Looking Back in Order to Move Forward

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.

Screenshot of YouTube video of Pope Francis celebrating Mass live streamed from Casa Santa Marta during COVID-19

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.

16/9/12 – Fifty Years Since Vatican II – Participation

During this Year of Grace, we have been invited to revisit the constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, which began fifty years ago this year.  The first of these constitutions was on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The constitution spoke strongly about the importance of participation.  Participation in the liturgy was described not as something desirable or preferred, but as the right and duty of every baptised Christian.  The constitution called for everyone to be led to this “full, conscious and active participation”.  Participation in the liturgy was the goal to be “the aim to be considered before all else” when reforming and promoting the liturgy.

The constitution also strongly called for people to be provided proper formation and study in liturgy, so that they could participate in celebrations as fully, consciously and actively as possible.

The Eucharistic Prayer celebrated at Mass according to pre-Vatican II ritesThis was a significant change in thought for many in the Church at the time, who often believed that the liturgy was the almost exclusive duty of the priest.  In fact, the liturgy belongs to the entire Church, with each member of the Church participating in their own way.  It unites us together as the Body of Christ.  Every liturgical celebration is a public act of Christ and his Church, and is never to be considered a private function.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

10/7/10 – Actuosa Participatio

At present, we are exploring the liturgical principles which underpin our work in the Church Renewal Process.  Having considered the liturgical presences of Christ, we now consider the second principle, namely:

Actuosa participatio

The Second Vatican Council called for all members of the Church to be led to full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy (see article 14).  It reflected a desire for us to reclaim the sense that we all celebrate the liturgy as one body in Christ.  It reflected a desire for us to reclaim the understanding that Christ is made present not just in the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine and the priest, but also in the proclaimed Word of God and the entire assembly that gathers to celebrate.

The Second Vatican Council not only called for full, conscious and active participation, but also insisted that it was our right and duty as baptised Catholics.  We should not be denied the opportunity to experience the liturgy as the centre of our lives.

The phrase “active participation”, however, has been the subject of debate over more recent years.  It is not simply about outward actions that people can see, or about everybody “doing something” during the Mass.  Active participation, rather, leads to a deep engagement in the paschal mystery that we celebrate; the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We don’t simply just observe the liturgy taking place.  Through our singing, reciting of responses and prayers, our gestures, silent prayer, and attitude towards the celebration, we are transformed, and our faith and relationship with God deepens.

Finally, the transformation that full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy brings about should make a difference to our lives outside of the four walls of the church as well as within them.  Not only is the liturgy the summit of our lives, but also its source; it nourishes, sustains and inspires us to go out (as we are reminded by the priest each week) “in peace to love and serve the Lord.”