Australian bishops approve of Aboriginal liturgy

Australia’s Catholic bishops have approved a liturgy that incorporates elements of Aboriginal language and culture, which some liturgists hail as a direct manifestation of the long-delayed Second Vatican Council.

On May 7, the Mass of the Land of the Holy Spirit (“Mass Land of the Holy Spirit”) was approved by the Plenary of Australian Bishops for use in the Diocese of Broome in Western Australia. The Mass will now be submitted to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship for official approval.

„The way I see it, it’s part of this process of the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference executive secretary for liturgy Jason McFarland told the National Catholic Reporter. „It represents a cultured form of the Latin rite.”

Among the major reforms of the landmark 1962-65 Vatican II Council was the endorsement of the Mass in the vernacular, specifically, Encouragement Worship culture.

At the same time, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Ballot’s Fr. Kevin McKelson Beginning his work with indigenous communities, including learning five indigenous languages, he helped develop a cult that would become locally known as „”Miss Kimberly.”

For five decades, that mass has been used throughout the region, but in various forms and without official recognition. When St Joseph senior Carmel Bilcher visited the Kimberley region in 2012, she was „very impressed” with what she saw.

„This Mass Council is in use since then, but when I visited it was a scrap of paper and different versions were being used,” he recalled to NCR.

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Over the years, linguist McKelson began working with Aboriginal communities to develop the Mass Method by studying their expressions and language.

„Though the structure is similar to Roman rituals, the texts are written in a way that comes back to English from the first languages ​​of the indigenous peoples,” Pilcher said. Sung throughout, often repeated.

„It’s the tribal way,” she said. „For some, it might seem too simple, but it’s how they talk, that’s their vocabulary.”

McKelson died in 2011 and Pilcher, a liturgical scholar, took up his work by forming a committee of worshipers and tribal representatives to begin studying the mass in theology, liturgy and canon, and making some minor changes.

Although McKelson made several attempts to obtain official recognition from Rome, he was unsuccessful in his efforts. Over the past decade, Pilcher and his team have worked to produce materials for Australian bishops, and the latest endorsement by the bishops’ conference was launched at the request of Bishop Michael Morrissey, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Broome.

According to McFarland, the bishops’ conference is now preparing materials to go to the Vatican, including an intermediate text to help Roman authorities navigate the complex linguistic background.

„In general, it will take a good amount of time because it is an important matter that needs their adequate attention,” he said of the Vatican’s timeline for the review.

Broadly speaking, however, cult expert Rita Ferron told NCR she believes the moment is ripe for such a move.

„It seems to me that people feel it’s the right time to put this on the table and see if they can get official recognition of the work they’re already doing,” Ferron said.

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„I believe Pope Francis is in favor of culture, and that extends to liturgical culture,” he said. He cited the Pope’s own encouragement of the proposal for an Amazonian rite that came out of the 2019 Synod for the Amazon, and his support and celebration of the Zairian rite in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to Ferron, author of several books on liturgy Liturgy: Holy CongregationAfter Vatican II, ecclesiastical efforts had their ups and downs.

While he says that Pope Paul VI promoted the liturgy, „there was a cooling of the program during the reign of Pope John Paul. [II] And Benedict [XVI].”

At that time, attempts were made by Native Americans, Indians and other communities with unique cultural characteristics, but, according to Ferron, „they got nowhere in Rome.” In 1988, the only group to approve the Zairian rite.

Ferron believes that the combination of the Amazon synod and the ongoing synod at Synodality „led the antennae to go up and people are starting to say, 'Let’s make this official.'”

„One of the House’s signature reforms endorsed the idea [of liturgical inculturation], we’ve had a backlash against it,” he noted. Endorsing the new tribal liturgy, „is an encouraging sign that the movement is alive and that it’s part of the larger church. It’s not something that’s inconsistent with the larger community.”

Pilzer acknowledged that in Australia, Aboriginal people are „deeply religious” and „to get this kind of recognition from church leaders, we can’t put words around it”.

„It’s hitting them now that the church has said yes to what they’ve been celebrating for 50 years,” Bilzer said. „Now they know it’s theirs and the church said yes to it.”

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