Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, 16 Dec 2011
From Sunday 19 February, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, St Mary’s parish church at Erskineville will begin a regular monthly Mass for Sydney’s Aboriginal Catholics.
As with the Church of Reconciliation at La Perouse, the Erskineville Masses will be celebrated by both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals and bring together people of all nationalities and backgrounds.
Announcing the expansion of the its monthly Mass program, Graeme Mundine, Executive Officer of the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) says the decision to hold a monthly Mass for Aboriginal Catholics in Erskineville came after the ACM held a series of forums earlier this year to find out what people wanted and what was needed.
“One of the messages that came through loud and clear was a desire for us to hold more ‘Aboriginal’ Masses particularly in the inner city,” he says.
Since 1999 the ACM’s Church of Reconciliation at La Perouse has provided a special Mass for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Catholics on the first Sunday of every month at 11.00 am. Now the Erskineville Mass, to take place on the third Sunday of each month, will enable Aboriginal families, friends and non Aboriginals attend their own Indigenous Mass twice a month.
While Australia’s Indigenous people share much in common with their fellow Catholics, they have their own vibrant and distinct culture, ancestry and voice. For this reason their own Mass is important and has deep meaning for them.
“We are culturally different from other Australians,” Graeme explains. “We didn’t come from a Northern Hemisphere or an Asian culture. Our culture evolved here in Australia among the eucalypts, red earth and deserts. Our flora and fauna are also different. The paintings of Christ surrounded by Northern hemisphere creatures such as donkeys, sheep, cows, cockerels and hens were hard for our ancestors to understand. But if he had been surrounded by native fauna such as kangaroos, emus and bush turkeys the Scripture’s stories would have made more sense to them.”
Graeme says more than a century and a half later, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholics are still grappling with these cultural and environmental differences and coming to grips with what it means to be Catholic as a person whose entire history and culture is rooted in Australia.
Which is why Mass celebrated for Aboriginal Catholics includes special liturgies, hymns and prayers written by the Aboriginal people themselves with suggested Penitential Rites included such as the Aboriginal Rite of Water Blessing and the Aboriginal Rite of Smoking or Fire.
For Indigenous Catholics Mass celebrated in this way has deep meaning as it connects with their past and their culture.
Over many years Erskineville’s Church has conducted funeral Masses as well as weddings for the city’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population but February next year marks the first time since 1999 when La Perouse’s Reconciliation Church was founded that the parish has held a regular monthly “Aboriginal” Mass.
“Those of us who have been involved in the ACM since the 1980s have very fond memories of Erskineville which was the ACM’s home for quite a few years in the 1980s,” says Graeme.
In addition to the Erskineville parish’s close connection with ACM during its founding, the relationship has been further strengthened in recent times by the Archdiocese appointment of the St Mary’s Parish priest, Fr Barry Brundell as part-time chaplain to the ACM.
In the tradition of the La Perouse Church of Reconciliation where everyone stays on after Mass to share food, a cup of tea and a chat, St Mary’s Erskineville will encourage those attending the monthly Mass at the church to bring a plate to share with others after the service.
“Hospitality is an important part of the La Perouse Mass and it will be the same at Erskineville,” Graeme promises.