There was a wedding on An Cheathrú Rua last week. (By the way, that preposition is correct. One speaks of being on An Cheathrú Rua rather than in it. It is a peninsula, after all.) The groom was a bartender at the pub frequented by our student body and the reception, such as it was (very unlike an American wedding celebration) was held there. Anyone and everyone who happened in was a welcome guest.
I did not have an opportunity to witness the wedding, nor any of the preparations. However, when I was in Ireland in 2008, some friends and I climbed Croagh Padraig, the holy mountain in County Mayo also known as “The Reek”. There is an annual event here called “Reek Sunday” (the last Sunday of July) when the penitent climb the mountain. The truly penitent climb it barefoot. Having climbed it wearing fairly sturdy hiking shoes, I can assure you that that would be a substantial act of penitence; but little old ladies were doing just that when I climbed it (a week after Reek Sunday), and they were going up that slope faster than I was! (The background image on this blog, by the way, is Croagh Pádraig.) The hike up the mountain is in emulation of St. Patrick who is said to have climbed the mountain, cleansed it of druid religious use, and offered the Eucharist on its summit.
Another part of the meditative tradition of Croagh Padraig is to start one’s pilgrimage to the mountain at Ballintubber Abbey. Ballintubber is an Anglicization of Baile tobair Phádraig, “place of the well” – the well in question supposedly being a place where St. Patrick baptized converts. Ballintubber Abbey is about 22 miles from Croagh Padraig, so the full penitential practice is to hike cross-country on the Tóchar Phádraig (“Patrick’s Causeway”) and then climb the mountain.
The abbey church has been beautifully restored and is the parish church for the village of Ballintubber. (The church has a lovely website here.) http://www.ballintubberabbey.ie/ My friends and I short-circuited the tradition by attending Mass at the abbey church and then driving from there to the mountain.
The grounds of the abbey church are filled with graves and with statuary, some of it very modern and very interesting, especially a set of non-representational Stations of the Cross which are abstract stone work in place of the usual pictures or statues of the fourteen steps of the way of tears; for example, the Ninth Station, Jesus’ Third Fall, is simply a fallen stone whose shape is vaguely suggestive of a human body.
The most representational of the stations is the Eleventh, the Crucifixion.
There is also a wonderful statue of the Madonna with her Child. I find the faces and the poses of the pair striking. Mary is, I believe, depicted as strong and sad; she looks both defiant and obedient, as if unwilling to turn loose of her Son and yet aware that that choice is really not hers to make. As she holds him in a cruciform pose, she seems to be both offering and protecting him at the same time. The Christ Child is depicted in the familiar cruciform manner, but his face is turned towards his mother, not toward the viewer as is more typical. He seems almost puzzled by his Mother’s expression.
I often wonder about the relationship between Mary and Jesus. We get only a few glimpses of it in the Gospels. One of my favorite episodes is the Wedding in Cana related in the Gospel of John:
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:1-5, NRSV)
I have long been fascinated and intrigued by the interaction here! Mary simply assumes that Jesus will take action (and that he has the power to do something to solve the problem of no wine). He feels free to respond negatively to her implied direction, “Help them,” but in the end he does as his mother seems to insist and the result is, as John will later call it, “the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee.” (v. 11) This multifaceted relationship (which, I suppose, was not too different from any mother-son relationship) was probably present all during Jesus’ life and is caught well, I believe, in faces of the Madonna and Child at Ballintubber.
The story from John’s Gospel brings me back to the wedding here on An Cheathrú Rua. On that particular Sunday three years ago, the church at Ballintubber was decorated for a wedding, as you can see from the accompanying photographs. Nuptial church decoration here in Ireland is pretty similar to what is done in the United States, which makes a good deal of sense since I suspect we got quite a few of our wedding customs from Irish immigrants and returning Irish probably have brought back a lot of American customs to this island.
Post-wedding celebrations seem to be different – here there was no dancing (at least not in the pub), no toasts, no throwing of a bouquet or a garter, none of the typical elements of an American wedding reception – but what there was here as there is at home was joy and camaraderie, good wishes and good fun. It’s no wonder, given John’s recording of the first miracle and the human experience of wedding celebration, that the Wedding Banquet has become a lasting and indelible image of the reunion God has in store of God’s People and that the Holy Eucharist is referred to theologically as a foretaste of that heavenly banquet.
