By Conor McParland
Parishioners at St Michael the Archangel Church in Finaghy were left stunned at the weekend after an unholy row broke out over the way Holy Communion is served at Mass.
The incident took place at 5pm Mass last Saturday evening.
The Mass was being celebrated by Fr Brendan Mulhall, Parish Priest at Holy Trinity who often stands in at St Michael’s when Fr Ciarán Feeney is unavailable.
In his homily following the Gospel, Fr Mulhall said he wanted to address the congregation on a personal level after being made aware of negative comments about him on social media.
He said someone on social media had described him as the "Antichrist".
“I will be the first to admit I am not perfect but I don’t think I am the Antichrist.
“For years I have believed that social media is very dangerous and very poisonous. I have always believed that Facebook can do a lot of damage in that it gives people who have nothing to say a place to say it.
“I really enjoy coming to St Michael’s and helping out Fr Ciarán and the parishioners here. I am under no obligation to come here and I do not get paid to come here. I simply come to help Fr Ciarán. There probably wouldn’t be Mass if I didn’t come so I am happy to help.
“When I was a teenager I became a Eucharistic Minister here. After 11 years of theological training, I returned here the day after my ordination to celebrate my first Mass. I have always had a strong relationship with St Michael’s.
“As many of you know, I do the 5pm Mass here and then sprint to get the car to do my own 6.30pm Mass at Holy Trinity but if while doing that I am described as a ‘hypocrite’, a ‘fake priest’, a ‘fraud’ and an ‘Antichrist’, I don’t actually think those comments say much about me to be honest.
“Comments like that say more about the darkness that must be in a person to make them speak like that, while all the time believing that they are a faithful Catholic.”
Fr Mulhall went on to hit out at the negative aspect of social media.
“There are priests, bishops, cardinals who are vicious, usually over social media in their opposition to Pope Francis and the direction he is leading the Church in,” he added.
“I think the Devil is working very successfully through the words and computer screens of those who believe they are the true Catholics but who fail to see that their behaviour is the absolute, complete opposite of what Christianity is all about and their attitudes and behaviour are a total contradiction of the Gospel.
“Whether they receive communion on the tongue or on the hand, that fact is not going to change.”
Fr Mulhall’s sermon was greeted with a warm round of applause before one member of the congregation spoke up and questioned the priest over the way Holy Communion is served.
Guidance from Down and Connor remains that Holy Communion should be served on the hand, rather than on the tongue due to Covid-19 pandemic rules.
“Father Ciarán gives communion on the tongue so you have actually confused everyone,” argued the parishioner.
Fr Mulhall then told the parishioner: “During a Mass, one person is appointed to preach a homily and that person is not you.”
The congregation member then hit back: “You put your views across and have to give us an opportunity to reply and that is my reply. You also don’t like singing, you have told me to shut up so many times.
Fr Mulhall responded by saying: “I have never told you to shut up.”
The exchange drew gasps of shock from the congregation before the member stated: “That is my cue to leave now. Thank you for being the devil’s advocate.”
Further gasps followed from the congregation, with shouts of “get out and don’t come back” towards the member.
Fr Mulhall then apologised to the congregation for that “unpleasant experience” and received another warm round of applause.
One parishioner who was at the Mass told the Andersonstown News how shocked she was given that the service was being offered for the Month’s Mind of two deceased parishioners.
“Looking around congregation, there were a lot of older people,” she said. “The fact that it was also a Month’s Mind for two bereaved families, I felt that there was no respect shown for them and their loved ones.
“After the outburst, I was aware that people walked out. There was a lot of very upset people.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Down and Connor said: "Communion in the hand should remain the norm. Where accommodation is made for those who object to receiving in the hand this should be made at the end of Communion time and hands should be sanitised immediately after each recipient."
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