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Australian Catholic Bishops

Mass of the Land of the Holy Spirit approved

 Mass of the Land of the Holy Spirit approved  ING-019
10 May 2024

Australia’s Catholic Bishops have approved a liturgy which incorporates elements of Aboriginal language and culture. According to a statement from the Australian Bishops, the motion to approve the Mass of the Land of the Holy Spirit (Missa Terra Spiritus Sancti) for use in the Diocese of Broome in Western Australia, was passed at the Plenary Meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Sydney on Tuesday, 7 May.

The Mass will now be submitted to the Dicastery for Divine Worship for what is known as recognitio, or official recognition by the Vatican.

“We have to walk with Aboriginal people. I am so pleased that after such a long period of use the Missa Terra Spiritus Sancti has been given official recognition by the bishops of Australia”, Bishop Administrator of Broome, Michael Morrissey, said.

Two elders from the Bidyadanga (La Grange) parish – Maureen Yanawana and Madeleine Jadai – travelled to Sydney to present a printed copy of the Mass to bishops and to share their experience. Speaking of the sung Mass, Maureen said, “singing at the top of our voices brings us peace”.

The Mass, which has a history of use in the Diocese of Broome for over 50 years, is celebrated in multiple local languages. It was given official permission for use by the Bishop of Broome in May 1973 as a culturally adapted liturgy to be used “ad experimentum”. Since then, the Mass has been known as Missa Bidyadanga/Indigena/Kimberley and has been celebrated weekly in remote communities. In a letter of endorsement presented to the Bishops, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council described the Missa Terra Spiritus Sancti as a “distinctive Mass that beautifully amalgamates Catholic tradition with Aboriginal culture”. It is not just a liturgical practice, the Council notes, but rather “a bridge that unites our spiritual beliefs with the ancestral wisdom of the land’s original custodians”.

During his Apostolic Journey to Australia, Pope John Paul ii had encouraged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People to take the Gospel into their own language. “The Church invites you to express the living word of Jesus in ways that speak to your Aboriginal minds and hearts”, he said in Alice Springs on 29 November 1986. Indeed, he added: “All over the world people worship God and read his word in their own language, and colour the great signs and symbols of religion with touches of their own traditions. Why should you be different from them in this regard, why should you not be allowed the happiness of being with God and each other in Aboriginal fashion?”, he concluded.