Photos by Stephen Tyrrell
Forty years ago, it was a war zone. Belfast, Northern Ireland was the scene of horrific sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants. In the decades since, all Christian religion has been on a downswing.
Enter the Latin Mass, and those who love it. Stephen Tyrrell, 26, is recently married and expecting his first child. A polymers/medical engineer in Belfast, he spent seven years as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Irish Defence Force Reserve, which he says “helped to form me into the man I am today.”
Stephen recently sat down with REGINA to tell us about his reversion, the impact of the TLM in Belfast and a recent visit from Raymond Cardinal Burke for the Catholic Voice conference in Limerick.
REGINA: Belfast was famous for its ‘Troubles’ in the 1970’s. How has church attendance fared for Catholics since?
Stephen Tyrrell: Church attendance throughout Ireland has been in serious decline. However, perhaps due to the Troubles, the attendance at Mass in Northern Ireland is markedly higher than the rest of the island though it remains a worry to see congregations decline. The Church and the Republican movement have had a very fractious relationship and there would still be a great deal of animosity from some Republicans towards the Church but it is also important to note that two priests of the Diocese were shot dead within 11 months of each other during the Troubles as they left the safety of their homes to give the Last Rites to other victims. The memory of these priests, and their sacrifice, would remain strong in the minds of many people in Belfast.
REGINA: Are you a cradle Catholic?
Stephen Tyrrell: I would say I’m a revert, as I received the sacraments as a child but never went to Mass or any other Catholic event except at Christmas, much like an ever-increasing amount of the Irish. I came back to Holy Mother Church because of the Traditional Latin Mass at the age of 23.
REGINA: And today, you are a TLM-goer?
Stephen Tyrrell: The Traditional Latin Mass is the reason I am talking to you today, and the Grace of God of course.
REGINA: How did you discover the TLM?
Stephen Tyrrell: A few years ago my friend invited me to go to a Mass at St Kevin’s in Dublin, the Latin Mass Chaplaincy. I didn’t agree to go the first few times, but eventually went to stop my friend from pestering me.
REGINA: LOL, okay so what happened?
Stephen Tyrrell: I was shocked. Queues for confession, a large congregation of young and old, prayer before Mass and all the rest. But the Mass is what truly shocked me. The procession of three Priests in such beautiful vestments accompanied by an army of altar servers who ranged from 7 to 23 and were all male. The angelic voices that lifted my thoughts and soul to the divine.
REGINA: And the effect on you?
Stephen Tyrrell: The Holy Mass and congregation made me think that these people truly believe in God and they are worshiping him at the altar. I know in my heart that I owe a great debt to God for this.
REGINA: Tell us about the Latin Mass community in Belfast.
Stephen Tyrrell: In Belfast, the TLM continued to be offered by some priests in Belfast with the Bishop’s blessing even after the New Mass was implemented. There was a brief hiatus (perhaps 5 years) when there were no public Latin Masses due to the infirmity of those priests.
Then in 2003 a group of people approached the Bishop and asked him to consider rekindling the celebration of the TLM to which he gladly agreed. He asked one of the young priests of the Diocese to say the TLM once a month and that’s how it all started again.
This priest has oversight of the provision of the Mass in the Diocese on behalf of the Bishop. Initially it was on the First Saturday of each month and then eventually it moved to a Sunday. As other Priests have been ordained, the provision has been extended to the best of their ability with the assistance of priests of Institute of Christ the King.
REGINA: So the Institute has been instrumental in this?
Stephen Tyrrell: Yes. The ICKSP first came to Belfast in February 2011. The first Holy Mass offered was by Monsignor Wach, founder and Prior General in St Malachy’s church. He was accompanied by Canon Lebocq, Prior of the Sacred Heart church in Limerick.
Since then Canon Lebocq (or another priest of the Institute) has travelled to Belfast on a monthly basis to offer the Holy Mass. Belfast has also welcomed Monsignor Schmitz, Vicar General of the Institute, where he sang Mass in St Paul’s church.
REGINA: So what’s the situation today?
Stephen Tyrrell: Currently the Institute offers Holy Mass in St Therese of Lisieux church on the second Sunday of the month at 6pm, with schola practice beginning at 5pm.
The Mass attracts a congregation from several parishes in Belfast. Some of the faithful travel up to 80 miles to hear Mass and while the number attending is relatively steady there are frequently new attendees, particularly university students but others also who are interested in experiencing the ancient Liturgy of the Roman rite and the beauty of Gregorian chant.
We feel very blessed in Belfast to have such strong links to the Institute and hope that these links will continue to strengthen and develop further. In particular we are indebted to Canon Lebocq for his constancy and tireless work on our behalf, as he travels 450 miles round trip each month.
REGINA: Who has the TLM attracted?
Stephen Tyrrell: There is a small congregation at the TLM in proportion to the practising population of Belfast, for a number of reasons.
The first is historical; the Catholic Church in Ireland was persecuted for centuries, so Mass was celebrated secretly and hurriedly at “Mass Rocks” – located in forests and other places hidden from sight. And so, the liturgical leaning of most Irish people is quite “low” – we would not have a culture of grand liturgical celebrations. Many visitors to Ireland who attend Mass are surprised that Irish congregations don’t sing! Mass here is usually very simple.
Secondly people in Belfast, because of the Troubles, rarely attended Mass somewhere other than their parish church because they knew the safe route to the church. Currently within a square mile of Belfast city centre there are approximately 12 Catholic churches but people still tend to go only to their own church.
REGINA: What was the occasion for Cardinal Burke to visit?
Stephen Tyrrell: Some members of Latin Mass Belfast (LMB) attended the Catholic Voice Conference in Limerick. This is a yearly conference organised by the Catholic Voice newspaper, which is run by Anthony Murphy in Kildare.
We were invited by Canon Lebocq who offers the TLM in Belfast with other Priests of the Institute of Christ The King. His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke gave the keynote address. The theme of the conference was When the Foundations Are Being Destroyed, What Can the Faithful Do? (Ps 11:3).
Pontifical Solemn High Mass was celebrated by His Eminence Cardinal Burke at Sacred Heart Church the next day and it was truly beautiful. Two members of LMB were Acolytes on the day, which was a great honour for them.
REGINA: What were your impressions of the Conference?
Stephen Tyrrell: I found it extremely practical and inspiring. Six speakers provided a wholesome variation of topic and rhetorical style. The central focus was on the institution of the family and how it ought to be protected, giving insight for parents as well as practical instruction on what each of us can do to uphold the truth of Catholicism in the current climate of the world. This was particularly heartening for me, given that I will soon be a father myself.
Over 200 people attended. From instructions on what mothers and fathers can do to ways to defend our faith, I found it extremely practical and inspiring, especially as I will soon be a father myself.
REGINA: And the Mass?
Stephen Tyrrell: The Pontifical Solemn High Mass gave me hope for the future of the Faith in Ireland and the Church. However, it did make me sad to think that more Catholics are not aware of the beauty and traditions of the Church.
On the day, I acted as a photographer. I am not a professional and have no formal training but I was asked and I obeyed. As a photographer, it gave me a beautiful insight into the full day. From the arrival of His Eminence to the preparatory prayers before Mass, having the opportunity to capture the congregation, the Procession, the incredible Schola – all a culmination of the day’s meeting made the central focus of our weekend the Elevation of the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord.