The singing priest and the great wedding divide

You’ve probably already seen this.

On Facebook, I have many friends who are liturgists, music ministers, youth ministers, and clergy. There, I’ve noticed that those who are liturgists mostly cannot stand what this priest did in the video. Those who are youth ministers tend to be much more enthusiastic about this. Music ministers and clergy seem to be on both sides. Yet most all agree that the priest has a lovely voice and sang this song very well. And almost everyone I know loves the original song by Leonard Cohen.

I’ve already tried to explain to my Facebook friends why this is not an example of good liturgy. But the arguments I hear back from those who are overjoyed at what this priest did are not about what constitutes good liturgy but about what brings joy to the assembly. I lament that we’ve gotten to the point where for some, “good liturgy” equals joyless liturgy.

The social media conversation around this video is very telling. Liturgists (myself included) have not done ourselves or others any good by beating people over the head with rubrics. Yet rubrics do have value, as does human emotion. How can we bridge the divide?

Added note: So he has done this also for Linda and Donals, changing the names of course, and then “You Raise Me Up” for Mary and John. All I can say is priests better start learning some of these songs to sing because couples will start asking for them. I already know a wedding coordinator who has received several inquiries about “singing priests” for their upcoming weddings.


  1. The wedding liturgy is about the couple, not the priest.
    The singing drew attention away from the couple and directed it toward the priest.

    Plus – the lyrics!

    It’s really a profoundly moving song, but its not even remotely appropriate to a wedding. It’s about the ways that lovers hurt each other and the glory that can be found even in that pain.

    Love is a lot of things, including sometimes a cold and broken “hallelujah.” But a wedding is specifically about the “victory march” of love.

    Moreover – it’s a remarkably intimate song, the speaker of the song addressing it to his (or her, I guess) lover. The mystifying and pseudo-biblical imagery allows any couple with a shared history to writer their own meaning into it, to put fleshy details into the cosmic poetry.

    It is really beyond inappropriate for a priest to publicly insert himself that way into a couple’s private story, taking on the vocal role of one of the lovers.

      1. @David Haas – comment #28:
        >>Actually – the wedding is not about the couple either – it is about Christ.

        Quite right. Thank you.

        What I said was a sort of short-hand, assuming that most people who read around here and over at the Cafe already know those sorts of things. Bit I probably shouldn’t assume that’s the case.

        Also, I was trying to think about the incident from the couple-focused, secularized view of a wedding: It’s obvious that a liturgical analysis shows this to be a bad practice. I think even a secular humanist view of weddings does as well.

        And David:
        Speaking of weddings… my brother played for mine, and of course my wife and I selected all the music ourselves. He likes to tell the story that, walking into the church with his bag of music for our wedding another friend commented on its heft, and he responded, “Yeah, it’s heavy – it’s got the complete works of David Haas in there.”
        I’m sure there had to have been something else that morning that you didn’t write, but the only thing that comes to mind is “All Creatures of Our God and King.” But I’m pretty sure we used your Evening Prayer music the night before, so that makes up for it.

    1. Um, in a sacramental marriage, the Trinity is present-man, woman, God. Call it a love triangle if you will, but a truly Christian marriage includes God. The priest stands in for God. Hence, I don’t see the problem.

    2. Have you listened to the version that Father Kelly sang? The words were not the original Leonard Cohen words. Mr.Cohen himself ,as I understand it, wrote many many many verses of the song and used different ones at different times. Anyway, The words Father Kelly sang were all about the bride and groom. He used their names, Leah and Chris in the song. I know your comment was made in the spirit of good will and love of Christ, but I believe Father Kelly just saw his song as a gift for the bride and groom.

  2. More than anything, I was distracted by the church environment, especially the way the bridge & groom’s chair was basically right next to the Presider’s Chair, but 180 degrees turned around–it must have been weird of the Liturgy of the Word. Not to mention the unity candle on the altar.

    Not knowing the rest of the context (how the priest knows the couple, what the couple requested, etc.) I’ll actually give the rest of it a “pass.”

  3. A non-liturgical aside.
    It made the main national news here in the UK. It was bliss to hear the word “priest” without the normal journalistic prefix “paedophile.”
    Might not tick the right liturgical boxes, but it did the Church’s reputation no end of good.
    For that I give hearty thanks.

  4. It’s actually an example of pre-conciliar liturgy modified to the modern mindset of ministry as “servicing” rather than serving the faith community.

