Last year I was serving on a committee which met every Wednesday morning so I realised that I was going to have difficulty receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. As it turned out, I was able to make it to mass at St Patrick's in the Cowgate and whilst there I saw a few other staff and members from the parliament. I also met Anthony Horan, the director of the catholic parliamentary Office and we had a brief discussion about the possibility of ashes in parliament for 2018. My friend and former MSP colleague Michael McMahon, had previously arranged distribution of ashes in parliament and I believed that it would be a way of allowing more Catholics to be able to receive them.
It is, of course, preferable to be able to attend mass and St Patricks is a very interesting church. It was the parish of James Connolly, Hibernian football club was established here by Fr Hannon and the venerable Margaret Sinclair's beatification is prayed for every month as she was also a parishioner of St Patrick's prior to entering the Poor Claire convent in London. However, time constraints in Parliament can make it difficult to attend mass, particularly since Wednesdays are busy sitting days.
Sometime later, I was fortunate to have been chosen to represent the Labour party at a lunch held by the Presiding Officer for Archbishop Leo Cushley, prior to his delivery of Time for Reflection, and I was able to raise the issue of ashes. The Archbishop felt that it would be appropriate to offer ashes in parliament and that he was keen to carry out this service himself. Therefore, I booked a room and mentioned it to the Presiding Officer as a courtesy. Unfortunately, it soon came to light that Ash Wednesday this year fell during the February parliamentary recess, which was disappointing for everyone.
However, I then had the idea that a mass during Holy Week might be a possibility and I mentioned it to the Presiding Officer who offered me the use of his dining room facility in Queensberry House. This is the old, historic part of the Parliament which was retained and assimilated into the new build. Anthony Horan then approached the Archbishop and the rest, as they say, is history! It was fantastic to realise that this was the first ever mass and therefore historically significant, with His Grace, the Archbishop pointing out that it was most appropriate to celebrate mass in 'Holyrood' which of course means 'Holy Cross'. He also remarked later in conversation that it was even more significant to celebrate mass in parliament since it was the Scottish Parliament itself that had outlawed the celebration of mass during the reformation.
It was an honour and privilege for me to be involved in this historic occasion which received cross party support and was attended by John Swinney MSP in his role as Deputy First Minister. I hope that celebrating mass in Holyrood during Holy Week can become an annual event.
Elaine Smith MSP (Central Scotland Labour)