No – the Church of Ireland is that part of the Irish Church which was influenced by the Reformation, and has its origins in the early Celtic Church of St Patrick.
Since the days of the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century European states saw themselves as having a central role in the government of the Church. This church-state link was vigorously applied when the Normans came to Ireland in the 12th century. Bishops were required to do homage to the king for their lands, just like earls and barons, who were vassals of the crown. It was therefore accepted, both during and after the Reformation, that the crown should continue to exercise that authority over the church, in which it continued to play a central role. In this way, church property that existed at the time of the Reformation, buildings included, was retained by the reformed, established (state) Church of Ireland.
In the 19th century, at the time of the Disestablishment of the Church, its property was confiscated by the state. However, schools, churches and cathedrals were given back, and remain in the possession of the Church to the present day.
No. At the time of the Reformation, the English crown (which had jurisdiction over Ireland) claimed to govern the Church of Ireland. For centuries the monarch held that position in the Church of Ireland as the official state Church.
However from 1871, when the Church of Ireland was disestablished, and ceased to be the state Church, the crown and government have had no authority or constitutional role in the Church in any part of Ireland.
No. The Church of Ireland is a self-governing part of the Anglican Communion, which means that it is in communion with the See of Canterbury. But it is not under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church of Ireland is led by the Archbishop of Armagh (Primate of All Ireland) and the Archbishop of Dublin (Primate of Ireland).
The Lambeth Conference (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ten yearly meeting of Anglican bishops and certain others in full communion) usually issues statements on major theological and moral issues, for the guidance of the various member Churches but they must be accepted by the individual Churches before they become effective. The Church of Ireland is governed only by the preamble and declaration to its own constitution which requires it to:
accept and unfeignedly believe all the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testament . . . as containing all things necessary to salvation
profess the faith of Christ as professed by the primitive church
maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry
The Church of Ireland is sometimes called “Anglican” because it is part of an international fellowship of churches known as the Anglican Communion. This communion is called “Anglican” because many of these churches owe their origin to the missionary outreach of the Church of England (formerly known as Ecclesia Anglicana) and both morally and canonically have looked to Canterbury.
Each Church in the Communion is independent with its own pattern of synodical government, by bishops and representatives of the clergy and laity.
The bishops meet in conference, usually every ten years, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Any resolutions made by the conference, while in their own right carrying considerable weight, become operable in the different Churches only when they have been officially accepted by them. The struggle to maintain independence and interdependence in communion, challenges these churches to face the attendant issues of identity and authority.
It is both Protestant and Catholic. For this reason it is incorrect to refer to members of the Church of Ireland as ‘non–Catholic’.
The terms Protestant and Catholic are not really opposites. There are Catholics who accept the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Often in consequence they are called Roman Catholics. But there are other Catholics who do not accept the Pope’s jurisdiction or certain doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Some are called Protestant or Reformed Catholics. Among them are members of the Church of Ireland and the other Churches of the Anglican Communion.
It follows therefore that the terms ‘Protestant’ and ‘Reformed’ should be contrasted with ‘Roman’ and not with ‘Catholic’.
The Church of Ireland is Catholic because it is in possession of a continuous tradition of faith and practice, based on Scripture and early traditions, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, together with the sacraments and apostolic ministry.
The Church of Ireland is Protestant, or Reformed, because it affirms ‘its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship, whereby the Primitive Faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid.’ (Preamble and Declaration to the Constitution of the Church of Ireland of 1870, 1.3)
So there are Catholics who are in communion with Rome and Catholics who are not. But all by baptism belong in the one Church of Christ.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. The Nicene Creed – said at the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church of Ireland.
Churches which resulted from the sixteenth century Reformation, and from the subsequent divisions in these churches, although varying in their beliefs and practices, and not always in any official relationship with each other, are generally known as Protestant Churches.
The Church of Ireland is a Protestant Church in so far as it shares with these churches opposition to those innovations in doctrine and worship that appear contrary to Scripture and led to the Reformation.
However it differs from these churches in retaining elements of the pre–Reformation faith and practice which they have rejected or lost.
The Church of Ireland maintains a liturgical pattern of worship, observing the feasts and fasts of the Catholic liturgical year. It remembers the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints on special days. It retains many of the rites and ceremonies of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church.
The Church of Ireland has within its fellowship religious orders of men and women, under the traditional threefold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Church of Ireland emphasises the importance of the Sacraments. It administers the two Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, as well as the sacramental ministries of confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, absolution and healing. (Church of Ireland Revised Catechism)
The Church of Ireland has retained the structure of the pre–Reformation Catholic Church and is no stranger to words like parish, bishop, diocese, priest, sanctuary, confirmation, eucharist, synod and to all for which they stand.
As a result [of events which are commonly referred to as the Reformation] many communions, national and confessional, were separated from the Roman See. Among those in which Catholic traditions and institutions continue to exist the Anglican Communion occupies a special place. Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, III, 13.
The chief difference is that one Church is under the jurisdiction of the Pope and the other is not. This results in certain importance differences of belief and practice. However, it should be noted that the beliefs and practices held in common greatly outweigh those that separate the two Churches.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope has, by divine right, jurisdiction over the universal Church, and that in certain circumstances his utterances are infallible. The Church of Ireland does not accept either of these teachings, and resists the claim of the Pope to rule over and speak for the universal Church.
Furthermore the Roman Catholic Church teaches that belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in her Corporal assumption, are necessary for salvation. These beliefs had for a long time been widespread in Catholic Christendom, but were regarded with varying degrees of certainty. However, within the last hundred and fifty years, the Roman catholic Church has pronounced them to be necessary for salvation.
The Church of Ireland teaches that neither Holy Scripture, nor the understanding of the Scriptures by the early Fathers of the Church, support these doctrines.
The Church of Ireland, as a Reformed and Protestant Church, doth hereby re–affirm its constant witness against all those innovations in doctrine and worship whereby the Primitive faith hath been from time to time defaced or overlaid, and which at the Reformation this Church did disown and reject. (Preamble and Declaration of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland 1870, 1.3)
Every member of the Church of Ireland who has reached the age of eighteen years and lives in the parish, or who attends the parish church, is entitled to be registered as a member of the general vestry, subject, if the diocesan synod so requires, to making a minimum annual contribution to church funds.
The general vestry of the parish meets annually to elect the select vestry which is the committee, chaired by the incumbent (rector or vicar) of the parish, that has responsibility for the administration of the parish finances and care of the buildings.
Every third year, the general vestry elects other officers, including the parish’s representatives to the diocesan synod.
The lay persons elected by the general vestries of all the parishes of the diocese, together with the clergy, sit on the diocesan synod. This synod meets under the presidency of the Bishop, and has responsibility for many aspects of diocesan life. For instance, it elects the diocesan council (comprising lay and clerical members) which is in a sense the executive committee of the diocesan synod. Every third year the diocesan synod elects the clergy and laity who will represent the diocese on the General Synod.
The General Synod is the supreme legislative authority of the Church of Ireland. Clergy and laity of all the dioceses are represented there, and the General Synod can alter the constitution. The General Synod consists of two Houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Representatives, the latter comprising the other clergy and the laity.
The clergy and laity can vote separately on all questions if they wish to, and the issue is only passed if both clergy and laity assent to it.
The House of Bishops may, if it sees fit, exercise (after very elaborate procedures) what amounts to a veto. However in the century and a quarter since the General Synod was set up, this right has never been exercised.
Until 1871 the Church of Ireland was the Established or state Church of Ireland. Hence its name. When it was disestablished, it adopted a constitution and this in turn gave it government by synod. To act as trustees for the Church and to administer its financial affairs, the Representative Church Body was established by royal charter. This body comprises among its members all the diocesan bishops, with representatives of the clergy and laity from each diocese (elected by the diocesan synods). The staff of the RCB, like the staff of General Synod, is in many ways the civil service of the Church.
Normally, when a vacancy occurs in a parish, the Bishop convenes a meeting of a Board of Nomination consisting of clergy and laity representing both the diocese and the vacant parish. The board selects a name which must be supported by two thirds of the members for nomination to the Bishop. If the Bishop accepts the nomination it is he who makes the appointment, who institutes the new rector and to whom the rector makes his canonical vows.
Yes, (except for the election of the Archbishop of Armagh, which is conducted by the House of Bishops alone). The election of Bishops to all the other dioceses is conducted by an electoral college, which has clerical and lay members elected by the diocesan synods.
The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. This sacrament is called the Eucharist because it is the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. It is also called the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion because it is the meal of fellowship which unites us to Christ and to the whole Church. (Revised Catechism, 50)
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, by Christ’s command, we make continual remembrance of him: we remember his passion and death, we celebrate his resurrection and ascension, and we look for the coming of his kingdom. In doing this we give thanks for the benefits of his sacrifice conveyed to us in the sacrament. In receiving his body and blood, we are strengthened in our union with Christ and his Church, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and we are nourished for eternal life. (Revised Catechism, 54)
The Church of Ireland continues to use an order of service derived from the ancient common practice of the Christian Church. This liturgy is divided into two parts: the ministry of the word and the ministry of the sacrament. In the ministry of the word, passages from the Bible (Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels) are read, and may be followed by a sermon. The congregation affirms its faith using the words of the Nicene Creed, followed by intercession (prayers of the Church), confession of sin and absolution. The ministry of the sacrament is centred on the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper when he took the bread and wine, gave thanks over them, broke the bread and shared the bread and wine with all of his disciples. In the Eucharist, these same words and actions are repeated in response to the command of Jesus: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ .
The Church of Ireland teaches that a sacrament has two parts: an outward and visible sign and an inward and spiritual grace. The outward and visible sign in Holy Communion is bread and wine. The inward and spiritual grace is the body and blood of Christ received in faith, that is the life of the risen Christ. (Revised Catechism, 53)
The Church of Ireland teaches that there is no change in the physical properties of the bread and wine. However, there is a change in the significance they have for worshippers. Through them the life of the risen and glorified Christ is communicated and received by faith. Thus, following consecration, they are considered as Christ’s sacramental body and blood.
It is the glorified Lord himself whom the community of the faithful encounters in the eucharistic celebration through the preaching of the word, in the fellowship of the Lord’s supper, in the heart of the believer, and, in a sacramental way, through the gifts of his body and blood, already given on the cross for their salvation.
(ARCIC, The Final Report, p.21)
The Church of Ireland believes that the Eucharist is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God in which we remember and show forth the sacrifice of Christ, made once for all, on the cross, and receive the benefits of that sacrifice. In response to this we show our thanks by offering our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. (Romans 12: 1)
Communicant members of other Christian churches may receive Holy Communion in the Church of Ireland. This reflects the spirit of the Lambeth Conference resolution, affirmed by the General Synod in 1969: ‘Christians duly baptised in the name of the Holy Trinity and qualified to receive Holy Communion in their own churches may be welcomed at the Lord’s table in the Anglican Communion.’ (The Lambeth Conference 1968, Resolutions and Reports, p.2)
Mary’s special position within God’s purpose of salvation as ‘God bearer’ (theotokos) is recognised in a number of ways. The Church of Ireland affirms in the historic creeds that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and retains in the Church’s calendar the following days on which Mary is especially honoured:
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also called The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin – 2nd February. Jewish law required a mother to offer a purification and thanksgiving sacrifice forty days after the birth of a child. Mary fulfilled this law when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple.
The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary – 25th March. On this day the Church commemorates the choice of Mary to be the Saviour’s mother. This message was conveyed to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, and she humbly accepted her role: ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word’.
The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 31st May. This day commemorates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. The gospel reading includes Mary’s song, the Magnificat, with the words ‘henceforth all generations shall call me blessed’. The Magnificat is appointed for daily use in the Church of Ireland.
The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – 8th September. Because of the importance of Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus, the Church celebrates her birth.
The liturgical tradition within the Church of Ireland has been to honour the saints, including Mary, without invocation. In other words, while we honour Mary, our prayers are offered only to God.
The Church of Ireland shares with all Christian churches a common faith in the Incarnation. Mary is honoured as the person through whom the one who is both divine and human was conceived and born. As the Church of Ireland does not consider belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption to have an adequate basis in Holy Scripture, these feasts are not observed in the Church of Ireland.
Father, almighty and everliving God…
You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:
Preface of the Annunciation,
Alternative Prayer Book, p.68.
The Bible is a collection of texts in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament comprises the sacred scriptures of the Jewish people at the time of Christ.
These writings formed the authoritative scriptures of the earliest Christians. Alongside the Jewish scriptures, writings from within the early Christian community, which came to be known as the New Testament, took on a similarly authoritative role. Among these writings, the gospels bear witness to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The epistles, or letters, help to spell out the centrality and the significance of this for a Christian way of life within the developing Christian movement, and also address practical problems faced by the early believers.
The biblical texts provide a ‘normative record of the authentic foundation of the faith. To these the Church has recourse for the inspiration of its life and mission; to these the Church refers its teaching and practice.’ (ARCIC Final Report, p.52). Because scripture is uniquely inspired it conveys the Word of God in human language.
It is likely that from an early date, when Christians gathered together for worship, they read from such writings of their own as well as from the Jewish scriptures. The Church continues this practice with readings from the Old and New Testament in its worship.
All Christians recognise the same twenty-seven early Christian writings as belonging within the New Testament. There are some books which the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches regard as part of the Old Testament but which the Protestant Churches do not. Protestant Churches generally refer to these books as the Apocrypha, that is, the ‘hidden’ books.
These include, for example, Ecclesiasticus, the Wisdom of Solomon and the books of the Maccabees. The Church of Ireland considers the Apocrypha as worthy of reading by the Church ‘for example of life and instruction of manners’ (Articles of Religion; 6), but not for establishing doctrine.
While there is very considerable historical accuracy in scripture, the experiences of Jews and Christians through the ages bear witness to the truth of the Bible at a deeper level than its recording of data alone. As well as history, the Bible includes poetry, prophecy, parable, story and other types of literature. In their different ways these continue to convey the truth of God.
The Bible tells of God’s relationship with God’s people through the centuries. This record always needs to be interpreted in the context of the church’s faith, prayer and worship, and in such a way that what scripture said for its original audience is faithfully re-expressed for the modern world.
