Father Ray Kelly does not say your average Irish Catholic Mass. The priest from Oldcastle, Ireland, is a trained singer who is working on his third album. Thanks to YouTube, the world is now becoming familiar with his singing voice.
Kelly presided over the wedding of Chris and Leah O'Kane last weekend. He surprised all of the guests, and the bride and groom, by breaking mid-Mass into a stunning rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." The priest even changed the lyrics to reflect the occasion and the couple.
"We had the rehearsal on Thursday evening, and at the end I said, 'Sure maybe I'll sing a song for you myself,'" Kelly recalled to BBC Radio. "Leah grinned and said, 'OK, sure,' but I don't think she was taking it too seriously."
She was not, as the couple was surprised when the opening notes played and the priest began singing his version of the 1984 classic. The song has been covered by hundreds of performers and used in TV, singing competitions, and baseball stadiums. Certainly it has been heard many times in church, just perhaps not in this particular context.
"The band Sunlight who had been doing the music for the wedding had just finished singing when he put on the backing track, but people were still looking at them as they didn't know where the music was coming from — they were shaking their heads and saying it wasn't them," Patrick Rushe, who owns the company that filmed the wedding, told BBC News. "At the end of the song he got a standing ovation."
Rushe said the couple is on their honeymoon in Mexico but is aware that the video is receiving millions of views online and is very happy about it. Meanwhile Fr. Kelly hopes to continue to raise money for charity with his new LP. He might even be compelled to throw a cover song or two on there.