For centuries, Northern Ireland has been a battleground between Catholicism, protestantism, and secularism. In a recent victory against the Irish Troubles, Reformation, and Vatican II, a historic Presbyterian Church in Belfast is to re-open next week as a new centre for the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.
As Christian denominations struggle to fill pews in recent decades, many opportunities have been presented to Traditional Catholic communities to find new and old places of worship. In some ways, the recent trend is reminiscent of the early Catholic Church taking over pagan temples and the Jesuits and Franciscans reclaiming protestant churches during the Counter-Reformation.
In fact, several Traditional Catholic groups like Institute of Christ the King Sovereign, Society of Saint Pius X, and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, have occupied abandoned Catholic and protestant churches in cities around the world; this time in Belfast.
The Irish Catholic reported last week that Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor will preside at Solemn Vespers in the former Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church this coming Tuesday with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest who will be responsible for the liturgical life of the new community.
The following day, Bishop Treanor will also be present when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated in the building for the first time.
While Presbyterians decided to sell the building due to dwindling congregations, it marks quite the shift since that community traditionally subscribes to the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith which is highly critical of Catholic worship and teaching.
The document describes “the Popish sacrifice of the Mass” as “most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice”. It also rejects Catholic theology around transubstantiation.
In a statement this week, the Institute of Christ the King said it is “very grateful to the elders and community of the Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church for the opportunity to continue to offer Christian worship in this sacred building”.
Wallace Thompson, Secretary of the Evangelical Protestant Society, said he was “saddened” by the news.
He told The Irish Catholic that “while the sale of its properties is a matter for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, I’d be saddened that the building will no longer be used for the proclamation of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.”
The cost of purchasing the church has been met by an interest free loan which the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign will reimburse over the next five years.
The building will reopen on Tuesday, December 10 at 6 pm with vespers. The first Solemn High Mass in the church will take place the following evening at 6 pm celebrated by Msgr Gilles Wach, Prior General of the institute.
Original report by The Irish Catholic, here.
In Christ Crucified and the Most Victorious Heart of Jesus.