Culture Minister steps up in local church to 'say Mass' as priest a no-show

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan led prayer at the Church of St Therese in Mount Merrion, Dublin. Photo: Frank McGrath

Kevin Doyle

A minister who was to the forefront of the campaign to legalise abortion stepped up to ‘say Mass’ in her local parish over the weekend after a priest failed to show.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan was scheduled to give a reading at her regular Saturday evening Mass but ended up taking a more central role, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The Dublin Rathdown TD offered to lead the prayer in front of several hundred people at the Church of St Therese in Mount Merrion.

It is understood Ms Madigan addressed the congregation from the altar, performing most elements of a normal Mass.

She did not read the Gospel or perform the consecration of the bread and wine, as these can only be carried out by a priest.

However, there was some pre-blessed bread in the church meaning Mass-goers were able to receive Communion.

When contacted yesterday, Ms Madigan said it was a “sad reflection of the times we live in that there are no priests available to say Saturday evening Mass in one of the busiest parishes in Dublin”.

“A lack of ordinations and the age profile of priests mean a shortage is inevitable. And it’s not just here, I know this is an issue for many parishes across the country,” she said.

Local priest Fr Brian O’Reilly confirmed he was scheduled to be away and a replacement cleric did not materialise. He said he did not know the full circumstances behind Ms Madigan’s intervention as he was not present.

Ms Madigan has previously spoken about how her faith is “extremely important”.

She co-ordinated Fine Gael’s Yes campaign during the recent referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, describing the outright ban on abortion as “barbaric”.

The first-time TD questioned people who felt it wasn’t possible to be a member of the Catholic Church and back the referendum.

Her unusual role at Mass came as the Bishop Kildare and Leighlin, Denis Nulty, warned that lay women and men will have to take a more active role in parish life.

Speaking in Knock to mark the annual pilgrimage of the Saint Joseph’s Young Priests Society, he said: “The Church is no longer the dominant force it once was in Irish life and that is a good thing.

“A priest today works collaboratively with lay women and men, young and old at the coalface of parish life.”

He said the need to encourage young men into the priesthood was “never greater”.

“Ireland has culturally changed hugely in recent decades, seismically in the past couple of years. A young man who shows the promise of a vocation needs more encouragement than ever.

“Parents will understandably worry about loneliness; friends will have legitimate concerns around celibacy, relationships, life. Discerning a vocation is now firmly counter cultural,” he added.