Thursday 24 November 2022

The De Profundis and the Irish Martyrs

On November 15, 1960 a decision taken by the Irish bishops at the Synod of Maynooth held four years earlier came into effect. It abolished the recitation of the De Profundis (Psalm 129) after the Mass, a liturgical practice peculiar to Ireland. A report of the decision appeared in the American Catholic paper The Catholic Standard and Times the following month: 

Irish Bishops Abolish De Profundis at Mass

DUBLIN (NC). —A custom dating from Ireland's penal times of reciting the De Profundis for the dead after Mass has been discontinued by order of the Irish Bishops.  The custom is believed to have been introduced during the 17th-century persecution of the Church by Ireland’s English rulers. Its original purpose was to pray for the souls of those who died under the harsh anti-Catholic laws of that period. Recitation after Mass of the De Profundis, the 129th psalm, was peculiar to Ireland. The Bishops decided to abolish the custom in 1956 at the Synod of Maynooth. Decrees resulting from the synod were approved by the Holy See, and went into effect on November 15. Church authorities emphasized that the omission of the De Profundis after Mass does not imply that Catholics should pray less for the dead. The intention of the Bishops was to focus the thoughts of Catholics at Mass on its central idea as a sacrifice.

The Catholic Standard and Times, Volume 66, Number 13, 16 December 1960. 

To learn more of the history of this custom I turned to the work of Father Sylvester Malone (1822–1906), a prolific contributor to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record and other nineteenth-century journals. He traced the liturgical use of the De Profundis in one of his books on Irish Church history noting that, as part of the financial arrangements with the Crown in the medieval abbey of Saint Thomas in Dublin, 'the chapter house, over and above what it was bound to, by its order, was under an obligation of saying, especially on All Souls Day, a De Profundis for the souls of the king, his ancestors, the aldermen, and of the citizens of Dublin'. He goes on to say

And here it is worth while to inquire whence the origin of the De Profundis after Mass, and so peculiar to Ireland. Various reasons are assigned for its use;  but I consider it took its rise from a desire to compensate for the loss of the divine offices for departed benefactors. Prayers in the office were not confined to Ireland. Cardinal Bona assures us that when the number of benefactors became large in every well-regulated community, instead of calling out the names of all benefactors the chanting of the De Profundis, with a suitable prayer, had been substituted. There had been an obligation of making a commemoration in the offices for a stated period or for ever. Hence, on their interruption, that most touching of the prayers for the dead was substituted.  Not, indeed, that there had been a strict obligation to do so. Besides the psalm De Profundis touchingly expressed the helpless state in which the Irish Church was placed by penal laws, and continued a protest against the false religion of the so-called Reformers. What wonder, then, that this prayer, warranted by many reasons during the days of persecution, should continue to the present day after Mass, when we find it in use in the early and middle ages even in Ireland. The Irish Church, so tenacious of ancient customs—its chorepiscopi, acolytes, exorcists, readers, its liturgies—what little reason for marvel that it retained its De Profundis called for by charity if not justice.

Another reason why the psalm in question may be looked on as a commutation for the offices is that it is affected by the same causes, and almost in the same way as the offices. The De Profundis is not said, I believe, at least generally after High Mass or solemn Mass for the dead. Well, even when religious orders were bound by vow to say the psalm De Profundis daily, they were inhibited from doing so on All Souls Day, and on the day of the death and burial. And this happened even though there had been a bequest left for the purpose of saying a De Profundis daily. Again, the nuns of the Monastery of Chagas by a decision of July, 1741, were allowed to chant the Responsory for the dead unless on the most solemn festivals, and even on these to recite it privately in choir, lest the pious disposition of testators should be frustrated. Gardelini also informs us (n. 4687) that there had been an immemorial custom in the Church of Milan, of repeating the 129th psalm (De Profundis) with a suitable prayer after the divine offices for the souls in purgatory, especially those of all benefactors. All this leaves no reasonable doubt that the De Profundis was intended in charity or justice as a compensation for the divine offices interrupted by persecution.

Rev. Sylvester Malone, Church History of Ireland in Two Volumes, Vol. II, 3rd edition, (Dublin, 1880), 219-222.

Interestingly, in an obituary for his father who died in 1997, contemporary Irish composer Patrick Cassidy recorded that his father had suggested using the De Profundis as a final chorus in a work on the Famine which he was struggling to complete. He went on to say:

My father strongly suspected that the Irish pre-Vatican II practice of the celebrant saying the De Profundis after every Low Mass may have had its origins during the Famine. Further research revealed that the practice was, in fact, more ancient. After he and my mother, Kathleen, contacted Archdeacon Cathal McCarthy, they discovered that "the most likely" and "most popular hypothesis" is that the De Profundis "was meant to be part, or really token, of various endowment Masses which, because of the outlawing of the Mass under the Penal Laws could not be said with any assurance."

 It would seem therefore that although the origins of the practice of praying the De Profundis lay in the medieval obligation to honour those benefactors who had endowed religious foundations, it later became linked with the memory of all those who had died during the Penal era, when the Mass itself was placed under restriction and death had to be faced without the comfort of a priest to minister to the dying. In hindsight it is perhaps remarkable that this practice survived in Ireland right up to the middle of the twentieth century.


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Monday 7 November 2022

Companion in Martyrdom: Deacon Matthew Hoare, O.F.M.


