Mass in Jig Minor

I’ve been corresponding with a priest of the Celtic Christian Church about the relationship between mainstream Christian mysticism (of the Neoplatonic/Benedictine/Carmelite variety) and the indigenous spirituality of the Celtic lands. It’s been a great little conversation so far, and hopefully it will provide grist for the future blogging mill. But for now, I just want to share a little daydream I indulged in before mass this evening:

Imagine, if you will, a faith community centered on the Celtic tradition. Celtic spirituality is by nature earthy, joyful, optimistic, humorous, and — at least at times — raucous and rowdy, if not downright ecstatic. If you don’t believe me, listen to a top-flight Celtic band, like Altan, the Tannahill Weavers, Solas, or Capercaillie. Okay: imagine that kind of spirit (and music) at a Eucharistic gathering. Sure, there could be contemplative space, with music like “Be Thou My Vision” or “Morning Has Broken” to integrate Celtic sensibility and sacramental worship. But what if the music ministry at a gathering like this consisted of a four piece band: acoustic guitar, fiddle, flute/pennywhistle/pipes, and bodhran? What if, at appropriate moments (during the offertory, and after communion) the worship experience included a rip-snorting Irish jig or Scottish reel? Yes, this could lead to dancing. Dancing during the Eucharist? You bet!

During my Brigid’s Well days as a neopagan, I always thought that druidic ritual ought to include heavy doses of authentic Celtic music — not wispy new age melodies (à la Enya) or generic folk music with a Celtic twist (à la Emerald Rose), but the real thing: traditional jigs, reels and strathspeys, performed by musicians who understand that good music and good mysticism go together well, like a bodhran and a stick. Brigid’s Well never quite pulled this off, even though we had some great musicians (like Gwen Knighton and Julia McPeek) participate. Well, I’m not a pagan anymore and so I’m not too worried about how to create an ideal druid ritual.

But I’m still interested in Celtic spirituality, and now that I’ve returned to the church, I’d love to see authentically Celtic forms of worship. And it seems to me that rousing music combined with a heartfelt worship experience might be just the way to go.

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Dave O

    Sounds nice enough in theory, but I’ll bet it wouldn’t work in practice. Have you read Thomas Day’s WHY CATHOLICS CAN’T SING? Best, and incidentally, funniest book on liturgy I’ve read, and worth a read by anyone with some idea of how the liturgy could be infused with life. Before they get started infusing.

  • Carl McColman

    You’re the second person in a week to have recommended that book to me – needless to say, I’ll be picking it up! I’m the type of person who figures a good idea is always worth a try. Even if it doesn’t work “in practice,” there still might be unexpected blessings along the way.

  • Cait Finnegan

    You have described my ordination Mass! We even had liturgical dance at the offertory with a young girl doing Irish step dancing up the aisle before the gifts–leading them to the altar in a dance of joy to a Celtic hymn and tune written for the occasion.

    It can work–it does! We’re not hiding in hedges any longer!


  • Carl McColman

    Cait, I wish I had been there. Let me know the next time your church has an ordination — if possible, I’ll be there. A celebration like that will be worth the frequent flyer miles.

  • Tony Neria

    In November, my choir (St Lawrence in North Highlands, Ca) always does “Mass of the Celtic Saints” by Liam Lawton The link offers some short music clips. Check out the “Kyrie” and “The Cloud’s Veil”. It just feels right doing Celtic music with November being the month we remember the Saints and all those who have gone before us. With this beautiful Celtic mass setting and various other Celtic influenced songs, it feels heavenly. My choir (I’m the music director) has Celtic Harp, fiddle, mandolin, bouzoukis, guitar and bodhran at our disposal. We’ll also play an Irish airs during the music for the presentation of gifts, which also adds to the feel of the mass setting.