    There is a class of people who are capable of “performing” liturgy (or music) properly (so to speak). It wouldn’t occur to most any couple to commission a composer to write a text and music based on their theological reflection of what this marriage means to them. It wouldn’t occur to them to reflect deeply on the Scriptures and prayers of the Rite of Marriage. What they’ve got instead is a “voice” singing a “song.” It’s a double import. The couple is serviced and edified. But does their faith grow? Does the faith of the gathered community grow? Does the full lyric of the piece stand up to reflection? Maybe it does. But I’m more likely to think Psalm 34 or Psalm 128 or even Psalm 114 does a better job of it.

    That said, beautiful song. Leonard Cohen is certainly a gifted songwriter. When I hear it, I think Shrek, of course, but that identifies me as a parent of a daughter of a particular age.

  5. Welcome to the state of the liturgy in my native land. At the risk of being totally lambasted by my fellow countrymen, I’m afraid that I must concur that the myriad of liturgical issues in the video clip are an indication of the state of Catholic liturgy here.

    The great Dom Botte had this to say about Irish liturgy: “If you wish to make an assessment of what occurred between the two world wars, you notice that the movement clearly gained ground. From then on it was supported by quality scholarly research. Likewise it spread widely in all Catholic countries, except Ireland. An Irishman who replied to a questionnaire about the liturgical movement said: ‘The history of the liturgical movement in Ireland is as simple as that of the snake: there have never been any snakes in Ireland.’ In 1915 I attended a funeral in Ireland. I was told it was the only occasion when the Mass was sung. All the clergy of the neighboring parishes were brought in, and all twenty of them were present to roar out the Requiem Mass. It was appalling.” From Silence to Participation, 57.

    I know that there are islands of better liturgy in Ireland, but on the parish level the sate of the liturgy here is generally appalling. At least this priest is trying to do something, as opposed to the general liturgical apathy that is usually evident. But the idea that the liturgy itself can be sung is alien to most priests. The idea here is to occasionally (for funerals and Christmas and other events) to have music at Mass, rather than singing the Mass. One year when I was celebrating Christmas Mass in my home parish, the parish priest had helpfully arranged for a Brass Band for the music at that Mass, so it was impossible to sing the sanctus or the alleluia, but there was a brass band belting out versions of popular carols during the liturgy. Again in this case it is impossible to know from the clip if the priest sung the parts that should be sung, i.e. the Mass Parts, the Preface, or, particularly for a wedding liturgy, the…

  6. I think your thoughts are a bit misplaced. As the notes below the video state, while the tune used was the one made popular by Leonard Cohen, the words were written specifically for this occasion by someone else. This *isn’t* Cohen’s “Hallelujah” being sung here, but something else entirely.

    The theology expressed in the words is not terribly problematic — indeed, it fits well with what we say the marriage rite is about.


    HALLELUJAH . . .

    HALLELUJAH . . .

    What I can’t tell from the video is *how* this was used within the rite. If it was the opening to a homily, that would be one thing. If it was to take the place of some other prayer or direction, that might be something else.

    But your point about the uniqueness of each wedding is very appropriate. I’ve done things at one wedding that I’d never dream of doing at any other wedding, because it fit that couple to a T but wouldn’t work elsewhere. My take is that this is not something that the priest did flippantly, but that it somehow fit with the bride and groom. At the 2:15 mark, the groom certainly seems delighted, not outraged, which leads me to think that this was not a narcissistic priest calling attention to himself, but a thoughtful priest speaking to this particular couple.

      1. @Joe Bonesto – comment #10:

        Hmmm . . . I’m imagining a cheese-based review: “To some, the words of the priest’s song were like a smoked aged gouda — soft and tasty, leaving a pleasant aftertaste to linger on the palate. To others, they were like Velveeta that had been left in the hot sun for a couple of hours — oozy, gooey, and not fit for consumption.”

        All in all, though, I thought I’d avoid commenting on the quality of the poetry of these lyrics, in that might take us back to the discussion of the quality of the poetry of the new missal translation . . .

    1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #7:

      “What I can’t tell from the video is *how* this was used within the rite.”

      I was wondering the same thing. If it was during the introductory rite, I’d think that the wedding party would be standing. If it was the homily, he’d do it from the ambo. Plus, the past tense, “those most important words that you heard” suggest that it’s after the vows. Given that everyone is sitting and he is sitting in the presider’s chair, and a song is ending, I think it’s likely that this is a post-communion-song little addition that someone dreamed up.

