The tradition of the Station Masses existed in many parts of Ireland. The practice has dropped off significantly in recent years but it is alive and well in the parish of Greenlough. Even in Greenlough, there are no longer Stations in the month of October, but there are 12 during Lent.
More than a house Mass
People may have Mass in their home for a special occasion like a wedding anniversary or when a house is new or has been renovated, or just for the devotional benefit of the family and friends. A Station Mass is more than that. On the occasion of a Station Mass, a family opens up their home so that Mass may be offered for the townland, or a group of townlands, or the surrounding area or neighbourhood. It is a family home at the service of the community.
Some of the traditional practices associated with the Stations underline that community aspect: the blessing of holy water and salt, which the neighbours may bring home with them; the availability of Confession, and in the past the opportunity for people to pay a seasonal stipend to the priest, linked perhaps to his fuel needs and fodder for his horse. In parts of the Donegal Gaeltacht, the Confession aspect was central enough to give the name “Na Faoistíní” — the Confessions — to the actual Stations.
Rooted in the experience of the Penal Times
Ireland has a unique privilege in relation to the Station Masses and Mass in the home. The acceptance of Mass in someone’s family home as a normal thing, as part of the regular liturgical practice of the Church, has its roots in Penal times. When Mass was forbidden, and Mass in church buildings was not an option, people went to great lengths and suffered great hardship and risk in order to attend Mass at a Mass Rock, on a hillside or in a hidden glen. It was the Mass that mattered, and not where it was celebrated. We, the descendants of the people of Penal times and famine times in Ireland, have inherited the privilege that they won for us by their faith and their suffering and their courage. It is one of the reasons that Fr. Faber’s hymn, Faith of our Fathers, though not written originally for Ireland, has such a deep and personal resonance for Irish people to this day.