Twenty-nine times church bells tolled, calling in a grieving community to farewell 29 of their loved ones.

As people began to arrive at St Patrick's Catholic Church in Greymouth, for a moment 29 worshippers knelt in prayer for the 29 who had died in the Pike River coal mine.

The high-arching white church, with light streaming through its stained-glass windows, shone for the 29 worshippers, in stark contrast to the complete blackness in which the 29 men died.

"We pray that their moment of fear becomes eternal peace," said Monsignor Gerry O'Connor.

The 29 worshippers all had greying hair; the Pike River workers, including one just 17 who was on his very first shift, will never grow old.

The worshippers were lined up in narrow pews, in a cool, spacious church; the miners were trapped in a web of narrow tunnels smouldering with heat. The contrast was a reminder of the horror the men may have gone through.

The church ceremony began as the pews filled with families.

Twenty-nine candles were lit, symbolising hope the men would find eternal life.

Monsignor O'Connor spoke of finding peace, and encouraged the worshippers to turn to those near them. They reached for each other's hands and voiced blessings.

"The whole message is one of hope, and we felt it would be some comfort to people," said Monsignor O'Connor after the Mass.

The community had gone through so much emotion in a week that it was hard to know what to say.

"You just sort of feel you haven't got the right words for people. Sometime you feel so sorry for them, but we do what we can," he said.

The church's peace and quiet provided a haven from high tensions outside. During the early morning police patrolled the town centre prepared for grief and anger to turn into violence as men spilled out of pubs.

The candles that lit up St Patrick's later in the day were symbols of a grieving community who will soon focus on trying to move on.