St. Patrick's Purgatory

Question: When I was in Ireland recently, the tour guide mentioned Lough Derg as, a famous pilgrimage site. I couldn't hear what she said. What is it? Do you recommend it?

- Peggy Walsh by e-mail

Answer: The island of Lough Derg, off the coast of County Donegal, is Ireland's most famous pilgrimage site. St. Patrick is said to have visited the island in A.D. 445 to spend time in prayer and fasting.

Through the Middle Ages, it acquired the reputation as the strictest and most demanding pilgrimage site. In those centuries, there was a cave on the island into which pilgrims would go to experience a foretaste of purgatory. Hence the pilgrimage site has long been known as "St. Patrick's Purgatory." Pilgrims came from England, France, Hungary, Italyand Spain to seek forgiveness of their sins. Many pilgrims thereafter devoted their lives to fasting and penance.

After the Protestant Reformation, the English government through its agents in Ireland sought to suppress Lough Derg and to outlaw pilgrimages to the island.

Lough Derg is now open to pilgrims between June 13 to Aug. 15 and attracts about 30,000 people annually. Pilgrimages last between one and three days (the latter being the most vigorous). Pilgrims no longer enter a cave, but follow a regimen of prayer, walking and fasting that is quite intense. Those who undertake a journey to the island are barefoot while they are on the island, recite 280 prayers at each of nine stations, pray night prayer, attend daily Mass and eucharistic adoration, renew their baptismal vows and go to confession. They are allowed very little sleep and eat only one meal a day, consisting of bread and tea or coffee.

Do I recommend a pilgrimage to Lough Derg? Certainly I do. More importantly, the Church recommends it and oversees its spiritual and practical operations. I have never been to Lough Derg myself. I have thought about it, but I am, up to this point, too chicken. I will probably go some day when I have the courage.

If given a month to live and I were still healthy enough (a somewhat contradictory condition, to be sure), I would certainly make a pilgrimage to Lough Derg.

Disciple vs. apostle

Question: What is the difference between an apostle and a disciple?

- Hugh Sweeney by e-mail

Answer: A disciple is quite simply a follower of Christ. One takes on the character of discipleship by baptism and expresses it through a life sustained by the sacraments, Scripture and Tradition, as well as Christian morality. Before there were apostles, all were disciples, including those who were later to become apostles.

The term "apostle" means "one who is specially chosen to be a co-worker with Christ"- literally, "one who is sent." During his earthly ministry, Jesus chose many disciples to be apostles, and he sent them out to act in his name. More precisely, the term "apostle" refers to the Twelve, led by Peter, whom Jesus called to be the foundation of the new people of God. After Pentecost, they spoke and acted decisively in teaching others what Jesus taught and in assuming leadership roles in the early Church.

Today the term "apostle" is used in two senses. All who are baptized are called to participate in the apostolic life. We profess that we are all members of the apostolic Church. "Apostle" is also used in a more specific sense to refer to those ordained to carry on the work of the original apostles, that is, the Church's bishops, who are assisted by priests and deacons.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN46750or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.