Rector explains theology behind Mass celebrated with Catholic priests

‘God tells me that this is the Body of Christ, and I accept that’

Parishioners in St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, where the ecumenical service was held. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A Church of Ireland rector who concelebrated the controversial 2006 Easter Sunday Mass in Drogheda with three Augustinian priests has, for the first time, given his theological reasons for doing so.

The Mass at St Peter's Augustinian Church was concelebrated by Rev Michael Graham, Fr Iggy O'Donovan, Fr Richard Goode and Fr Noel Hession. Rev Graham told worshippers then it was "the first public celebration in Drogheda of the Eucharist by a Catholic priest of the Anglican tradition in a Catholic Church of the Roman tradition since the Reformation".

Fr O’Donovan welcomed “members of our sister Church of Ireland” there and later described the event as “the most meaningful Eucharist I ever celebrated”.

Within a month a statement from the Augustinian congregation said Fr O'Donovan, Fr Goode and Fr Hession had written to the Catholic Primate Cardinal Brady, the papal nuncio and the prior general of the Augustinian Order in Rome, apologising "for the ill-considered celebration". Fr O'Donovan was dismissed from his annual six-month teaching stint in Rome.


Last month Fr O'Donovan, who moved to Limerick in September, was awarded the Freedom of Drogheda.

In a book The History of Religious and Cultural Integration in Drogheda, to be published on Wednesday, Rev Graham explains his understanding of differences between Anglicans and Catholics on the Eucharist. "People would say 'you don't believe in transubstantiation' as an Anglican. We believe in the Real Presence. Christ is really present at the Eucharist in the elements of bread and wine. It's not symbolic. The only difference is (that) the Roman Catholic tradition defines how Christ is present in the bread."