Christians must keep returning to the Bible as they continue to explore the truth of God, for scripture ‘containeth all things necessary to salvation.’ (Articles of Religion; 6). The Church of Ireland believes that the church’s teaching must be founded on and consistent with scripture. We also have a responsibility to use our reason in understanding the Bible in the context of tradition, which is how the church’s interpretation of scripture has developed.
According to the New Testament the saints (Latin, sancti; Greek, hagioi; literally ‘holy people’) are all the members of the Christian church (Acts 9:13, Rom.1:7, 1 Cor.1:2, Eph.1:15, etc.).
Christians are ‘holy people’, ‘saints’, not because they are morally perfect but because God has made them ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Peter 2:9). To be a ‘Saint’ is to be part of a community; the word is nearly always used in the plural in the New Testament, and refers to the important truth that Christians are not meant to live in lonely isolation but as members together in the body of Christ. The ‘saints’ to whom St Paul wrote in Corinth, for example, were far from being morally perfect; in fact, there were serious faults among them. Yet God had made them a holy people, and the apostle urged them to grow up into what God had made them. While all Christians are members of the holy people of God, it is obvious that they vary greatly in holiness, from the luke–warm to those of heroic sanctity. This was true even in the time of the New Testament itself. After that period the term ‘saint’ gradually came to be applied to those of outstanding holiness, especially the martyrs. The days of their deaths, if known, were observed as their ‘birthdays’ into eternal life. Christians thanked God for their holy lives and for the inspiration of their examples. They were conscious of their fellowship with the saints in their worship and in their everyday life. The celebration of saints’ days is a reminder of the calling of all of us. The Church of Ireland calendar appoints saints’ days for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Christ’s apostles and other notable disciples mentioned in the New Testament. It also includes great figures of the early Irish church, like Patrick, Columba and Brigid. Lesser–known saints, too, are remembered in the dedication of many of our churches.
In its authorised worship the Church of Ireland does not pray to the saints but with the saints. Our worship is addressed to God alone, but we are conscious of the saints, both living and departed, both the exceptional and the ordinary, as our fellow worshippers. Christ’s church includes the blessed dead along with those still on earth. We worship God ‘with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven’ (Eucharistic Prayer, BCP 2004), with ‘The glorious company of apostles… the noble fellowship of prophets… the white–robed army of martyrs’ (Te Deum). In addition we observe saints’ days when we thank God for their holy lives and pray that we may follow their examples. As well as those exceptional Christians to whom the church has given the title ‘saint’ we praise God for all those whose holiness is known to God alone on All Saints’ Day (1 November), remembering that we are ‘knit together’ with them ‘in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ]’ (Collect of All Saints’ Day). Hence ‘the communion of saints’ (Apostles’ Creed) is an important reality for our worship and our lives as Christians on earth.
The Bible is clear that, after the death of our bodies, we all will face God’s judgement, and also that there is the hope of life with God, fuller and more wonderful than this one.
Beyond that we have no certain knowledge of the details of life after death. The Bible uses pictorial language, as in Christ’s parables and in the Book of Revelation, to convey the reality of judgement and eternal life, but these are not literal descriptions. Indeed, it is impossible that human beings with their limited understanding and experience could either envisage or communicate an exact or literal account of what happens after death.
The Church of Ireland, in common with the rest of the Anglican Communion, is faithful to the Bible’s reticence on this subject and does not require from its members any belief not clearly taught in the Bible. Many questions are left open and we can exercise our judgement on them. For example, is there progress after death or is the final state of each individual reached at the moment of death? The Bible does not give a definite answer to these questions either way. A complicating factor is the question of time in eternity. We cannot assume that time continues in the same way after death as it does before. The day of judgement is not a date in human reckoning that can be known. Judgement may be going on all the time, as some verses in St John’s Gospel suggest (e.g. “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out” John 12:31).
On these and similar questions, many Anglicans hold one view, others hold another, and still others suspend judgement.
‘And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.’ (John 17:3). That is, eternal life is a relationship with the eternal God. According to the Bible, eternal life is a gift of God to us through our faith in Jesus Christ, not a natural endowment. St Paul wrote, ‘this mortal nature must put on immortality’ (1 Cor. 15:53, italics added). Eternal life refers primarily to the quality, rather than the duration, of life. The converse of this state of blessedness is hell, or separation from God. Eternal life can begin on this earth but it does not end with our death. We have been created with a desire for communion with God, and God satisfies this desire by holding us in being, in this life and beyond this life, with a love that is stronger than death.
The human person is a physical body with a spiritual dimension, described by such words as ‘mind’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’. The Bible treats a human being as a unity, rather than as a soul imprisoned in a body. God’s gift of eternal life is richer, fuller, certainly not less, than physical life. Hence, in the fuller life beyond this one, there will be something corresponding to our bodies, but we cannot possibly envisage the precise nature of such life. Belief in ‘the resurrection of the body’ means that God brings the whole of us to life again after death, not just a part of us.
Should we pray for anyone? If God knows what is best, need we ask for it? Christ clearly encouraged us to pray for each other and for ourselves (Matt.7:7-11), and it is a deeply engrained instinct to do so. We naturally pray for those we love, and we are commanded to pray for those who do not love us (Matt.5:44). But since God knows better than we do what is best for everyone, our prayer cannot be to change God’s will but to align our wills with that of God. In moving us to pray, God gives us a share in fulfilling the Father’s perfect will for all creation.
Should we, then, pray for the dead? On the understanding of prayer given above, if we pray for the dead we are not telling God what to do for them but aligning our love for them with God’s perfect love. Prayer for those on this earth is not always a specific request for a specific need. We often don’t know what is best for someone, but we bring their situation to God in prayer asking for the fulfilment of God’s perfect love for them and offering our love for them to God.
Do the dead need our prayers? It has been argued that the dead are either in a state of perfect holiness and happiness, or have finally and irrevocably rejected God’s love. For those in one state, prayer is unnecessary, and for those in the other, it is futile. But the Bible does not enable us to be so certain about the state of the dead or to say dogmatically that prayer for them is either unnecessary or futile.
Anglicans disagree about the rightness of specific petitions for the departed and the official documents of the Church of Ireland leave the question open. It is significant that prayers for the dead were not rejected in the 39 Articles. Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer remember the faithful departed, thank God for their good examples and pray, ‘that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory’ (The Burial of the Dead). This and similar petitions can be understood to be for the living only, or for both the living and departed. Anglican comprehensiveness allows for difference of interpretation on such matters. Anglicans believe that the Church, the body of Christ, encompasses the living and the faithful departed. Many believe it right to ask that God’s perfect will be fulfilled in them and in us, and all can remember them before God and thank God for them.
‘Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love.’ (BCP page 357)
Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan by John and this marked the beginning of his earthly ministry’ (Mark 1:9-11). Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he commanded his disciples to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. (Matthew 28:18). For over two thousand years Jesus’ followers have begun their Christian lives with the sacrament of baptism. The water of baptism is a visible sign of the grace which God conveys in the sacrament. God’s gift in baptism is new birth in Christ, a new direction in life as God’s child, and a calling to be a lifelong, faithful disciple of Christ.
