June 30 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Parishes face feast or famine on holy days

Creativity is needed to get people into the spirit of holy days of obligation, THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS says By Fr John Bollan

THE week began with a flooded kitchen in the hall. For some weeks now, we have been troubled by a slight leak from our overworked central heating boilers. On Friday, the leak became something of a torrent and the kitchen area had to be sealed off.

To be honest, although the boilers work hard, their output isn’t tremendous. Now that they have given up the ghost, we are in the ominous phase of ‘getting quotes’ for their replacement. My response to these figures is likely to be one of the more florid ‘quotes’ from a Quentin Tarantino movie (but I’ll make sure no-one’s in earshot).

Thanks to our new indoor water feature, we had to cancel Sunday teas after Mass and the half-time beverages at the Quiz Night. The latter did not go too well for Les Quizerables: we went from being in first place at the break to a poor third at the end. I think this was due to the absence of Elspeth, our secret weapon, who was away doing her bit for the cruise line industry—and she does a lot, let me tell you.

As I mentioned last week, our schools are now in full ‘demob’ mode for the summer vacation. Normally I would host a dinner towards the end of June for the primary school staff, but it seems they are busy social butterflies this season, so we’ll have to arrange something for the start of the term. I doubt this will have quite the same sense of fun as a night near the end of term, but never mind.

I will bid a temporary farewell to both my schools with Mass on the Holy Day of Obligation for Sts Peter and Paul. I’m not sure how much traction the holy days have for folk these days. Unlike other parts of the Catholic world—and here too in days of old—we don’t have actual holidays on these feasts. So getting to Mass can be an additional burden for workers, not least when the obligation doesn’t apply on feasts that fall on Saturday or Monday and people are left wondering if it really is a holy day in the first place.

And then, if they have been caught out, the more conscientious will seek out absolution for forgetting to attend.

I’m not sure that’s the purpose of a feast, to be honest. My own preference would be to restore all the old solemnities to their proper days but remove the precept of compulsory attendance.

This may mean we have to be a little more creative in the way we get Catholics to enter into the spirit of these important days, but it also might ease up on priests having to offer multiple Masses to keep parishes and schools served.


All that having been said, I love the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. I always associate it with the approach of the summer holiday and with my own attachment to the city of Rome, whose great feast this is.

This year I have the pleasure of celebrating the silver jubilee of Canon Jim Duggan, parish priest of the ‘other’ St Joseph’s in Clarkston. All told, I spent 14 years in that parish and six of them with Fr Jim as my landlord (while I worked at Glasgow University). But my association with Jim goes way back beyond that, as he was the year above me in St Columba’s and we overlapped as students in the Scots College in Rome.

Better still, he is a son of this St Joseph’s and I know his jubilee will be a cause of joy and celebration to all those who knew him when he was in short pants. And here he is, an honorary canon of the diocese!

I’m really not bothered that Jim is a canon and I’m not. No, honestly, it doesn’t even enter my consciousness as I’m not fussed about things like titles. I’m really not. Look, would you please stop going on about it?! For goodness sake.

While I, unlike Canon Duggan, may have been cruelly deprived of ecclesiastical preferment, we do at least share that priestly birthday on June 29. I was ‘raised to the altars’ two years after Jim in the neighbouring parish of St Andrew’s.

Of course, over at St Andrew’s just now, all hands are to the pumps in preparation for the ordination of Deacon Jonathan Whitworth on the Feast of the First Martyrs of the Roman Church (June 30). Jonathan’s is the first ordination since my own in 1994, so this is certainly a cause of great pride and rejoicing for that wonderful community where I grew up.

Naturally, perhaps inevitably, there will be comparisons between Fr John and Fr Jonathan, but it’s really not fair to place too great a weight of expectation on his young shoulders!


Honestly, though, it will be very nostalgic being back in St Andrew’s and witnessing this lovely occasion. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Bishop Mone and Bishop McGill and all those priests who laid hands upon me, many, like their Lordships, now gone to their eternal reward.

So too, in the congregation, many faces from my own family and friends who are no longer with us. From the front row, my mum and my auntie Sadie and, from the back row, my uncle Harry (who feared his presence might ­occasion falling masonry).

I still smile when I look at those photographs of my ­ordination and I see the wee lady who always sat in the front row at every Mass. I told her that, yes, she was indeed a VIP and could sit where she always sat.

So there she is, God rest her, slap in the middle of my ­immediate family. When people see those photographs, they sometimes ask, ‘is that your granny?’ and I now say, ‘Yes, in a sense she was.’

One of the nice things about being a young priest is that you have lots of grannies and foster mums to fuss over you when you’re looking poorly or run down. As you get older, alas, it’s harder for them to tell whether those eye bags are due to fatigue or merely the relentless march of time and gravity.

Two days after I celebrate my priestly anniversary, I celebrate my arrival in this world. Although this isn’t a big birthday, let’s just say that my junk mail is tending to feature more offers from Saga rather than invitations from Club 18-30.

After gaps and miscarriages, my mother genuinely didn’t expect to have another child, let alone a boy. And I made her pay for it, poor mum: she went blind with high blood pressure and I had to be delivered by ­caesarean. It is to this fact that I attribute (a) my attachment to the person of Julius Caesar, (b) my formerly flawless features and (c) my habit of leaving a room by the window rather than the door.

The risks associated with my delivery meant that I was born not, as was originally planned, in the St Francis Nursing Home in Glasgow, but in our local Rankin maternity hospital. Even though the Rankin no longer exists, the site and the name lives on in the Rankin Rise estate here in the parish.

As I drive along its neat Monoblock roads, I occasionally catch the whiff of sterilising fluid on the air or an after-taste of the carnation milk with which we were fed as infants. I doubt they’d get away with that now somehow.

Sadly, almost all of our ­maternity services are delivered in Paisley, so there are now hardly any children born in Greenock. It’s a far cry from the days when the local maternity wards were full of new life and local ‘matinee idol’ Fr Jamieson would go round the rooms ­serenading the new mums.

“Oh, he was handsome, that Fr Jamieson,” my mum would say. Come to think of it, with the loss of Fr (later canon) Tom, there is a gap in the market for a singing priest. Step forward, the newly-minted Fr Whitworth!


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