50th anniversary of the first Australian Aboriginal Liturgy

The landmark 1973 event is a memory that Fr Brian McCoy SJ cherishes.


It’s 50 years since a landmark Melbourne event that Fr Brian McCoy SJ refers to as a “sustaining and life-giving memory”. Fr Brian, a former Provincial Superior for the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus, was at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on 24 February 1973, when the Aboriginal Mass was celebrated during the Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne.

Fr Brian McCoy SJ. Photo: David McMahon

“That Saturday afternoon,” he says, “many of us heard a strong and joyful Aboriginal Voice for the very first time. Many voices, in fact. It involved a very large number of Aboriginal people, particularly from the Kimberley of Western Australia and Northern Territory, who had come down to participate in the event – more than 150 adults, teenagers and a children’s choir.

“This liturgy was, for many of us who were present, the first time we had witnessed and experienced Aboriginal people expressing their Catholic faith in ways that were culturally different from our own but very significant to them. The ancient Catholic liturgy took on a new dimension of life and energy as people sang in their own language, mimed the Word of the Gospel and danced.

“That 1973 event opened hearts and minds as it revealed how Christian faith was a living, relational and dynamic experience, always in the process of being invited into new depths and awareness of the sacred. It would be a great shame for the Catholic Church in Australia if it failed to keep listening to that voice of the Holy Spirit in this very ancient land. That voice, coming from the lived experience of Aboriginal people, can further enrich our Christian faith but also reveal how we might seek to better live and walk, carefully and respectfully together upon the land.”

The Australian Aboriginal Liturgy on 24 February 1973. Photo: MDHC Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Read the entire article on Eureka Street. Fr Brian completed a doctorate in Aboriginal men’s health at the University of Melbourne, later published as ‘Holding Men: Kanyirninpa and the health of Aboriginal men.’