No. Baptism can take place at any age. In the Church of Ireland most people are baptised as infants. Children are baptised before they can answer for themselves so that they become fully included in the life of the Church. Adults who have not been baptised, or who convert to Christianity, also receive the sacrament of baptism. If they do not know whether or not they have been baptised, they should receive conditional baptism. Baptism is a sacrament which, for any individual, cannot be repeated or undone, because it represents God’s once-for-all gift and calling to those baptised. If baptised persons want to affirm their faith at a later stage, the proper procedure is to present themselves for Confirmation or to renew their baptismal vows.
It is both a privilege and a responsibility to be asked to be a godparent (also known as sponsor). The godparent promises to help care for the spiritual welfare of the child. It is important therefore that the godparents can answer honestly the declarations of faith and that they will be committed to supporting and praying for their godchild.
Baptism welcomes the candidates into the Christian family and the congregation promises to support and pray for them and their parents and godparents (or sponsors). Therefore, the baptism service ideally takes place within a time of public worship. In some situations, or in the case of an emergency baptism, it will be appropriate to have the baptism at another time. At the baptism of infants, parents and godparents are required to make promises on behalf of the child and to undertake to ‘encourage them in the life and faith of the Christian Community’ and to ‘care for them, and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church’ (BCP page 361).
As they are answering on behalf of the child, they must also affirm their own Christian faith. Those being presented for baptism will then have water poured on their heads. Water declares God’s presence in the life of the candidates and signifies that they become God’s adopted children and members of the Church. The sign of the cross is made on the forehead as a visible sign of belonging to Christ: ‘Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of the cross. Live as a disciple of Christ’ (BCP page 362). As baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, a lighted candle may be presented with the words ‘You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’ (BCP page 367).
After baptism it is the responsibility of the parents, godparents and the wider Church to ensure that each newly baptised child or adult is welcomed and nurtured in the faith as a member of the local and worldwide Christian family. In the fellowship of the Christian community, it is the responsibility of the baptised to make God’s gift in baptism their own by sincere faith and resolute commitment to Christ. Otherwise God’s gift in baptism is not accepted. Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity does not confer membership of just one denomination, but rather of the whole Christian family.
Confirmation is the rite at which those who have been baptised seek the blessing of the Holy Spirit for their growth as Christians.
The confirmation candidates first confirm the promises of their baptism. Then the bishop lays hands on them, praying that God’s Spirit will confirm, strengthen and guide them to live out their faith in their everyday lives.
As children we often adopt our parents’ beliefs and practices but as we grow older we develop our own opinions and beliefs. This is part of the transition into adulthood, which is marked by many different stages – moving to secondary school, becoming a teenager, wanting to choose our own styles of clothes and music. In the Christian faith there is also a stage of transition when young people may feel that they want to make their own declaration of faith and commit their life to Christ. This transition is normally marked by confirmation. It is a service in which the young people confirm for themselves, and publicly before family, friends and the wider Church, the promises made on their behalf at their baptism. However, confirmation is not just something for teenagers but can take place whenever an individual desires to make a faith commitment. Sometimes young people come before they reach their teens and others come as adults.
The candidates renew their baptismal vows before the bishop; and as in baptism, the congregation is asked to support the candidates in their life of faith. The bishop then asks each candidate by name, ‘Do you …. believe and accept the Christian faith into which you are baptized?’
The candidates then affirm their faith, together with the congregation, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. After this, they kneel before the bishop, who lays hands on each one, praying,
‘Confirm …. O Lord, with your heavenly grace, that he/she may continue to be yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he/she comes to your eternal kingdom. Amen.’
Holy Communion or Eucharist is when Christians draw especially close to God. In some parts of the Anglican Communion individuals who have been baptised do not have to be ‘confirmed’ to receive Holy Communion. In the Church of Ireland, admission to Holy Communion has usually presupposed confirmation.
By making a public affirmation of faith the candidates take responsibility for themselves as members of Christ’s Church. When the bishop asks, ‘Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?’ and ‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?’, the candidates respond, ‘With the help of God, I will’. This demonstrates both their commitment and their recognition of their dependence on God to live a Christian life.
Quotations from The Book of Common Prayer 2004, © The Representative Church Body, of the Church of Ireland, 2004
A schoolgirl said to her teacher in a religion class, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe all this stuff about trinities and things.’ The teacher replied, ‘Think for a moment about what God is. Write it down’. The girl wrote, ‘God somehow started it all. He has something to do with Jesus. And he’s still around.’
God becomes known to us in three ways. God is the creator, without whom nothing would exist. We know God supremely and most fully in Jesus Christ, the human face of God, God in so far as he can be contained in a truly human life. And the God whom Jesus shows us is still with us and in us. The facts of Christian experience force us to confess that the one God exists primarily in three ways, which Church sums up by the doctrine of the Trinity, the three ‘persons’ in the one Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (also often referred to as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier). This way of speaking does not explain the being of God but is the best human language can do to point to the mystery of who God is.
The Church of Ireland, in common with most Christian churches, shares in the worship of God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. Yet many people, believers and non-believers alike, find the doctrine of the Holy Trinity perplexing. What does it mean to affirm that God is three persons in one God? In one sense, a perplexed response is appropriate, since the language in which the doctrine of the Trinity is classically expressed – ‘three persons in one substance’ – was designed specifically both to name and to protect the mystery of God.
A mystery, however, is not the same as a puzzle: puzzles end when solved, whereas mysteries are lived with. Perplexity at the doctrine of the Trinity should signal that we are in the presence of mystery, and not that we are confronted by a complicated mathematical puzzle. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is intended as an invitation to explore the mystery of God, and not as a puzzle for clever people to solve.
It is to the history of the early church that we must turn in order to witness the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity. A great deal of early Christian literature – including the New Testament – employed Trinitarian-sounding language, such as ‘Father’, ‘Son,’ ‘Word,’ ‘Spirit’, but this is not yet fully developed.
As it reflected on the theological significance of Jesus Christ, the church struggled to acknowledge a number of realities. It affirmed the central Jewish belief that there is only one God. This is the religious tradition within which Jesus of Nazareth lived. Yet, without diluting their commitment to this central belief, early Christian writers confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. And at an early stage, when speaking of Jesus, Christians deliberately echoed the way in which the Old Testament speaks of Israel’s God (e.g., Lord, Word, Spirit, Wisdom, Son of God, etc.). A further influence on the church’s reflections was its experience that the Holy Spirit of God had been poured out on all God’s people ‘Then afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…’ (Joel 2.28).
This was a complex, and not always attractive, period of struggle within the church. Non-doctrinal factors were often to the fore in the church’s deliberations. Yet in 381, when the church met at its second General Council at Constantinople, it reached two vitally significant doctrinal decisions. First, it restored the phrase ‘of one substance with the Father’ in its confession of the Eternal Son in the church’s creed. Second, confessing the Holy Spirit, the Nicene (or more correctly, the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan) Creed attributes full divinity to the Holy Spirit: ‘…who with Father and Son is worshipped glorified…’ These phrases in the creed, which remain a central part of Christian worship, express the church’s teaching on the Trinity.
Prayerful acknowledgement of the Trinity abounds in the church’s liturgy: the liturgical year traditionally runs from the season of Advent through to its climax at Trinity Sunday; new members are baptized ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’; psalms and canticles conclude by glorifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit; sermons are frequently delivered ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;’ and the blessing pronounced by priest or bishop at the end of an act of worship, is ‘the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ Those who worship in the Church of Ireland traditions are familiar with the invocation of the Holy Trinity. What do we mean by using these ancient words in today’s liturgy?
