Sunday, July 22, 2018

Australian Catholic Churches

One of the nice things about being Catholic is the relative ease of finding a Mass no matter where you go. The language may be different (and so far, we've heard Masses in Polish, Estonian, and Swedish) but the Order of Mass is identical. When a Mass is said in a language other than English, we usually use an app to follow along so we know what readings are being read; the rhythm of the prayers in different languages are also different, and it's oddly easy losing one's place.

Participating in a Mass in English-speaking countries is obviously much easier, and during our travels throughout Australia we've been lucky enough to participate in Mass in three four different churches, although one of those was a weekday Mass. However, even when the Mass is identical, the differences in parish cultures can be quite interesting.

The first weekend we were in Australia, because we were taking a very early Sunday morning flight, we attended a Saturday Vigil Mass when we happened to be in Cairns, in Queensland, the northeastern state. St. Monica's Cathedral was sparsely attended, as Saturday Vigils often are, and the Mass was celebrated by what I think might have been the bishop; there were no alter servers and no singing, although an organist played throughout the Mass at times when there normally would have been singing. The Mass was short, perhaps about 40-45 minutes, and as soon as the service was over, the priest exited through a side door (as opposed to greeting parishioners afterwards), and the parishioners quickly dispersed. I had no real sense of the community (not surprising; it can be difficult to get a sense after a single Mass), but I liked the church building itself immensely.

St. Monica's Cathedral, Cairns
a side chapel in St. Monica's Cathedral, Cairns

Our second weekend found us in Devonport, Tasmania, where we attended a Sunday morning Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes. It seems to be a small parish that has three priests (one of whom is retired) who serve four parishes. This was, I'd say, the single friendliest parish I've ever attended, either as a regular parishioner or as a visitor. We were immediately recognized as visitors and greeted several times - including once by the retired priest who was celebrating Mass - who wanted to know where we were from, how long we were staying in the area, and how long we'd be staying in Australia. One older gentleman introduced himself, and halfway through the Mass quietly approached us and told us he'd offered a special prayer for use and for our safe travels; at the end of Mass, he once again told us how welcome we were, and that he was glad to meet us. This was also one of the most actively engaged congregations I've ever been a part of; everyone sang; everyone greeted each other; during the Sign of Peace, everyone made a point of making contact.

I don't think there are many Americans, or international travelers, who make their way to Tasmania; in several cases throughout our travels we were greeted with (very welcome) surprise.

Our Lady of Lourdes in Devonport, Tasmania

This morning we attended our last Mass in Australia, at St. Canice's Church in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains. St. Canice's is one of three churches in the St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop Upper Blue Mountains Parish. I'd never heard of a St. Canice.

Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe (515/16–600), known as Saint Canice in Ireland, Saint Kenneth in Scotland, Saint Kenny and in Latin Saint Canicus, was an Irish abbot, monastic founder, priest and missionary during the early medieval period. Cainnech is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and preached Christianity across Ireland and to the Picts in Scotland. He wrote a commentary on the Gospels, which for centuries was known as the Glas-Choinnigh or Kenneth's Lock or the Chain of Cainnech.

The Mass itself was fine, but we had trouble hearing the priest - the microphone wasn't very good - and for most of the Mass there were a number of small children running around upstairs and in the back of the church, which led to a lot of thumping noises and screeching, so we had trouble following the homily.

St. Canice's, Katoomba

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