      I once attended a Sunday mass in which the entire homily was sung, to the tune, “I Get High With a Little Help From My Friends”. The preacher, a deacon, had been a rock star in his younger days, so it didn’t seem quite as incongruous as it sounded, and I thought the whole thing worked. People like gimmicky preaching, at least when the gimmick works. They like things to be memorable.

      1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #15:
        If you watch it to the end, it’s clear this was after Communion and before the final prayer, blessing and dismissal. Yes, the lyrics were a little cheesy, but most wedding songs are full of cheese [He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts
        Rest assured this troubador is acting on his part….]. The only thing that offended me was doing it from the altar. But I’m not calling the Temple police on that, either.

    2. Love that take on this. The video sure has caused a ruckus in the Church community!
      I thought it a beautiful testimony to love.

  7. Diana, in all the talk in social media that you’ve been seeing, have you heard how this fit into the rest of the marriage service?

  8. Oh pleeese! Lighten up! Fr. Ray Kelly celebrated the love of two people in a memorable manner not necessarily liturgically correct according to the rule book, but celebratory none the less. A living church copes with diversity.

    1. @Chris McDonnell – comment #12:
      I don’t think anyone here has said that it was “not liturgically correct” because it broke a rule in book somewhere. As I read them, the comment have tried to give theological reasons why one might not see this as a “best practice” for weddings. There are all sorts of memorable ways of celebrating the love of two people that might not be appropriate for a wedding liturgy (one in particular, which doesn’t normally involve singing, comes to mind).

      Me? I’d probably shrug it off if I were attending and certainly wouldn’t call the temple police. But would I hold it up as a model? No.

  9. Most of the comments on another forum have been focused on the fact that this took place during Lent, but
    — with a profusion of flowers on the altar that effectively obscured everything else, and
    — with (H)Alleluias

  10. Ah, the liturgists are in high dudgeon. Both the progressives and the traditionalists have joined together to accuse the priest not only of bad liturgy but narcissism. I object. I thought it was quite moving and I know that the couple and the assembly was also moved. I rather thought it was an act of serendipity. There must be something in the relationship between this priest and the couple that made this seem right and proper. He did an excellent job and seemed to be using it as a form of blessing….not THE blessing, but a blessing. I think many of you should lighten up and stop focusing in on this as another kind of “clown Mass” to report to the temple police. How about the priests who allow the pets into the church during mass for a blessing on the Feast of St. Francis. Fie on them also.

  11. The priest could offer this as a gift . . . at the reception.

    As for the text: it suffers from the banality of telling rather than showing. It’s a recap of the action, as it were.

  12. The couple in question have just been on national tv in Ireland, speaking from Mexico where they are on honeymoon, thanking the priest for making their wedding so special. Oh that this could be said of all weddings celebrated by all who criticise so freely!
    The clip has been watched over 11 million times on utube.
    Fr Ray Kelly himself was interviewed on live television.
    He has done more for promoting a positive image of church and the church’s wedding liturgy than people who think that only what they prefer is proper liturgy.
    To all those I say, what you think of this event is what very many think of your liturgical preferences!

  13. Okay, enough already with the Temple Police and whatever constitutes the meaning of “very moving” to all involved (aka “Don’t be a buzzkill.”)
    No matter where this calculated, accreted trope was inserted, how does this not aid and abet that which both poles of the liturgy wars abhor, clericalism?”
    Do the statistical and PR realities of bumping up the Church’s Q factor actually depend upon this one emo priest’s heartfelt gift to the happy couple?
    This is our universal community now?

  14. What does the “universal” Church mean? That all the people in the Church are alike? Or that all different sorts of people are integral to the whole?

  15. Now if it had been in Latin, of course that would have made one heck of a difference.
    Personally I prefer the version we have. Relax and move on.
    Or has Fr Kelly already been notified to the CDF?

  16. This was sung after Communion before the concluding blessing (or perhaps it was before the Prayer after Communion…who knows…). But this was not a lone incident, a *special* song for a couple with whom he has a *special* relationship. He’s done it a couple other times. See addition to post above.

  17. Eh, not my cup of tea but so what? It’s a big church and there’s room for different styles. God speaks to people in different ways.

    As far as “the rubrics” go, the Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath.

    “Good liturgy” and “joyless liturgy” are in the eye of the beholder.

    Let it go.

  18. “‘You Raise Me Up’ for Mary and John.

    Oops. About ten years ago, whenever the song came out, one of the musicians in one of my groups made a very strong push to sing this at Mass. I’ll confess I’m willing to try almost anything … once. So I took it home and completely rewrote the verses for the three scrutiny Sundays of Lent, and arrange the refrain for three-part voices–what this ensemble could handle at the time.

