It's Mass by any other name as women lead faithful in prayer
IT was just like any other Mass, except the figures at the altar were four women.
The host was shared and prayers uttered at St Andrew's Church in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, just like on a Sunday.
But on this Monday morning there was no priest and instead the laity took charge.
It is a sight that is likely to become commonplace all around the country, as the number of priests decline.
There were no objections yesterday as the women led the service for Catholic churchgoers.
Just one churchgoer, who did not want to be named, gave the slightest hint of dissent, saying that "a lot of people don't come" when the priest is not available.
Yesterday, there were still about 25 hardy souls undeterred. The church is careful to term these gatherings 'prayer services' because there is no consecration of the host. This is one of the key differences from a Mass, when it is necessary for a priest to be present.
But communion was still given as Noeleen Byrne from Bagenalstown, who led the service, said that the host had been consecrated at Mass on Sunday.
Gertie Gallagher, who turns 91 today, also read at the lay service. The women were joined at the altar by Mary O'Neill and Betty Finnerty.
The four women, dressed in their everyday clothes, looked at ease as they led the congregation in worship. No wonder, as a laity-led liturgy has replaced 10am Mass every Monday for around two years.
The Catholic Church has confirmed lay services are taking place in some of the 26 dioceses but there are no plans for the services to take the place of the traditional Sunday Mass.
The services in Bagenalstown were first introduced to fill a void, when the priests went away for an annual workshop every September.
Parish priest Fr Declan Foley (56) said: "About two years ago, we decided as a parish to have it once a week, to give people confidence, I suppose."
He said he wanted to "let people become aware of the reality that this might be much more in practice in years to come as the number of priests decline, as they will indeed rapidly".
Fr Foley, one of two priests in the 6,000-strong parish, said the service was similar to the Mass but the eucharistic prayer and the consecration of the host were omitted.
"It doesn't get the same crowd as a Mass would," Fr Foley said.
"Nothing will replace the Masses, of course. Mass and the celebration of the eucharist is the most central celebration for a Catholic. So anything less than that is indeed less than that. But at the same time, rather than have an empty church and have no service at all, it is lovely to gather together for the prayers and the scriptures."
Parishioner Ann Darcy said: "I still wouldn't like to do away with the weekly Mass."
But she said it was a nice "fallback" when there were not enough priests to go around.
"The regular Mass-goers seem to be fine with it," she added.