On November 12, 1631, the body of Irish Franciscan Matthew Hoare was laid to rest in the friary church of the Bohemian Franciscan province at Votice. He had been martyred on November 7 along with his confrère and compatriot Father Patrick Fleming as they travelled with a small party of friars from the recently established Irish College at Prague. They were seeking to escape the besieging forces of the Elector of Saxony, but close to the village of Benešov encountered a group of hostile locals who attacked them, leaving Friars Fleming and Hoare dead. Father Fleming was one of the driving forces behind the project at the Franciscan Irish College at Louvain to research and publish the Lives of the Irish Saints. Much less well-known, however, is his companion in martyrdom, Matthew Hoare. Both men bear the surnames of prominent Old English families; Fleming was related to the Barons of Slane, County Meath and the Hoare family was an important one in County Wexford. Scholar of Irish surnames, Edward Mac Lysaght, records that the name is spelt both as Hoare and as Hoar, the latter spelling being found in particular in County Cork. Both spellings are used by different authors for our martyr and unfortunately I have not yet been able to establish when and where he was born. I presume that like Patrick Fleming, Matthew Hoare was sent away from Ireland in order to receive a Catholic education and then entered the Franciscan Order. He appears to have been a young man of some promise and was selected to be one of the small group who went under Fleming's leadership to establish an Irish Franciscan College at Prague.  Fortunately one of the survivors of the attack, Father Francis Magennis, left an account of both the early days of the new institution and of the sad fate that befell its founder and his companion.  He tells us that Matthew Hoare was a Deacon and was chosen as the preacher at the College's opening, which given the distinguished nature of the audience seems to confirm the abilities discerned by his superiors: 

It was on the 2nd of July, 1631, that the Franciscans were publicly inducted to their new establishment in Prague by Cardinal Harrach, Archbishop of Prague and Primate of Bohemia. His Eminence and all the other civil and ecclesiastical authorities of Prague being present, a discourse composed by Father Fleming was delivered with great earnestness and effect by a young Religious, in deacon's orders, named Matthew Hoar,*  who was destined in a few months to be the companion of Father Fleming in martyrdom.

*The writer adds, that Fr. Hoare was chosen on this occasion " ob eminentis ingenii judiciique acumen, felicis memoriae foecunditatem, dicendique gratiam, cum omnimoda morum honestate conjunctam, coram tot ac tantis Magnatibus fiducialiter declamandam eaque ab ipso adeo proeclare, venuste ac plane Angelice, omnium cum stupore, perorata, ut solemnitatem et auditorum devotionem mirum in modum adauxerit. "

 'Irish Historical Studies in the Seventeenth Century, III., Patrick Fleming, O.S.F.', Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. VII, February, 1871, p. 209.

In his 1896 catalogue Our Martyrs, the then Postulator of the Cause, Father Denis Murphy S.J., also used the account of Father Magennis to testify to the martyrdom of Father Fleming and Deacon Hoare:

...The community consisted of six. As their house was very poor, they thought their poverty would be their best protection. But they were warned that their lives were not safe, as many of those among the enemy were infected with heresy. It was arranged that the Guardian and Matthew Hore, a deacon, F. Patrick Taaffe, and Francis Magennis, who was not yet in holy orders, should accompany the Count De Thun to some safer place. ...Early the next morning they set out. They were overtaken by two Servites, who asked them to accompany them in their carriage. F. Fleming refused, preferring to go on foot. Br. Hore, who was quite exhausted, joined them. ...

...As they were approaching the village of Benesave, in which F. Taaffe and Br. Magennis had passed the night, all of a sudden seven peasants rushed out of their house. Three of them fell on the Guardian to rob him. One of them with a blow laid him low; the others rushed to the chariot and attacked Br. Hore....

The Servites fled to the house of the Count De Thun, and told what had befallen their fellow-travellers. The Burgraf von Steinberg arrived soon after, bringing in his chariot the Guardian's dead body which he had met on the road. There were five wounds on his head, from which blood was issuing. The body was taken to the Franciscan Convent of Voticum, seven miles from Prague, and buried there with great honour...

...Soon after, a body of soldiers, commanded by Balthasar Barrady, came thither bringing the body of a Franciscan. He was soon recognized by the other monks. He had received a wound in the side; his heart had been pierced through by three bullets; his ears, too, were cut off. Our Fathers, Gerald Fitzgerald and Francis Welferston, took care to have the body buried, lest it might fall into the hands of the heretics. After some weeks, Count Suorby had Br Matthew's body transferred to Voticum, and buried in the Convent of the Franciscans, which he had founded, in the same tomb with F. Fleming, and took care to have the spot surrounded by an iron railing.

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J., Our Martyrs, (Dublin, 1896), 263-264.

Two modern Czech scholars have noted the subsequent history of the martyrs' tomb:

The iron grill which Sezima, Count of Vrtba, had made for their tomb was in the course of time removed and replaced by a board with a Czech inscription, which was attached to the pulpit. After the improvement of the interior in 1758, an inscription with similar wording was painted on the wall. When the church was being painted white in 1776, it was damaged and was again renovated by order of the provincial.

Jan Pařez and Hedvika Kuchařová, The Irish Franciscans in Prague 1629-1786 (Prague, 2015), f.n. 59, p. 47.

I have tried unsuccessfully to ascertain if the tomb is still extant. 

Although, as we have seen, the case of Deacon Matthew Hoare was one of those featured by Father Murphy in Our Martyrs, his name was not among those submitted to Rome for official consideration and does not appear on the Official List of Irish Martyrs. It is customary for the cause of a martyr to come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop in whose diocese the death occurred, but I do not know if the cause of Friar Matthew was ever formally adopted or where it now stands. As with Father Fleming, I can only regret the tragic loss of his companion in martyrdom, another young man of drive and ability who was so cruelly denied the chance to serve his order and his college, thanks to the brutal death he met far from Ireland's shores.

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