Treasures of Irish Christianity - People and Places, Images and Texts is the title of a new book launched this week in St Patrick's College Maynooth by Christy Kenneally. The book is a collection of 80 short articles written by a host of leading scholars from the worlds of history, liturgy, theology, philosophy, art history and Celtic studies.
The articles reflect on aspects of Christian tradition in Ireland from the fifth to the twenty-first century. Taking its cue from the theme of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress, which took place in Ireland from the 10 - 17 June last, this collection places special emphasis on the relationship between Irish people and the Eucharist.
The collection of articles is wide-ranging and draws from the major Christian denominations in Ireland and includes entries on significant people, texts, images and events that have shaped the Irish Christian experience.
Treasures of Irish Christianity is edited by Father Brendan Leahy and Salvador Ryan. Fr Leahy is Professor of Systematic Theology at St Patrick's College, Maynooth and the author of numerous publications. He is also involved in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. Salvador Ryan is professor of ecclesiastical history at Saint Patrick's College, Maynooth and has published widely in the area of late medieval and early modern popular religious belief.
Speaking at the launch Christy Kenneally said: "The expectation might be that this book is a sort of Irish Christianity's Greatest Hits! It is different in two ways: (i) It deals with lesser known subjects and (ii) It presents the writers personal response to them. So it's taking a different angle on the artifacts and looking at them from the angle of faith. This book is an archaeological dig into the well of Irish Christianity. It reads chronologically from the way we were to the way we are.
Some will start with the foundations and work up to the present. Some will read from the back; burrowing down from the present reality to find the treasures that have been lost along the way.
"Irish Christianity has not arrived. It is organic and evolving - the Spirit breathes in every generation. It is not about recovering and repeating what we had; we don't go back to the past for what was done but for why it was done. Our challenge is to take that impulse and rephrase it in the language of our own times."
He went on to say: "We, in the Irish Christian Churches have experienced a tsunami. Change that was gradual in other ages has come so quickly in ours that we hardly have time to assimilate one thing when the next thing is upon us. We can be seduced into reaching back for the forms and certainties of old or tempted to rush ahead, unthinking, into the new. This is a time to consider. Consedere=to sit together, and pick up the pieces of the rubble that matter to lay the foundation of an authentic, 'spiritual house.' It is wonderful that we're doing this together, as Christians.
"One of the hallmarks of Irish Christianity and Irish culture was our sharing at the table with family, neighbour and stranger. Ergo, we have contributions in this book from Wesleyans, Presbyterians, the Society of Friends and the Church of Ireland.
"We are re-imagining ourselves as Irish Christians. This is part of a wider Irish conversation. Many people feel stranded in the meantime. The old certainties seem to have gone and new forms have yet to be established. There needn't be anything mean about the meantime. It is in the time between engagement and wedding that a couple lay down the foundations of their marriage. It is in the time between conception and the birth of the child that a couple prepare to be parents.
"Is this book tapping into the Eucharistic Congress? Yes! But, it's more than that. It makes sense that when consciousness is raised by something like the Congress that we produce something that extends and informs the debate.
"This book is accessible and readable. Scholars tend to write for other scholars, this book is different in that they were limited to 800 words and challenged to write from the heart."
Contributors to the collection include: Monsignor Hugh Connolly, Dr Jennifer O'Reilly, Dr Martin McNamara, Mr Gillian Kingston, Dr Nóirín Ní Riain, Dr Eileen Kane, Dr Brendan Purcell, Bishop Richard Clarke, Dr Finola Kennedy, Dr Daire Keogh and Dr Eamonn Conway.
Treasures of Irish Christianity is published by Veritas and is available in their stores nationwide and online from: http://www.veritas.ie/