    It never got a curtain call. Maybe they wanted the original. Maybe they didn’t want anything tainted by the non-sacred.

    I’m with KLS on the text. That said, it’s not worse than some of the MR3 prayers in English in that regard.

    On the other hand, something like this bears fruit. Do we deny it? What does that mean, especially for those of us inclined to discount this kind of inculturation?

  19. I wouldn’t want this at my wedding but I can’t see anything “objectively wrong”. I have played the organ at countless weddings and have seen much worse. At least the priest has a decent singing voice. I also quite liked how the priest, despite receiving a thunderous applause, did not bask in it and cut it short by returning to the prayers of the service.

  20. As is often the case, I am a little late to the party here, but gratefully so. With so many comments, I have a lot to think about, which causes me to reexamine my initial reaction to the video. It was first sent to me by my Jewish cousin, who sent it to her rabbi husband and her rabbi son… and asking the son, a fine singer, to consider doing this at a wedding. (FYI: the two rabbis offered a berakah at Mark’s and my wedding reception, with my cousin the older rabbi saying the blessing in English, with my other cousin, his then twenty-something son, chanting it in Hebrew. It was beautiful and appropriate for the reception.

    Anyway, at first I thought it was so sweet and then two things hit me, almost simultaneously… One was that dreaded (sorry for my liturgical angry crank appearing) unity candle, the cause of so much drama at my workplace. And the other was the flowers with the candle, on the altar. Gah! Not long after, the Hallulujah during Lent started to bug me. Then a FB friend, a priest, noted how the singing priest became the focus, not the couple, and Jesus… seemingly not a focus at all. (Bravo @David Haas above!)

    As other friends began to send it to me, my reaction drew confused dismay from friends, Catholic and otherwise, who loved it. It was then i felt a bit defeated for trying to live in ways that upheld the beautiful sacramental theology of marriage. *sigh* And no, no one would ever call me a traditionalist, but I say this as someone who believes she married not only her spouse Mark that day, but also an entire community in Christ.

    I am reminded that our desire for individualism, specialness, making it all about ourselves – something I regrettably have a lot of experience with, and feeling good, seem to trump all.

    Yet, some things said here, cause me to pause and reconsider. Of course I am still cranky, but perhaps more thoughtfully so…

  21. Maybe we should start to think of the reception as actually part of a wedding, a part which not only allows but encourages appreciation of the uniqueness of the couple within the Body of Christ.
    It has often occurred to me while reading posts here (and in other Catholic blogs) that there is a common metaphysical error being made, viz., the assumption that all the parts of the Church must be alike, that the universality of the Church consists in uniformity of parts. But the Church is an artifact, something made by God Himself with parts that are complementary, that are not simply repetitions of other parts, and the whole is richer for it.
    I say treat the reception as a part of the wedding which expresses the individuality of the couple *as members of the Body of Christ*, and have the priest sing then if the couple wants it that way. “Individuality”, unlike “individualism” is not necessarily a bad word.

  22. Ann, there’s another radical shift that would change this whole thing, and that is to hold weddings at Sunday Mass.

    This would put the brakes on runaway personalization, “designer” weddings, and actually suggest that the church is celebrating rather than being the mere building or stage set that hosts a private affair for friends and family.

    It also means that if brides are late, they can’t walk down the center aisle. How do you like that? Making memories…. by sneaking up the side aisle during the Kyrie if you’re late. 🙂

      1. @Fran Rossi Szpylczyn – comment #37:
        Weddings at Sunday Mass would pose a problem in many places if they noticeably lengthened Mass. Just remember the Prime Directive for Sunday Mass: Thou Shalt Not Noticeably Lengthen Mass.

  23. Rita,
    Sometimes I wonder if those opulent weddings put on by people of modest means are even valid rituals. They certainly exhibit no understanding of what the sacrament of Matrimony entails. Spending 5 years of savings on one party when you’re about to start a family shows gross immaturity to me.

  24. I certainly apprieciate the comments questioning the appropriateness of Fr. Kelly’s singing, at the alter and during Lent or whether it was nacissistic. However, one must remember: only the Lord may judge him. Comments that I have seen on this blog and on other Catholic blogs, has been very judgemental and smacks of the Pharisees and Sadducees, during the time our Lord, when He was on earth . Only the Lord knows the heart of Fr. Kelly. I will take it as is: very heart felt and endearing to the Lord and the couple.