Dánta Dé includes a communion hymn specifically about the wedding feast. It is entitled The Blessed Wedding at Cana and is attributed to Maighréad ní Annagáin. Here is the original Irish text and Uná ní Ógáin’s translation of it, followed by a very free adaptation by me making use of some of the Irish hymn’s imagery and telling the story from John in meter and rhyme to be sung to the original tune.
First, the Irish original:
Ag an bpósadh bhí i gCána bhí Rí na ngrás ann i bpearsain,
É féin is Muire Máthair, is nárbh áluinn í an bhainfheis?
Bhí cuideacht ós cionn chláir ann, agun fíon orra i n-easnamh,
‘S an t-uisge bhí h-árthaibh nár bh’áluinn é bhlaiseadh?
A Dhia dhíl, a Íosa, ‘s a Rí ghil na cruinne,
D’iomchuir an choróin spíne is iodhbairt na Croise,
A stolladh is a straoilleadh idir dhaoinibh gan cumann,
Na glasa do sgaoilis, a d’iadhadh n’ár gcoinnibh.
Is ró-bhreágh an stór tá ag Rígh na glóire dúinn i dtaisge,
A chuid fola agus feóla mar lón do na peacaigh’.
Ná cuirigidh bhur ndóchas i n-ór bhuidhe nó i rachmas
Mar is bréagán mar cheó é, seachas glóire na bhFlaitheas.
Ms. ní Ógáin’s translation includes a verse not included in the Irish text of the hymnal, the second address to the Blessed Virgin:
At the marriage-[feast] in Cana
Was the King of grace in person,
He Himself and Mary Mother,
Was it not a beauteous wedding?
At the board the guests were seated,
And the wine to them was lacking,
And the water in the vessels
How delightful to taste it.
O Maiden most holy
Who to sin never yielded,
As thou wert a plant descended
From that king(a) who excelled,
[As of old], pray to Jesus,
To the glorious King of Heaven,
That He make a free way(b) for us
When we turn our steps Homewards.(c)
O dear Lord, O Jesu,
And O bright King of the Universe,
Who didst bear the Thorn-Crown,
And the sacrifice of the Cross;
Who was torn and rent asunder
Among men who were loveless,
Thou didst open the bars
That were closed against us.
Splendid is the treasure
Stored for us by the King of Glory;
His own Blood and Flesh [He giveth]
As Food for the sinful.
Put ye not your hope
In yellow gold or riches,
For as mistlike toys compare they
With the glories of Heaven.
(c) i.e. David
(b) Lit.: or, ready road.
(c) or : That His Hand the way throw open
For our blessed home-returning.
(Westminster Irish Service-book).
And my poem derived from the Irish hymn:
King of glory,
King of love,
King of graces, guest at a wedding.
With his mother, with his friends,
seated at the marriage feast waiting.
Came the word: “There is a problem!”
Mary told her son to help them.
“What is this to me?” he asked her;
but to servants she was speaking.
“There is no wine
for the feast.
Do as he says, no hesitation.”
Empty vessels standing there
for the rites of purification.
“Fill them,” he says, “with plain water;
and then draw some for the steward.”
“What is this now?” asks the steward,
“Finest wine in the nation!”
Mother of God, you knew that even
that your Jesus was the Christ;
that he was the High King of Heaven.
But did you know he would become
the free way for us to our home?
Through baptism buried with him,
we, too, shall all be risen!
O Lord Jesus,
holy savior who bore the Thorn Crown,
you were beaten, crucified,
killed, and buried, layed in the cold ground.
In fulfillment of the promise,
you broke the bars closed against us.
With your own blood you have freed us!
Death is conquered! Life is newfound!
Your own Body
and your Blood
give us sinners true liberation;
Bread of Heaven, Blessed Cup,
holy table, feast of salvation.
Giving blessings beyond measure;
wedding banquet, splendid treasure.
At the marriage feast of the Lamb,
we are God’s new creation!