Masses. They knew that without God, there is no life.
“We are all called to share in a modicum of Jesus’ bravery and courage. Jesus is real to the Irish. . . . Let us remember the great sacrifice before the Joy. Ask for a small amount of the courage of Jesus, so the world will know that Joy.”
As the Mass concluded, St. Joseph Hibernian Mike Gallagher read the names of deceased members of the division and all joined him in the Prayer of St. Patrick (St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “I arise today through a mighty strength … Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me … Christ in every ear that hears me. I arise today through a mighty strength; the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation … May thy salvation, Oh Lord, be ever with us.”
Hibernian Shane McDonald organized the Hedgerow Masses last year and this. A Hibernian for 15 years, he explained why, “This is an Irish-Catholic organization, founded in New York City during the Civil War here in this country. It was founded to protect priests and the Church. So we pay homage to the time in Ireland when Catholics were persecuted and the faith repressed.”
Keeping with tradition, a full Irish breakfast — eggs, white and black puddings, ham and sausage, sliced tomatoes, soda bread and coffee was served inside the hall following the Mass. Proceeds from the breakfast and the bar benefitted St. James, St. Francis Xavier and Cathedral schools and the Second Harvest Food bank in St. Joseph.