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MAKE the most of the Australia Day holiday on Wednesday. It is the last public holiday now until Easter, three months away!
Australia's national day evokes a variety of responses and emotions – patriotism and national pride, of course, but also debate about the appropriateness of holding it on January 26, disappointment that summer holidays are coming to an end, and the anticipation of a new academic year.
It is most appropriate that parish communities schedule a Mass to celebrate our national day and pray for our country. The focus of the liturgy is on praise and thanks for God's blessing on our land and people, the need for reconciliation for past and present injustices and divisions, and on seeking God's continued guidance for the future.
Specially composed texts are provided for Mass on Australia Day including the Opening Prayer, Prayer over the Gifts, Preface, an insertion into each of the Eucharistic Prayers, Prayer after Communion and Solemn Blessing.
The Preface incorporates Australian images of drought and flooding rain:
"The fierce flood of your grace sweeps away all barriers, and soaks deep into our being, so that the desert blooms with the life that lies in wait."
The inserts into the Eucharistic Prayers speak of our celebrating with gratitude God's blessings on our country Australia. The prayer after communion asks that God might "grant us always to live in this land united in purpose and freed in the Spirit".
There are numerous natural realities which might be included in the Prayers of the Faithful: Australians away from home, including troops in East Timor and Bouganville; the oppressed, poor and homeless; indigenous people; migrants and refugees; rural communities; our politicians and spiritual leaders; social justice issues. Parishes might involve people of different nationalities in announcing petitions.
The Scripture readings approved for Australia Day speak of peace and justice, gentleness and mercy:
"Integrity will bring peace, justice give lasting security. My people will live in a peaceful home, in safe houses, in quiet dwellings" (Isaiah 32: 17-18).
The National Anthem could well be used to begin or end the liturgy, but we should never assume that everyone knows the words! Familiar hymns of praise will contribute to the spirit of the celebration.
It is usual to see the Australian flag prominently displayed in the church on January 26. It might be an interesting alternative for those parishes which used a Southern Cross banner during Advent to put it up again on our national day. Aboriginal motifs, Australian colours and Australian flowers and greenery could be incorporated in the worship environment on this day.
It's a nice touch to extend the liturgical celebration with billy tea and damper afterwards in the shaded area of a (Coolabah?) tree. Every parish has expert damper makers and billy swingers.
The liturgy should lead us into the rituals of sun, beach, races and family picnics which are also celebrated religiously on Australia Day.