Abundant Trinitarian language in liturgy does not entail great familiarity with the doctrine. This is not surprising. The church’s most important statements of belief – its creeds – are deliberately brief and are concerned primarily with excluding a small number of beliefs considered dangerous to the Christian faith. Where do we find a clear statement of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity? Neither the Apostles’ Creed nor the Nicene Creed uses the word ‘trinity:’ indeed, whilst the Church confesses God as Trinity, it has never given official sanction to any particular account of this doctrine. Hence, the church has always had a rich range of Trinitarian confession in prayers, hymns and other aspects of its liturgical life.
Anglican Christians name the mystery of God as Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In doing so, we anchor our religious language in a particular tradition which was shaped by centuries of prayerful reflection on the person of Jesus and the church’s experience of God. This doctrine reminds us, as Christians, that the mystery of God is revealed to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and it invites us to explore this gracious mystery as disciples of this Jesus.
Marriage is an institution going back to early civilizations. In many societies it was a civil rather than a religious ceremony. The essential element has always been the contract agreed between the couple.
In the early days of the Church, Christians married in the same way as everyone else, according to local custom. There was no Christian marriage service.
Over time, the celebration of a civil marriage in the home was often blessed by the local bishop or priest. Once Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire, the marriage service gradually moved from the home to the door of the local church. Eventually the whole ceremony came to be conducted inside the church, the local priest acting in a civil as well as a religious role, providing proper legal records.
What was once a private arrangement between families and/or a couple is now regulated by church and civil law throughout the world.
The Church of Ireland teaches that “marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.“ (Canon 31).
The Church of Ireland position is that one party to the marriage within the Church of Ireland has to be a member of the Church of Ireland, or a church in communion with it. This applies equally to any minister invited to preside, who must have the permission of the rector of the parish. There is no specific religious requirement for the second party to the marriage; all are welcome, provided they are content to be married according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Ireland.
The last few decades have seen dramatic changes in inter–church relations, and one of the most visible effects has been the attitude of both churches to inter–church marriages. The strictness of the Roman Catholic Ne Temere decree has been replaced by the much more liberal Matrimonia Mixa.
Roman Catholic Canon Law requires that when a Roman Catholic marries a member of the Church of Ireland they need to obtain a “Permission” to marry a baptized member of another Christian church. To obtain this Permission, the Roman Catholic partner has to promise “to do what you can within the unity of your partnership to have all the children of your marriage baptized and brought up in the (Roman) Catholic faith.” No written or verbal consent is required from the Church of Ireland partner but they have to be made aware of the obligation of the Roman Catholic partner. However, the Irish Roman Catholic Bishops’ Directory on Mixed Marriages recognizes that “the religious upbringing of children is the joint responsibility of both parents, (and that) the obligations of the Catholic party do not, and cannot, cancel out … the conscientious duty of the other party.“
When the marriage is to take place in a Church of Ireland church, a further “Dispensation from Canonical Form” is required. It should be noted that the Permission and the Dispensation from Form are not required for the legality of the marriage in a Church of Ireland church. They are necessary to enable the Roman Catholic partner to remain in good standing with his/her church.
What we now call cohabitation was considered acceptable for much of Christian history before ceremonial marriage became the norm in the nineteenth century. It is, once again, a social reality to which the church’s previous attitude is currently being debated. The bottom line in any view of cohabitation has to be the intention of the couple to lifelong loyalty and faithfulness within their relationship.
It is advisable that as much notice as possible should be given to the minister of the parish to allow sufficient time for adequate pastoral preparation before marriage. Marriage preparation is strongly recommended and is provided by most dioceses. In some, experienced marriage counsellors provide a one–to–one marriage preparation session with the couple. In others, marriage preparation is provided in a group setting. There are also special courses for inter–church couples. It is essential, especially in inter–church marriages, to discuss in good time all the implications of marriage with each other and with the clergy.
Legislation to permit the remarriage of divorcees in church was passed by the General Synod in 1996. While stressing that the lifelong nature of Christian marriage remains the ideal, the Church of Ireland seeks to show compassion and understanding to those whose marriages have broken down. Through a private service of preparation, which divorced couples must attend before their wedding day, the Church mediates God’s welcome and forgiveness. Clergy are first required to seek the bishop’s opinion before agreeing to celebrate any such marriage. Clergy who, in conscience, feel they cannot solemnise the marriage shall refer the couple to the archdeacon.
Because the Church of Ireland recognises the validity of civil marriages, couples are often encouraged to take part in a service of prayer and dedication following their civil ceremony. In this service husband and wife recall their marriage vows and dedicate to God their life together, asking his blessing upon their union.
The central message of the gospel is that God loves the whole of creation. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“ (John 3:16).
God loves us even though we often behave badly, just as parents still love their children even when they misbehave. We human beings have denied, ignored or rejected that love by our sin. (Sin occurs when, we as individuals or as members of society, through our attitudes, actions or inactions fail to live up to God’s loving standards.) God cannot ignore the sin of his human children, because sin causes suffering and alienation from God and one another. God’s purpose for us, on the other hand, is that we should live in harmony, creativity and love. This can only become possible through our change of heart, our repentance.
To repent is not simply to be sorry for our sins in a trite way, or even to lament their impact on others. Rather it is to experience a real change of heart, to be resolved with God’s help not to go in that particular direction again, to be determined to learn from our errors and to amend our manner of life. A moment of true repentance can be a time of profound change.
Repentance and faith are foundational to Christian life. Although we try to follow the example of Jesus Christ we often find that through our human failings and weaknesses we have not lived or acted as we should. Thus, in our personal devotions we come to God to seek his forgiveness and may receive an inward and powerful sense of God’s pardon, acceptance and love. When Christians gather for worship, they usually acknowledge in a formal prayer of confession their shortcomings and sins an receive, in the context of the liturgy, an assurance of God’s forgiveness and grace, declared by the priest. God is always ready to forgive.
It is often rightly said of the ministry of private confession that “all may, some should, none must”. This ministry is normally available on request, either in the church or in a less formal setting. The priest (as suggested in the exhortation in Holy Communion One in The Book of Common Prayer, 2004) is in a position to listen carefully, offer guidance, and the assurance of God’s forgiveness, all under the strictest confidence. A practical or devotional penance may be given as a demonstration of thanksgiving or to make good in practical ways the wrong done to other people.
In the Lord’s prayer we ask God to forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Readiness to forgive as God does, unconditionally, is part of the costly, generous love demanded of the Christian disciple. It may be difficult, but the cost of not forgiving is even higher, in that it is we who fail to forgive who are inwardly poisoned.
So, at Holy Communion we are encouraged both to seek and offer forgiveness (to live in love and charity with our neighbours) in the sharing of the peace. This is not merely a convivial mutual greeting, but a powerful if sometimes uncomfortable sign that within the Body of Christ we must actively seek reconciliation before we offer our gifts or approach the table.
