Shocked parishioners gathered at St Martin de Porres Catholic Church last weekend after the sudden death of Father Joe Williams.
The 42-year-old priest, who’d been missing for three days, was discovered dead on New Year’s Day. He was slumped in his car in Morrison’s car park in Houghton Regis.
A post mortem will be held but is expected to reveal he died of natural causes.
Dean of Luton Monsignor Kevin McGinnell said it was very distressing to lose a brother priest in such circumstances.
He added: “It looked as if he’d just popped out shopping. But the more time elapsed, the more worried we became.
“It was a terrible shock when we found out what had happened.”
Father Kevin described Father Joe. who came to Luton in 2011, as “a good colleague, but quite a reserved character. He was very diligent and was the Catholic chaplain at the hospital.”
St Martin de Porres parish committee member John Jephcott said they’d become concerned when Father Joe failed to turn up to hear confessions on Saturday, though they thought he may have gone to visit his mother who had not been well.
Mr Jephcott said: “The atmosphere is very sorrowful, He will be sadly missed.”
Father Joe’s body will be received at the church at 7pm on Wednesday, January 15, followed by a requiem mass the next day at 1.30pm. It will be celebrated by the Bishop of Northampton, the Rt Rev Peter Doyle.
Father Joe, who was ordained in 2000, will be buried at Buckfast Abey in Devon,