The Stations Mass: An Irish Custom

Going to the stations is a custom that I grew up with in the eighties. It was part of the year, a normal, regular local ritual. The Stations is now usually a biannual event. The weekly Sunday mass leaflet would announce that requests are being taken to host the mass. Spring and Autumn would see the actual religious ceremonies take place. ‘Mass in the house’, as my four year old dubbed it, clearly explains the difference between this Catholic ceremony and are more regular ritual in the local churches.

History: As the previous link will tell you, the custom dates back to penal times and the necessity to have a roving and secret location to host the mass. This is like the same need for a secretive education system (through Irish) at that time which saw the creation of the Hedge School. Penal law restrictions created these needs. In the case of hidden masses, they evolved into the concept of the stations as an event, held throughout Ireland to showcase religion in the home.

Today’s way: modern custom involves the division of an area into sections, streets, estates, townlands and so on. These are listed in the announcement. A family/ homeowner will volunteer their home for a session. The people in the area attend, if they so wish. The priest goes to the chosen homes and says mass at the homemade altar. Communion is received. Those too young will be blessed.

Being Irish, we cannot leave it at that.

The custom evolves: Over the years, it became more of a social occasion. As a country that once knew starvation, we now eat to celebrate as often as possible. When mass ended, the feasting commenced. Homemade cakes and pies, buns and pastries, there is little dieting encouraged at a station. Sandwiches open the proceedings, plate upon plate of ham, cheese and salad sandwiches washed down by pot after pot of scalding hot tea.

Coffee is available but tea is the only truly approved hot beverage.

Always be overprepared: Stockpiling will have taken place on the build up to the event in a replica of Yule tide preparation. Children are pleased with the release of 7up, Club Orange and Tayto crisps. These days the provision of sugar laden beverages is not encouraged but in my youth it was a given. More traditional stations will still provide the now controversial fizzy pop. As soon as the mass ends, children become almost riotous, usually given a room where they are left alone to entertain themselves. Havoc ensues. It is full on sugar at a stations. I have lovely memories of these events from the eighties. Red lemonade, Tayto and rice crispie buns. All the food groups.

Bake Off: The main event for most are the home baked delicacies. Every home has an amateur baker and every baker has a specialty that cannot be bought in the shops. At my mother in law’s station last month (which inspired the post) we had no less than five homemade Pavlova. Catering style portions.

It is almost impossible to refuse the desserts as they repeatedly proffered and often find yourself eating several portions of the same dessert because you have to try the version made by Auntie Mary/ Jean up the road/ little Elsie.

Such a chore…

Nothing is shop bought. Anyone related to the host will usually bring something. People gather for The Sandwich Making (worth a post on its own). On this occasion, I made Tiramisu. It was a definitely a choice out of left field and it wasn’t looked at until all the meringue/tarts/ buns were demolished but I think people liked it. I certainly did. There is nothing wrong with Tiramisu. It is just not traditional Stations Mass fare. In the changing tide of life, I did not have free time to make fresh. I needed to make the day before. Working you see. The men usually make nothing. Not even the tea. Gender division being part of the tradition, it is still present.

The mass: At this stations just gone by, the children all sat in front of the altar. Chairs, stools, garden furniture- everything is used as a pew. The priest is always late (other commitments). Sometimes a home is lucky enough to have a singer. We were. Family members read prayers. The children often say Prayers of the Faithful. My Gigi said the Hail Mary- just because.

I was proud of her by heart, phonetic prayer. She was so delighted to say it. Any prayer that includes ‘Jebus’ can only make events even better.

My in laws are a traditional family with some old customs still living through them. These families are a rarity now and these customs are increasingly dying out. Stations rarely happen in many counties so this tradition bring hosted in the original way is lovely to see.

I have held Stations myself- but it was probably more against the grain. I think I even bought biscuits- in a shop. My husband most certainly made tea. There was genuine concern for me as I selected to sandwich-make alone. I made no salad sandwiches. There was indeed several types of pavlova available thanks to the family creators and it was successful. It wasn’t like the ones of old however.

Times change. It is good.

I am glad however that Gigi and Betsy have gotten to enjoy this tradition in its original manner whilst it still lives on. I quite liked it myself.

Clonmacnoise- our local historical monastic site
Thank you so much to whoever voted for FancyPaperBlog for Best Parenting Blog. Due to my lack of competition😂, for the final stages, the blog has been moved to the Best Lifestyle Blog category.

16 thoughts on “The Stations Mass: An Irish Custom

  1. Wow–I’d never heard of stations like that. I think of Stations of the Cross that we have in the church. Sounds like a wonderful tradition, no matter who makes the tea! I have, however, been to Clonmacnoise, and had to look up where my husband and I stayed in Athlone (I actually have a honeymoon album–could do those kinds of things before kids!). We stayed at St. Ruth’s Farmhouse on a dairy and sheep farm in Milltown–hosted by Helen O’Brien. I wonder if you know it. We even traded Christmas cards with Helen for a few years after. Anyway, I love the stations idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do know it on passing but will definitely look out for it more now! I have a honeymoon album too. Now photos are all over the place😣😁
      The Stations of the cross has much less cake and good memories good me but very Easter time! I haven’t done it in years.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have heard people in Ireland talking about this, but i never really understood what they were talking about.

    Yay Orla! You just helped me make sense of my childhood. 😉

    p.s. tiramisu sounds lovely! Your lucky friends and family!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this most definitely sounds better than the Catholic “stations” I grew up with. This would be something to look forward to! Now I am going to have to figure out how to time any future Ireland visit to align with Stations Mass. And good for you for having your husband help you. Sounds like hosting could be a lot of work!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such a wonderful tradition, and one I didn’t realize the history behind. As an Irish Catholic myself, always looking for ways to keep traditions for my family. Thanks for sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

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