Sunday marks the 200th anniversary since the arrival of Frs John Therry and Philip Connolly as the first official Catholic priests in Australia. Prior to that, some priests (mostly sent as convicts) were allowed at different times to minister to Catholics in New South Wales. Their tenures, however, never lasted long.
The last priest prior to Therry and Connolly was Fr Jeremiah O’Flynn, who, when ordered to leave in 1818, left behind the Blessed Sacrament at the home of pardoned convict and Lay Carmelite James Dempsey. Dempsey turned the best room of his house – already serving as a social and religious centre – into a chapel for prayer and Eucharistic adoration. Another Lay Carmelite, John Butler, was among those who assisted Dempsey in helping Sydney’s Catholics keep their faith alive.
Fast forward two centuries and now, although for very different reasons, we find ourselves today in similar circumstances to Australia’s first Catholics for much of the first thirty-two years of British colonisation. We find ourselves deprived of participation in the sacraments and looking forward with hope to when we can go to Mass once more.
Their experience helps to remind us that we can continue to sustain and nourish our faith in trying circumstances. What is more, they did so without modern technologies that would have allowed them to access prayer material online or view live streamed Masses! They were completely self-reliant on their own prayer and devotion, and whatever printed material they had with them.
In addition to their example, we have the benefit of understanding liturgy, and our place and role in the Church in the light of the Second Vatican Council. All of us who are baptised are called to fulfil our rightful role as liturgical participants. We are reminded of the presence of Christ within us who celebrate, and in the proclamation of the Scriptures – both of which can continue despite coronavirus restrictions. Much effort has been made over the last fifty years to introduce us to the rich liturgical and prayer life of the Church that sustains us and extends beyond the Mass.
So, while we cannot gather in our church buildings, let us be inspired by those who went before us. Let us continue, not just to observe Mass from afar, but to engage in the liturgical and prayer life of the Church that we as the baptised can continue to actively participate in. Our own resources for Celebrating the Word of God on Sundays, as well as a selection of other liturgical and prayer resources are available on our website for you to use now.