WYD mass crosses cultures

WYD Opening MassI recently heard a playwright comment that a stage play with a strong, clear structure gives the actors a greater scope for creativity and spontaneity. As a long time student of the Eucharist I made an immediate connection. The structure of the Catholic Mass is well established and easily identifiable. The ritual structure requires creativity to invite the worshipping community to encounter the holy and live the truth of the gospel.

We thought long and hard about this when we prepared the papal Mass for the beatification of Mary MacKillop in January 1995. We hoped the ritual would call people to live the way of Mary, but first we had to name the values that Mary embodied.

We were careful to ensure that the liturgy reflected inclusivity and favoured the poor and oppressed. The first and last words of the mass were spoken by Aboriginal Australians. Those who received communion from the Pope were the little ones of our society, rather than corporate sponsors. Ministers of the word reflected the multicultural richness of our nation with a diversity of language, gesture and costume.

This week's World Youth Day ceremony began with a visual spectacle of colourful national flags, Aboriginal music, song and dance and the grand entrance of the cross and icon, culminating with words of welcome from the Prime Minister. The Mass began with a similar spectacle — a procession of cardinals and bishops, and words of welcome from Cardinal Pell.

These two welcomes paralleled each other — one seen to be 'secular' and the other formally part of the mass. With some careful choreography the two could perhaps have been integrated into one gathering rite, reflecting the many cultures celebrating a Roman rite within a distinctly Australian context.

The setting for the liturgy was stunning. The simply crafted liturgical furnishings containing different wood from each Australian state complemented the beauty of the surroundings. While the strong red walls evoked our spiritual centre Uluru, they also seemed to be a visual barrier distancing clerics from the assembly. This was heightened as darkness fell and the light on the 'sanctuary' more strikingly delineated the two groups.

The Liturgy of the Word was rich with the diversity of languages spoken. Cardinal Pell delivered a carefully prepared homily. Connecting the image from Ezekiel of the valley of dry bones with the ongoing drought was an immediately identifiable image for his Australian hearers.

Torres Strait Islanders danced with the word, using the ceremony they ritualise regularly to keep the memory of their original encounter with God's word in the Christian scriptures. As they approached the podium the book was handed to a deacon and organ music sounded.

The Islanders moved away before the word was proclaimed, leaving an ambiguous sense that somehow their dance was a prelude rather than an integral part of the gospel proclamation.

The size of the assembly at the opening Mass of World Youth Day is comparable to the throngs who celebrated the beatification of Mary MacKillop. At that Mass we carefully determined how many ministers would be needed to serve communion to such a large assembly, and how the distribution could happen in an efficient yet reverent and timely way. One thousand ministers — half of them ushers — were engaged in this process.

The number of ministers who took communion to the assembly on Tuesday was far less. This leaves me wondering how many people were denied communion, and therefore deprived of the possibility of fully participating in this significant celebration.

It is always difficult to choreograph a Mass on such a large scale, and I sympathise with the organisers. For many this celebration would have been a wonderful event because it was such a tremendous spectacle. In such an environment one cannot but be inspired by the faith of so many young people.

But I am left with two major concerns. For the first I will repeat a question posed to us by the then papal master of ceremonies, Archbishop Piero Marini: 'How does this liturgy reflect your Australian culture?' He went on to add: 'If we wanted a Roman Mass we would have held it in Rome.'

The organisers did not attempt to integrate Australian elements into the mass, but rather made these extraneous to the ritual structure.

Secondly more attention needed to be given to the key principle of the liturgical reform — the full participation of all at worship: clergy and also the lay faithful.

Carmel Pilcher RSJJosephite Sister Carmel Pilcher is Director of Liturgy in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. She coordinated liturgies for the previous papal visit, for the Beatification of Mary MacKillop in 1995.