The human capacity for forgiveness can never equal the divine. We need to do our best to understand the actions of others when they appear hurtful or offensive to us. However, when the crime is, in our view, too appalling, or there is no evidence of repentance, it can sometimes seem impossible to forgive. In such situations, we may only be able to acknowledge that we are not saints ourselves, that our confusion must not be allowed to turn to hatred and that the ultimate judgement is God’s. God’s forgiveness is there for us when we are honestly struggling with our inability to forgive others and praying for the grace to do so.
Forgiveness does not wipe away all the consequences of wrong–doing or condone it; it is not the same forgetting. But, through forgiving we leave behind any desire for retaliation. A man, tortured in a Second World War prison camp said afterwards that he managed to love his tormentors, not by concentrating on their present deeds, but by imagining them as little children. A woman, whose husband was murdered during The Troubles in Northern Ireland simply asked God to understand and forgive her inability to forgive.
Although there are many ways of understanding the work of Christ on the cross, it is central to our faith and shows the effect of sin and the cost of forgiveness both for God and for us. It reminds us again of the love of God, who reaches out to us in Christ, calling us to repentance and offering us forgiveness.
The resurrection shows that, on the cross, Christ triumphed over sin and death, and that evil will never have the last word.
Mission begins and ends with God. It derives from the very nature of God. God’s life is a dynamic, creative and eternal movement of self–giving love.
As Christians we believe that this boundless life and perfect love can be most clearly seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. As the Anglican Communion document Generous Love puts it: “He [Jesus Christ] opens for us the way to the Father and we wish others to walk that way with us; he teaches us the truth which sets us free, and we wish to commend that truth to others; he shares with us his risen life, and we wish to communicate that life to others.”
It has been said that the church exists by mission as fire does by burning. Mission was commanded by Jesus himself and he assured his followers that the Holy Spirit would equip them for this task. According to the Fourth Gospel account of his first resurrection appearance to the disciples, Jesus said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you”. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. (John 20:21b–22.) Thus inspired, the Church expanded hugely during the first Christian millennium, as far as Norway and Ethiopia, Ireland and China. From our own country, Irish monastic missions to continental Europe were particularly effective in the 6th and 7th centuries. However it was not until the 16th century that intercontinental missionary activity took off, with Roman Catholic missions to Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Then, in the 18th century the newly confident Protestant churches began seriously to engage in mission, in the South Pacific, India and Africa, with a further intensification of activity in the early 20th century, when the vision was to Christianise the world in one generation. The missionaries frequently went out in the wake of the European traders and colonising powers, and that awkward relationship has only recently begun to be transcended, making the former mission territories truly independent. Indeed the majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Pacific region.
It is important to recognise the missionary emphasis in the New Testament, from Jesus’ sending out his disciples two by two to teach and heal (Luke 10) to his post– resurrection command recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew, known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20).
Jesus came and said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
This Great Commission has been a powerful stimulus to Christians, and still today provides enormous inspiration. These words of Jesus fall into three parts: a statement, a command, and a promise.
The statement deals with the authority of Jesus – all authority has been given to him. It is a universal authority of truth and love, effected and revealed through his life, death and resurrection. It is through Jesus that God’s kingdom, the reign of justice and peace, has been inaugurated.
The word “Go” introduces the threefold command to Jesus’ followers: to make disciples, baptise them, and teach them. The word “Go” is crucial; it makes plain that the outward direction of mission has no limitations, it is to make disciples of all nations, all ethnic groups, tribes and peoples. It is all–inclusive. Baptism, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, celebrates the start of a new relationship with God. Teaching then enables the new disciples to grow in their knowledge and love of God throughout their lives.
As to the promise, the Great Commission ends with some comfortable words about mission: Jesus is with his people until the end of time as together we work to realise God’s kingdom. Jesus will be with his messengers, as they are engaged in obeying his commission, each and every day. They will never be left to depend on their own limited abilities.
Mission can never be an optional extra for a Christian. It is a God–given task and part of being a disciple. In this regard we can learn from St Paul, who after his conversion embarked on three missionary journeys before travelling to Rome, where he was martyred. St Paul’s missionary zeal is grounded in the fact that he felt compelled to share his faith. This to him is what it means to be a follower of Christ (1 Cor 9:16). He goes to the end of the world because of his overwhelming experience of God’s love. He is driven by gratitude and wonder at his sense of Christ’s presence in his life. (Gal 2:20).
We are all called, as Paul was, to convert whole communities if we can; but each one of us is equally “sent” to demonstrate Christ’s love in our daily lives, and thereby to encourage others to share in the Christian life.
The Church of Ireland is part of the Anglican Communion. In the 1980s and 1990s the Anglican Consultative Council suggested Five Marks of Mission. These marks are firmly rooted in Scripture and remind us as Anglicans what mission includes:
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom (personal evangelism).
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
To respond to human need by loving service.
To seek to transform unjust structures of society.
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
Above all, the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ (John 20:21); it takes place in specific locations and at specific times. What is a successful method in one place may not be helpful in another, so flexibility is needed in the way the Good News is shared. The approach used has to be sensitive to local conditions and show empathy. That is why each parish and diocese in the Church of Ireland is encouraged to take part in this shared task by developing its own mission strategy. Local Christians have local knowledge and can therefore work out what is best suited to their situation.
Mission can never be an isolated activity. It is a way of being that is integral to the Christian life. Mission, being sent, is our response to Christ’s commission and his love as we experience it. We go out to love and serve the Lord.
We need salvation because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We have denied, ignored or rejected God’s love, both as individuals and as members of society.
We have all sinned through action and inaction and have, as a result, damaged others, ourselves and the world around us.
We human beings are made in the image of God for relationship with God (Genesis 1:28). Through our sin we have defaced that image and damaged that relationship (Genesis 3:1–19). We need God’s grace to restore his image in us and make us fully human once more.
The medieval Church identified seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. That is a fairly comprehensive overview of the self–centred human impulses which are in conflict with God’s values. It is from the personal and communal consequences of these sins that we need to be saved and moved from self–centredness to God–centredness. In that way we can with confidence stand before our creator and our judge.
At the heart of the Christian understanding of salvation is a transforming relationship with God. This embraces all of creation. Ultimately, salvation is sharing in God; returning to the One who is the source and goal of all things.
The benefits of salvation extend beyond essential healing and forgiveness to include a state of wholeness and liberation from all that is evil in our world. In addition salvation entails the fulfilment of our true human potential enabling us to overcome the transience and mortality of earthly life. Salvation means experiencing the fullness of life in God just as he intended.
Salvation is not something that we can achieve for ourselves. It is a gift from God through which God gives of himself in order to restore our relationship with him. Our sin, the barrier which separates us from God, is removed, and our lives freed from its grip. We are reconciled and restored to a harmonious relationship with God, each other and all creation, in this world and the next.
The good news of the Gospel is that God has acted and continues to act in and through the person of Jesus, to liberate all of creation from the power of sin and death and enable us to share in the divine life. It is the whole life of Jesus, a life of self–giving, reconciling love, which is the channel of the healing and saving power of God. That life of love came to its climax in the cross and resurrection.
The New Testament contains many different metaphors and images to help us understand the mystery of the cross. Different passages speak of it in different ways:
Some passages speak of the cross as a sacrifice to atone for human sin.
“He [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)
Some use the language of the law–court (“justification” means in effect acquittal).
