The Bells of the Angelus Call us to ……..

Wasn’t it Conor Cruise O’Brien that started questioning on radio and television the Angelus, years ago? And I remember too at some stage, Pat Kenny lamenting the disruption it caused to scheduling though he didn’t seem to have any problem with the ‘disruption’ of the News on the hour or, for that matter, with advertising breaks.
In any event, whatever its provenance, every few years, we revisit an ongoing controversy about whether we should have the Angelus on RTE radio and television. It’s a Catholic prayer, the argument goes, and a broadcasting service with a public service remit shouldn’t be seen to favour one denomination. Once that argument is proposed, someone (usually from another Christian denomination) puts the counter argument that the substance of the prayer – a statement of belief in the Incarnation – is held in common by all Christian faiths.
But what about those who are not Christians? The usual response to that is that the ringing of the angelus bell is simply a call to prayer for anyone who believes in God. But what about those who don’t believe in God. Haven’t atheists a right to their place in the public service sun.
The Angelus on RTE as we know has been changing already, from the still picture of Our Lady to the moving pictures of a trawler at sea or an artist chalk-drawing praying hands on a Dublin street. And now RTE want to push out the boat a bit more by asking film-makers and artists to send in their own reflections.
No doubt, this effort by RTE to ‘modernise’ the Angelus will be seen, unfairly I believe, as yet another effort to undermine the Catholic tradition by our foremost public service broadcaster.
The truth is that the Angelus, as we’ve had it on RTE television since 1962, needed to be updated and that it makes great sense, in a very different Ireland, to present it as a time of reflection for everyone.
Clearly RTE didn’t take this decision likely because they had a hunch, and their research confirmed it, that most people – two-thirds, according to the RTE survey – favoured keeping the Angelus, including the ‘bongs’ or the chimes as RTE more sedately put it.
It seems that apart from Atheist Ireland, most minority faith groups in Ireland were also in favour of keeping the Angelus despite its obviously Catholic origins, saying that ‘they value a moment of reflection or prayer and the fact that the Irish national broadcaster makes room for it’. Fair enough.
We shouldn’t exaggerate the importance of the traditional presentation of the Angelus on national radio and television or be too sensitive about what its perceived demotion might suggest.
I’d be much more exercised by the more pervasive negative attitude to religion and in particular Catholicism in the wider media.
For example, recently the Irish Times carried a comment piece by Andy Pollak on how much the Irish Republic has changed. It was unapologetically an effort to encourage northern Protestants to look on the Republic with a less jaundiced eye. We’re different now, the piece argued. We’re not nearly as Catholic as you Northern Protestants imagine.
The Roman Catholic Church, Pollak pointed out, ‘is a shadow of its former self’ and now in 2015, ‘the Republic of Ireland is ‘a good place for Protestants’.
What was left hanging was the question: What kind of a place is the Republic of Ireland for Catholics, those 86% of the population who in the last census ticked the Catholic box? The answer is, Not Very Comfortable And Sometimes Very Cold.
There’s no doubt but that Irish society, as Pollak argues, has changed dramatically. It needed to. De Valera and John Costello kowtowing to the Catholic ‘hierarchy’ is now, thankfully, an epoch away. Throwing in the ball in Croke Park on All Ireland Final day was never an appropriate role for a Catholic bishop. And any bishop who expects the kind of absolute adulation his colleagues received in the past must have been AWOL for the last 30 years. Most Irish Catholics are more than happy that the Republic of Ireland is no longer effectively a Catholic state.
But that’s not to say that we like the feeling of being blamed for everything. Or that, because of our all-too-obvious failings in the past, that we’re now a pushover for anyone who decides to occupy the higher moral ground in an effort to further their own agenda. Or that we don’t want our own schools. Or that we enjoy being patronised or insulted because we refuse to co-operate with the dismantling brick by brick of our religious heritage and tradition. Or that we’ve stopped standing up for ourselves.
What irks is the ill-disguised presumption that Catholicism is almost by definition outdated and antediluvian, a pathetic carry-over from an uncivilised past rather than what it is for many, a source of rich spiritual sustenance. And what particularly irks is the sustained assault on Catholicism which presents almost as an organised campaign to rid Irish society and Irish life of the last vestiges of oppression and superstition.
Examples of this are legion. One is the effort, fuelled for example by publications like the Irish Times, to keep pressure on the Catholic Church to divest its schools even though Catholic parents refuse to hand over – lock, stock and barrel – schools which they have paid for, want to keep and are very happy with. Another is the sometimes gratuitous imbalance in RTE that allows (as recently on an afternoon radio programme) the airwaves to be given over to an interview with former  Government Minister Ruairí Quinn, being cheer-led by Ray D’Arcy in what was little more than an anti-Catholic rant.
That kind of obsessive focus on the supposed limitations of Catholicism receives very little critical assessment in the Irish media and contributes to an unease, sometimes even a bloody-mindedness on the part of Catholics, frustrated by the unfair labelling of a Church, its adherents and its message.
In comparison with all of that, Catholics will feel that modernising the Angelus doesn’t matter all that much.

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One Comment

  1. Willie Herlihy says:

    I agree completely with Brendan,we should retain the Angelus.
    In the secular world of 2015, the Angelus is a beacon  of hope, to those who believe in God. Regardless of  whether, they are Christians Jew or Muslim.

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