Topic tags: Carmel Pilcher RSJ, world youth day, opening mass, liturgy



submit a comment

Existing comments

I concur with all you have shared. Thank you for articulating sensitively matters of such importance especially as they relate to interculturation which is the child of inculturation; where there is a sense of equity in cultural immersion as it relates to ritual.
Cathy Harrison | 18 July 2008

Thank you Carmel for your article. When I read I felt an affinity with it, particularly the closing statements. This was a great opportunity to integrate Australian elements into the Liturgy and offer another occasion when visitors from around the world could learn as well as appreciate this young country. I guess it also showcased that we have a long way to go before there is inclusive and full participation.
Again thank you for taking the time to put your wisdom before us.
Joan | 18 July 2008

Insightful and apt commentary, Carmel! Vatican II called for adaptation and inculturation of liturgy for particular situations. That's what happened at Mary's Beatification. I regret the restored tendency to substitute frozen rubrics for true and full participation by the whole worshipping assembly. Liturgy must communicate, or else communion is impaired. Thanks for speaking out and up!
Brian Gleeson | 18 July 2008

Like the others above, I think Carmel's comments are very stimulating and relevant, and I read them with interest having had the privilege of being at the opening Mass.

I have to say that I didn't share her reservations about the extent to which the Indigenous elements had been integrated into the Mass. I was thrilled by them and felt they lent it a deeply Australian and spiritual perspective.

I would also point out that the spirit of the mass seemed to focus not so exclusively on its Australian ethos but equally on its international nature. I was excited by the presence of lay people from every ethnic background (except China - a sad omission given the PM's presence); among all those people, the Indigenous participants stood out as first among equals.
DNB | 18 July 2008

Sr Carmel while appreciating your point of view re inculturation. I do not find the criticisms convincing. I appreciate the way that cultural elements and the Ordinary Roman Rite were combined. As a sign of unity I appreciate that wherever I go the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite is the same, nothing added, nothing subtracted, the most perfect worship of God possible on this earth.
Fr Ronan Kilgannon | 18 July 2008

Dear Carmel,
It was great to read your insights and wisdom.
Joan Moutou
Joan Moutou | 18 July 2008

Carmel, a worthwhile comment on events together with a bit of enlightenment, and while not making too much of it, your critique of things liturgical reflects a broader matter that perphaps we aren't moving ahead because we just can't let go ... on many matters and their attendent mindsets.
Paul Goodland | 18 July 2008

Some good points in the above article about the opening mass at Barangaroo. But I am not comfortable with gilding of the lily view of the Mary MacKillop. That mass was, I feel, successfully controlled by the sensitivities and whims of some Sisters of St Joseph. I felt it was an exclusively “Brown Joey” affair, alienating me and making me comment that the sisters have to let go of their possessiveness of ‘their’ saint and recognise she is a saint for all Australians.

I accept it is probably hard to accept this criticism if you’ve worked hard for the beatification and you are a Josephite religious. Accepting this principle would have meant participation by children from non-Josephite schools for instance and participation by other Australians without an affiliation with the Congregation. Use of non-Josephite symbols for instance.

I was told that the sisters insisted that the priests not concelebrate. Concelebration has been part of Catholic life in the Australian church for over 40 years. Therefore the 1995 liturgy did not reflect inclusivity as boldly stated in the above article. It modelled a political ecclesiology that suited some, (and only some), Sisters of St Joseph.
John | 19 July 2008

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, Carmel - just a pity you were not still on the organising committee!
marj carroll | 19 July 2008

Following DNB's comment re no pilgrim from China. There was one whom I met as she was billeted in our parish, Holy Trinity (Lambton, New Lambton, Waratah in Newcastle) and we met at a gathering in our Days in the Diocese. She was from mainland China not Taiwan. I was surprised and delighted to find someone from China at WYD. She apoke good English, so I was able to hear from her a little about her coming.
Jan Tranter | 20 July 2008