“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.” (Romans 5:16)
Some speak in more personal terms of reconciliation with God and one another.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (Ephesians 2:13–14)
Some use language drawn from the freeing of slaves (and the “ransom” by which this is achieved).
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
Others speak of a paradoxical triumph of Christ over the powers of evil even at the moment of “defeat” on the cross.
“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14)
These different perspectives all support our belief that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God acts to liberate us from the crippling effects of sin and offers us a new life of reconciliation, compassion and forgiveness in Christ.
The promise of salvation is that we and all creation will be in true relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, in which sin and its consequences will be no more. This is the life in all its fullness that Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10) as portrayed in the vision of a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21and 22).
As Christians, we experience a foretaste of the reality of this salvation on earth. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have a deepening awareness of the presence of God in our daily lives. Our lives are changed as we forgive and receive forgiveness and as we seek to live as followers of Jesus, working out our salvation in different areas of our lives. We join with others on the way of salvation, as a new community of faith and love, an alternative society which seeks to challenge the self–centred values of the world, and to model life as God intended it to be.
At least that is the theory! In practice we know that our transformation is not yet complete, and that sin continues to deflect us, both individually and corporately, from the path of holiness. We continue to “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14), aware that we will not fully attain it in this life. The Christian experience of salvation has always been a combination of the “now” and the “not yet”, the gift of God which we have received and seek to live out in our daily lives, knowing that the best is yet to come.
Bhí an Ghaeilge príomhtheanga mhuintir na hÉireann le linn an chuid is mó dá stair annáilte. Thug na Gaeil (ar a dtugtaí na Scotii an tráth úd) í go hAlbain agus chuig Oileán Mhanainn.
B’as sin a d’fhás Gàidhlig na hAlban agus Gaelg Mhanainn. Is sa Ghaeilge atá an litríocht dhúchais is ársa in iarthar na hEorpa. Sa lá atá inniu ann is céad–theanga oifigiúil Phoblacht na hÉireann í, tá sí aitheanta i dTuaisceart Éireann mar theanga mhionlaigh agus is teanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh í.
Le teacht na nAngla–Normannach déanach sa 12ú haois tháinig maolú de réir a chéile ar áit na Gaeilge i mBaile Átha Cliath agus i mbailte móra eile, cé go raibh na húdaráis buartha ar feadh na céadta bliana go raibh go leor de na coilínigh, ní amháin tar éis glacadh le nósanna sóisialta na nGael, ach go rabhadar freisin ag labhairt na teanga. Go dtí go maith istigh sa 17ú céad bhí sí fós mar theanga ag tromlach an phobail. Tháinig meath drámata uirthi sa 19ú haois, áfach, de dheasca an Ghorta Mhóir agus bunoideachas stát–urraithe bheith á leathnú ar fud na tíre agus é á chur ar fáil go huile is go hiomlán trí mheán an Bhéarla. I gceantair áirithe mhair an Ghaeilge mar theanga phobail agus mar mheán teagaisc i gcuid de, ach ní in iomlán, na scoileanna ‘scairte’ nó scoileanna ina gcaití íoc. Ach bé an Béarla, agus é mar theanga ag na haicmí polaitiúla, proifisiúnta agus gnó, a chonacthas mar eochairtheanga an bhreisoideachais agus an dul chun cinn sóisialta.
Bhí an teanga chomh mór sin i mbaol faoi dheireadh na 19ú haoise, nuair a bhí a húsáid laethúil teoranta do na ceantair Ghaeltachta san iardheisceart, san iarthar agus san iarthuaisceart gur bunaíodh eagraíocht a raibh a caomhnú mar bhunaidhm aici, Conradh na Gaeilge. Ar dhuine de bhunaitheoirí an Chonartha bhí Dubhghlas de hÍde, mac leis an reachtaire i nDún Gar, Co. Ros Comáin. Ceantar é seo inar tháinig an Ghaeilge slán faid áirithe agus mheall sí samhlaíocht de hÍde óg mar a rinne sí i gcás roinnt ball eile d’Eaglais na hÉireann.
Bíonn plé nach beag fós ann faoin méid inar féidir teip fhorleathan chinnirí an Reifirméisin in Éirinn tabhairt ar an mórphobal glacadh le teagasc na hEaglaise Bunaithe a chur i leith na slí ina raibh siad beag beann ar an bhfíric gurbh í an Ghaeilge a bhí á labhairt ag tromlach mór an phobail. Is cinnte go raibh feall a imirt acu ar cheann de phrionsabail ríthábhachtacha an Reifirméisin: an Eaglais a chur os comhair an phobail ina dteanga féin. Rinneadh iarrachtaí áirithe. Bé an chéad leabhar a cuireadh faoi chló i nGaeilge in Éirinn ná aibítear agus caiticeasma i nGaeilge a foilsíodh le cló a bhí bronnta ag an mBanríon Eilís I. Ina dhiaidh sin, bhí an tEaspag Bedell ón gCill Mhór taobh thiar d’aistriúchán Gaeilge den Sean–Tiomna a bheith déanta– cuireadh é seo i gcló blianta fada i ndiaidh a bháis, i 1685, mar aon le haistriúchán ar an Tiomna Nua le Uilliam MacDomhnaill, Ardeaspag Thuama. Cúis ríthábhachtach eile le teip an Reifirméisin dul chun cinn níos fearr a dhéanamh ba ea easpa cléireach le Gaeilge (in ainneoin an cheanglais a leag Bedell síos, agus é ina phropast ar Choláiste na Tríonóide, go gcaithfeadh ábhair mhinistrí, a bhí le bheith ag cleachtadh i gceantair Ghaeltachta, freastal ar ranganna Gaeilge). Thairis sin, bhí tuairim fhorleathan ann sna ciorcail pholaitiúla agus eaglasta go gcaithfeadh an Reifirméisean dul lámh ar láimh le ‘sibhialú’ (i bhfocail eile, Galldú) na ndaoine. Bhí díbirt na Gaeilge ón saol poiblí mar chuid bhunúsach den phróiseas Galldaithe sin. Rinneadh iarrachtaí breise an reiligiún athchóirithe a chur chun cinn go luath san 19ú haois sa “dara reifirméisean”, go háirithe in Iarthar na hÉireann, le húsáid ábhar adhartha i nGaeilge agus le himlonnú cléireach le Gaeilge.
Ach in ainneoin dearcadh na n údarás eaglasta a bheith mar a bhí, d’fhág scoláirí le cúlra Eaglais na hÉireann an athbheochan mhór sa léann Ceilteach ó lár go deireadh na 19ú haoise faoina gcomaoin, gona léirthuiscint úr acadúil ar an nGaeilge agus ar an litríocht. Tá Dubhghlas de hÍde, a toghadh ina chéad uachtarán ar stát Éireannach neamhspleách, luaite cheana féin againn i ngeall ar an ról ceannródaíoch a bhí aige i mbunú Chonradh na Gaeilge, ina phearsa ceannasach i saol stair na Gaeilge i gcónaí. Ach bhí scoláirí eile ann ina measc ministrí dála James Henthorn Todd, Charles Graves agus EJ Gwynne. Bhí go leor tuataí ó Eaglais na hÉireann chun tosaigh san Athbheochan Liteartha Angla Éireannach, go háirithe WB Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, JM Synge agus Seán O’Casey, agus iad uile faoi anáil agus tiomanta don Ghaeilge agus don chultúr a ghabhann léi.
