Celebrating Parish Anniversaries - 6th July 2014

At the Centenary Test held in 1977 to celebrate 100 years of Test Match cricket between England and Australia, the players didn’t wear the clothes of the era, or use bats and balls from 1877 or follow the rules as they were 100 years ago.

Yet, surprisingly often, parishes contact Liturgy Brisbane seeking assistance to celebrate a parish anniversary by re-enacting Mass as it would have been at the time of the occasion being marked.

The plan is to use old vestments, vessels and liturgical books and to conduct Mass according to the Missal of the time, that is, the Tridentine Rite said ad orientum, with the priest and the people all facing the same direction (supposedly east).

Such requests reflect a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of Mass. The Mass is not a play or an historical drama; it is an act of worship, of praise and thanksgiving to God. The Mass is something we do, not something we sit back and watch passively.

Celebrating the Eucharist involve a different type of remembering from that involved in celebrating an historical event. Gathering to hear our foundational story at Mass is not a nostalgia trip back to the past like people talking of how life was “in the good old days”. Retelling in the liturgy the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection calls these past events to mind and brings them into the present so that we become part of the story and participate in it.

If at a special parish anniversary it seems appropriate to give people a sense of liturgy of the period being recognised, it is best done by arranging a display of vestments, vessels and liturgical books of the era, rather than use them as props in a re-enactment.

Organising events such as a significant anniversary of the parish is challenging, as it involves shaping a form of celebration that is appropriate for the group and the occasion and which is within the liturgical tradition of the Church.

When deciding on a suitable way of celebrating, it is important to ask the right questions at the planning stage. These might include: What will happen at the event? Who will be there? Where will it take place? What form will it take?

If it is decided to celebrate Eucharist, then the choice of venue will be limited. It must be one that allows for the full and active participation of all present and does not force them into the role of being mere spectators at a performance.

If a space such as the local community centre will be the venue because it is the only place capable of accommodating the number of people expected to attend, the implication may well be that Eucharist is inappropriate and another form of celebration is preferable.

Where there will be both secular and liturgical elements, it is best to separate these two aspects of the event. A good solution is to begin with worship, during which the dignitaries sit in the front row. After the liturgy they are escorted to the podium where the Archbishop or his representative, no longer wearing liturgical vestments, joins them. The civic formalities then take place.


Elizabeth Harrington