    I wonder if those of you, in the Latin Rite, would be screaming BLASTPHOMY, when witnessing the liturgy of the other 21 churches, in communion with the Bishop of Rome. I am Ukrainian Greek Catholic and could question how “holy” the Latin Rite is, when they keep changing their liturgy, for the sake of making it more welcoming for parishioners. I don’t and never will; although the Latin Rite has pushed, for centuries, to “latinize” the liturgy of their brothers and sisters of other Rites.

  25. Ann – I do think that unaffordably opulent weddings are a symptom of some seriously-out-of-whack trends in our culture. Immaturity may be part of it, but by no means is it the only contributing factor.

    Here is something that really frosts me: not a single one of my children (all of whom happen to be teens these days) has ever been to a wedding reception. Why? Because the prevailing trend during the last few decades has been: wedding receptions are adults-only.
    By the time I was a teenager, I had been to a half-dozen extended-family wedding receptions.

    Until their own friends start marrying, my children will never have experienced a wedding reception. It’s possible (although I hope it will not be the case!) that the first reception one of my kids attends will be his/her own.

    In my mind, anyway, wedding celebrations are important family and communal events. Kids should be part of that mix, and kids should grow up grounded in the experience of it. If the presence of kids makes the receptions less raunchy – so much the better!

    Not having experienced it themselves, the only impressions my kids can have of a wedding reception is an impression mediated by television, films, and the other media. I would say it’s no wonder that they all think that weddings should be lavish, free-spending affairs.

  26. I would determine whether or not the song was appropriate by asking, “With the song did they have a better appreciation that marriage is a sacrament of God’s love, that marriage love tells us something about God and that God’s love tells us something about marital love?” I’m betting that it did. I’m OK with a bit of personalization at a wedding. I’m not a songwriter or an artist so I will leave it to others whether or not the song was schmaltzy. But for me, that isn’t the issue.

  27. #39. That’s certainly an inviolable principle in Boston where speedy prayers are regarded as normal. After all, people have to grab a Sunday Globe out in front of the church and get to breakfast.

  28. I have been receiving (okay, just 4 emails…and then there were 2 emails during Holy Week) about this and whether the priests in my community can sing and if the Cohen alleluia is available for the priest to sing. Oh, this request was new: for the wedding entourage to leave the aisle to pharrell’s Happy.

  29. What the comments here about how the wedding is all about the couple because they are doing the sacrament reveal is a very Latin Rite view of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Since our theology is usually based upon our experience, the Latin Rite emphasis upon the vows means that we get a great impulse into making them the climax of the ritual in church. Eastern Christians don’t usually have an exchange of vows in church; the service is about the priest’s blessing of the couple and so in their theology he is the one who “confects” the sacrament. This is very similar for me to the different emphasis about what part of the Eucharistic Prayer is the “magic moment,” the narrative of institution or the epiclesis.
    Just as the post-Vatican II reforms tried to broaden our vision by developing the epicleses within the Roman Eucharistic Prayer, the latest revision of the Rite of Matrimony for the USA asked for permission to do the nuptial blessing immediately after the vows so that the two components would be linked, but that permission was denied. (Surprise?)

    1. “the service is about the priest’s blessing of the couple and so in their theology he is the one who “confects” the sacrament.”

      Actually, the service is about the couple being crowned (literally) in marriage, so therefore, it is the priest who is the “minister of the sacrament” and not the couple, to use Latin terminology. And a deacon cannot crown a couple, it must be a priest or bishop.

      1. Thank you for your terminological clarification. I have been to the crowning, just never had a chance to explore the terminology.

  30. Just as a follow up to this post, the priest in question was interviewed by Crux news agency. The full interview can be found here:
    Speaking of the wedding on the YouTube video he stated could didn’t know he was going to do it, but “I said to them after the wedding rehearsal: “I might sing a song for you myself.” And they kind of looked at each other, almost suspiciously, probably thinking “What is he talking about?” But I just presumed the message had gotten through. So, I stepped up to my microphone, just before the final blessing at the wedding ceremony. I pressed my backing track and I started singing a personalized version of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” incorporating the bride and groom’s names in the song. I had done that many times before.”

    So he already had a backing track ready to go and just sprung it on them.

    He has recently appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. I think this appearance. may well constitute good outreach and have potential for evangelization. But I’m still not convinced that a priest should make himself the center of attention during a liturgy. Surely Christ, and the couple themselves, are the centre of the marriage liturgy and not the priest.

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