Thanks Carmel. I had the feeling in many parts that the liturgy was a clergy fest set to appease the rubric-masters from Rome. While our Bishops are so boys' club and eager to please those they see as seniors overseas rather than celebrate the gifts of our culture within the liturgy, it is inevitable. And yes, not just lay faithful, but multicultural and women's participation, is integral and key. Pax, Rosemary
Rosemary Lynch | 20 July 2008

Thanks fro this reflection. I went to the final Mass of WYD and right fromt he beginning I was stunned - no acknowldegment of whose land we wwere on and the pre-vatican hymns of my childhood and the latin.....I couldn't remember all the latin of the Our Father so I couldn't even join in that....exclusion not inclusion once again........yes it was a Roman Mass not an Australian one!
AE Arnold | 21 July 2008

Thank You Carmel for articulating this so well. I agree wholeheartedly with you and with Archbishop Piero Marini.

As an Australian I also felt very disappointed that an Aboriginal Message Stick was not used in any of the liturgies throughout the week. In the last 2 years well over 250 Victorian parishes and schools (at invitation from Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Melbourne) have become permanent custodians of a Message Stick, an ancient cultural symbol of this Great South Land which also acknowledges the spirituality, the ancient dreaming and the Aboriginal way of touching the Mystery of our God. Today in our churches and schools it is used with ‘The Word’ and represents a visible symbol of unity as we continue the journey forward in Reconciliation.

The Message Stick should have been carried upright in the opening and closing processions, placed in a prominent position lying flat next to ‘The Word’ and then held in the upright position next to the reader as the Gospel was read.

We are the Church in Australia! Vatican II embraced incultration. The Pope’s since have increasingly encouraged incultration and in 1986 Pope John Paul II further said to Indigenous Australians at Alice Springs: “You are part of Australia and Australia is part of you. And the church herself in Australia will not fully be the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others".

Days in the Diocese and World Youth Day (week) signified such relevant occasion /s for its use. People from all nations and communities gathered in unity and peace, forgiveness and love. Yesterday at the final mass we also had the sacrament of Confirmation another recommended occasion for the use of the Message Stick.

Can we say we have joyfully received our Aboriginal contribution? I feel let down as a Non-Indigenous Australian; I wonder how our Indigenous brothers and sisters felt at such oversight. We live in what has long before colonisation been known as the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit. We are yet to see the birth of truly an Australian and life-giving Church.

Georginas Gartland | 21 July 2008

I enjoyed the comments especially from Archbishop Piero Marini on how we may in future learn to intergrate people and clergy as inclusive components of the liturgy.It seems we still need permission to state a unique Australian liturgy with symbols/people from our native land.People must of course come first and the cermony still seemed to me to separate the ministers from the people of God. There are differemt ways,to distribute communion and a more intergrated approach is possible.
Again a matter of thoughtlessness was to send the gospel dancers away, maybe we do not "Suffer the little children"? And we are supposed to be all children of God.
Ann Mcdowell | 25 July 2008

Mr Justice George A Palmer a Judge of the Equity Division NSW Supreme Court composed the classical music Score: "Missa Benedictus Qui Venit" (Blessed is he who Comes). It was a most fitting score particularly in praise of Pope Benedict XVI. 400/500 thousand pilgrims heard the Mass in reverence & spirit in the form it was celebrated.
David Bradley | 27 July 2008

totally agree with Carmel. the "Roman vs us" image was total. during the Pope's Mass all the young people around us remained asleep in their bags and only arose to go to communion and then packed their bags. Full, conscious and active participation seemed to be absent!
Dr Angela McCarthy | 30 July 2008

I just wish to comment on the one part of Sr Carmel's comment about how many may have been 'denied' Holy Communion.

In fact, no one was denied it. Due to logistics the priests distributed only to the central pods of pilgrims and all other pilgrims received Holy Communion from acolytes and extraordinary ministers who fanned out to reach them all at the appropriate time.
Bernard Toutounji | 02 August 2008


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up