Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Sunday

The first Sunday of July has been mandated by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference as National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. Some parish liturgy planners may be unsure about the appropriate way to mark this commemoration which falls next Sunday.

The first thing that must be said is that special intentions such as this are not liturgical events. The ‘theme’ for every Mass is the paschal mystery - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The purpose of our coming together for worship is always to give thanks and praise to God for the free gift of our salvation through, with and in Christ.

The readings and prayers for next Sunday are still those of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C, as the day is designated in the Church’s liturgical calendar.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council has promulgated resources to assist parish communities to incorporate observance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday into their liturgies next week.

These resources include: wording for a brief reference to the day before the Entrance Procession; recommendation of a rite of sprinkling in the Introductory Rites; a reflection for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday by Bishop Michael Putney, part of which could be included in the homily; a selection of petitions for inclusion in the Prayer of the Faithful; hymn suggestions.

This material can also be used by parishes as a source of information about indigenous issues to be printed in parish bulletins, distributed after Mass or prominently displayed on parish bulletin boards.

I have been asked whether parishes may use the special Aboriginal Eucharistic Prayer on this day. Only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, for whom the prayer was especially composed, are entitled to use this prayer.

Some parishes fly the Aboriginal flag inside the church on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. I wonder if 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 frank 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 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.

The week following 1 July 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