Bhí tiomantas do shlánú na Gaeilge, agus i gcás daoine áirithe (de hÍde ina measc) a hathbheochan mar ghnáth–mheán cumarsáide, ag éirí níos coitianta i measc acadúlach de chuid Eaglais na hÉireann, ach fosta i measc mionlach beag ach dúthrachtach de na gnáth–bhaill Eaglaise. Agus anáil láidir na hathbheochana cultúrtha thuasluaite á spreagadh, bunaíodh Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise i 1914 agus í mar aidhm aige spiorad na sean–Eaglaise Ceiltí a chaomhnú maille leis an nGaeilge agus ealaíon is ceol Gaelach a chur chun cinn ina saol agus ina adhradh. Bhí an Cumann, a fhaigheann maoiniú ón Sionad Ginearálta, freagrach as foilseacháin mór le rá dála An Tiomna Nua, leis an gCanónach Cosslett Ó Cuinn agus a aistriúchán ar Ord Ceiliúrtha na Comaoine Naofa, dá ngairtear i nGaeilge an tAifreann i 1984. D’fhoilsigh an Cumann chomh maith Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne 2004, a bhuíochas cuid mhór do shaothar an Urr. Gary Hastings agus a bhean, Caitríona. Bhí seirbhísí rialta i nGaeilge le blianta fada anuas i mBaile Átha Cliath agus níos déanaí in Ard Mhacha, i mBéal Feirste, i nGaillimh agus i gCill Chainnigh. Bíonn seirbhís idirchreidmheach i nGaeilge gach bliain do Sheachtain Urnaí na hAontachta Críostaí in Ard–Teampall Chríost, Baile Átha Cliath, mar a bhfuil an Cumann bunaithe agus mar a chanann cór an Ard–Teampaill Urnaí na Nóna, a choimisiúnaigh an Cumann. Bíonn alt i nGaeilge go rialta i Church Review Bhaile Átha Cliath agus Ghleann Dá Locha agus colún ócáideach sa Church of Ireland Gazette.
Tugadh spreagadh mór d’obair an Chumainn nuair a ceapadh oifigeach forbartha teanga lánaimseartha i 2011 chun a chuid gníomhaíochtaí a chur chun cinn. Ta an ceapachán seo á mhaoiniú ag Foras na Gaeilge, foras Thuaidh–Theas a bhfuil maoiniú stáit aige.
Irish (An Ghaeilge) was the main language of the people of Ireland for most of their recorded history. It was brought by the Irish (then known as the Scotii) to Scotland and the Isle of Man, giving rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx.
It has the oldest vernacular literature in western Europe and is today the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, a recognised minority language in Northern Ireland and an official language of the European Union.
With the coming of the Anglo–Normans in the late 12th century the position of Irish in Dublin and other large towns was gradually weakened, though for centuries the authorities were concerned that many of the settlers not only adopted Irish social customs, but also spoke the language. Until well into the 17th century it remained the tongue of most of the population. However, a dramatic decline occurred in the 19th century, hastened by the Great Famine and the spread of state–sponsored elementary education conducted entirely through the medium of English. In certain areas of the country Irish survived as the language of the people, and was the medium of instruction in some, though not all, of the unofficial ‘hedge’ or ‘pay’ schools. But English, being the language of the political, professional and commercial classes, was seen as the key to further education and social advancement.
Such was the parlous state of the language by the late 19th century, when its everyday use was largely confined to the Gaeltacht regions of the south–west, west and north–west, that a movement for its preservation, the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) came into being. One of the League’s founders was Douglas Hyde, a son of the rector of Frenchpark, Co. Roscommon. This was an area in which spoken Irish survived to some extent, and captured the imagination of the young Hyde, as, indeed, it did of a number of other members of the Church of Ireland.
Considerable debate continues as to the extent to which the widespread failure by the leaders of the Reformation in Ireland to convert the wider population to the teachings of the Established Church can be attributed to their ignoring the fact that the great majority of the populace was Irish–speaking. Certainly, they were betraying a crucial Reformation principle: bringing the Church to the people in their own language. Some effort was made. The first book printed in Irish in Ireland was an Irish alphabet and catechism published with type presented by Queen Elizabeth I. Subsequently, Bishop Bedell of Kilmore was instrumental in having an Irish translation of the Old Testament made– this was printed after his death in 1685 along with a translation by William Daniel, Archbishop of Tuam, of the New Testament. Crucial to the failure of the Reformation to make greater progress was the lack of Irish–speaking clergy (despite the requirement laid down by Bedell, when provost of Trinity, that ordinands intended for Irish–speaking districts must attend Irish classes) Furthermore, there was a widespread belief in political and ecclesiastical circles that the Reformation must go hand in hand with the ‘civilising’ (in other words, the Anglicising) of the people. The banishment of Irish from public life was seen as a key instrument in that process of Anglicisation. The so–called “second reformation “ of the early 19th century, particularly in the West of Ireland, saw further efforts to advance the reformed faith with the use of Irish–speaking worship materials and the deployment of Irish–speaking clergy.
Yet whatever the attitude of the Church authorities to the language, the major renaissance in Celtic studies in the mid to late 19th century with its fresh academic appreciation of Irish language and literature owed much to scholars with a Church of Ireland background. Douglas Hyde, who was destined to be the first president of the independent Irish state, has already been mentioned for his seminal role in the foundation of the Gaelic League and remains an iconic figure in the Irish–speaking world. But there were many other such scholars, including clergymen such as James Henthorn Todd, Charles Graves and EJ Gwynne. A number of Church of Ireland laity played leading roles in the Anglo–Irish Literary Revival, especially WB Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, JM Synge and Seán O’Casey, all of them inspired by their dedication to Irish language and culture.
Dedication to the survival of Irish, and in the case of some (including Hyde) its restoration as the everyday language of communication, was a growing phenomenon not only among Church of Ireland academics, but also among a small but determined minority of Church members. Influenced strongly by the cultural revival outlined above, in 1914 the Irish Guild of the Church (Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise) was founded with the purpose of preserving the spirit of the ancient Celtic Church and promoting the use of Irish language, art and music in its life and worship. The Guild, which to–day receives funding from the General Synod, has been responsible for such noteworthy publications as Canon Cosslett Quin’s New Testament in Irish (An Tiomna Nua) and his translation of Holy Communion 1984 (Ord Ceiliúrtha na Comaoine Naofa, dá ngairtear i nGaeilge an tAifreann) The Cumann has also published the Irish version of The Book of Common Prayer 2004 (Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne 2004), very much the work of the Ven. Gary Hastings and his wife Caitríona. Regular services in Irish have been held for many years in Dublin and more recently in Armagh, Belfast Galway and Kilkenny. An interdenominational service in Irish is held annually in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin where the Guild is based, and where settings of Urnaí na Nóna (Evensong) commissioned by the Guild are sung by the cathedral choir. A regular article in Irish appears monthly in the Dublin and Glendalough Church Review, as does an occasional column in the Church of Ireland Gazette.
A major stimulus to the Guild’s work was given by the appointment in 2011 of a full–time language development officer to promote its activities. This position is funded by Foras na Gaeilge, a North–South body that has state funding.