Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday - 29th June 2014

The first Sunday of July, which falls next week, has been mandated by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday.

It is important to keep in mind that National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is a special intention and not a liturgical celebration like a feast day. The “theme” for every Mass is always giving thanks and praise to God for the free gift of our salvation through, with and in Christ.

The readings and prayers for next Sunday will still be those of the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, as designated in the Church’s liturgical calendar.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) has promulgated resources to assist parish communities to incorporate observance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday into their liturgies next week. These can be found and downloaded from the Resources/Liturgy section of the NATSICC website www.natsicc.org.au.

These resources include words of introduction, a Welcome to Country, ideas for the gospel and gifts processions, homily notes by Bishop Joseph Oudeman, a selection of petitions for inclusion in the Prayer of the Faithful, and hymn suggestions.

Parishes sometimes enquire whether it is permissible to use the Aboriginal Lord’s Prayer and the Aboriginal Eucharistic Prayer on this day. Only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, for whom they were especially composed, are entitled to use these prayers.

The possibilities for celebrating National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday at Mass are somewhat limited. Parishes need therefore to look for other ways to raise awareness of indigenous people and issues and to encourage people to pray about them.

Apart from the liturgical resources, there is a vast range of material on the NATSICC website offering information about indigenous issues for parishes to include in bulletins, distribute after Mass or display prominently on notice boards.

Some parishes fly the Aboriginal flag inside the church on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. The question to be asked is whether it is ever appropriate to display the national insignia of a particular group in church which is meant to be a place where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female”. The allegiance which draws us together for liturgy transcends cultural and national boundaries.

Some liturgy planners are keen to incorporate Aboriginal customs such as the smoking ceremony on special occasions such as National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. Aboriginal ceremonies should only ever be included in Christian worship after open and honest discussion about the meaning of the ritual between the Indigenous people and those preparing the celebration. They should only ever take place with the full participation of indigenous leaders. It is also vital that all participants at the liturgy be given a clear explanation of the significance and purpose of the ritual.

The week following National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is NAIDOC Week. Parishes might hold a special prayer service during the week, have a guest speaker from the Indigenous community one evening, or encourage all parish committees and groups that will meet during the week to include prayer for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their agenda.

Elizabeth Harrington