There were people in tears coming to Communion at 10.30am Mass on the second Sunday in Advent at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton.
Some people at the Mass hadn’t been to church in years, yet they came this time.
The occasion was the first ever celebration of a Miha Māori [a Mass in Te Reo Māori] at the cathedral. The main celebrant was Bishop Stephen Lowe and among the concelebrants were Bishop Denis Browne and Hamilton diocesan Vicar for Māori Fr Gerard Paterson.
People not fluent in Te Reo Māori could follow what was being said and sung through English translations shown on a screen.
It was an emotional occasion, as well as an historic one.
One of those who admitted to shedding a few tears at Communion was Maria Pomare from Rotorua, whose husband Ben proclaimed one of the readings.
She was a little apprehensive in the build up to the Mass, wondering how many people would attend. But the cathedral filled to capacity, with people travelling from all over Hamilton diocese to be there. She was amazed.
“It was a wonderful occasion, a beautiful occasion,” she said.
Mrs Pomare had been surprised to discover this was the first Miha Māori at the cathedral. Also surprised to find this out was Simon Hepi from Taumarunui, who nonetheless noted how appropriate it was to have such a celebration there, given the area’s connections with King Tuheitia and Kīngitanga.
“The world is thirsting for something and what we are missing is Our Lord and you see that in the world today,” Mr Hepi said.
“And I think a revival for Māoridom is strong at this time and I hope it grows some more.”
Another to appreciate the occasion was Arama Pou, 20, who proclaimed the first reading. A University of Waikato student who hopes one day to teach Religious Education and Te Reo Māori, Mr Pou said having the Miha Māori at the cathedral highlighted just how diverse the parishes in Hamilton diocese are.
When told of a plan to have the Miha Māori as the main Sunday Mass at the cathedral on the fifth Sunday of months when there are five Sundays [the next one being in April, 2017], Mr Pou said it would be uplifting for young Māori Catholics to hear their own language at church.
“It is a full expression of the word ‘catholic’ what it means to be universal,” Mr Pou said. “As Bishop Steve said, ‘there’s not just one way of being Catholic or expressing our Catholic identity, certainly’.”
During his homily, Bishop Lowe said “our Christian faith is not a Pakeha faith, it is a faith for all peoples”. Starting with the prophecy of Isaiah of the shooting from the stock of Jesse he gave a whakapapa of our faith from Jesus to Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier and to the Māori people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Bishop Lowe noted the influence of the “giant Totara” in the history of the New Zealand church, such as Bishop Pompallier, Mother Suzanne Aubert, Bishop Max Takuira Mariu and Pa Hemi Hekiera.
“But in your tipuna there are great Totara as well,” Bishop Lowe told the congregation, “your old people who were strong in their Catholic faith and strong in being Māori. God’s call is always to fullness. He calls us to the fullness of being Catholic, the fullness of being Māori, the fullness of being a Pakeha, a Pacific Islander, Filipino or Indian, or the people of whatever land you come from.”
And like Totara growing up through the forest canopy towards the light, all Catholics should be open to the light of Christ, the bishop preached.
There were many references to Bishop Pompallier and his interaction with Māori.
Bishop Lowe noted in his introductory comments at the start of the Mass that Pompallier had catechists, who translated what was being said in Latin at Mass into Te Reo for the people.
“When changes came at the Second Vatican Council, that stopped and Mass was only heard in Māori where the priest was competent in Te Reo. While Miha Māori are celebrated in various parishes in our diocese, we have never celebrated a Mass in the first language of this land in our cathedral. This day is a day of history,” Bishop Lowe said.
The bishop also spoke about the small green shoots of Māori faith communities in his diocese, which he hoped would be further nurtured and supported by having Miha Māori at the cathedral.
This theme was also touched upon by Peter Moeau, speaking before the Mass, who said the Miha Māori at the cathedral is “new growth for our whanau. This is sacred growth for us – just like the Totara that starts from the smallest seed”.
After Communion, Bishop Lowe noted that when Bishop Pompallier finished his Mass in Tauranga-moana 176 years ago, he gave out Miraculous Medals.
Bishop Lowe told the Hamilton congregation that when he was recently in Rome, he bought 1000 Miraculous Medals to bring back to this occasion.
“It caused security alerts at Chicago and Houston on the way back because there was this big metal lump in my bag,” the bishop said to widespread laughter.
He blessed the medals and a Totara sapling, adding that people were invited to come forward after Mass to “take a medal to put on your rosary or wear around your neck”.
The medals were eagerly snapped up.
The Mass ended with a rousing singing of Mo Maria, ably supported by a choir comprised of people from throughout the diocese. The choir also sang various waiata before the Mass, including one dedicated to the memory of Bishop Max Takuira Mariu.
After Mass, Bishop Lowe told NZ Catholic that preparations had been underway for the Miha Māori at the cathedral for several months. Although there is a regular Miha Māori at Hamilton’s Hui Te Rangiora Marae, and regular Miha Māori throughout Hamilton diocese, this was a special occasion that had “just grown quietly and gently”.
“There’s a real interest in the diocese, and schools and parishes are asking for the Mass setting. Richard Puanaki wrote the Mass setting and he is widely known for Ka Waiata [Ki a Maria]. I’ve asked that all parishes learn [the setting] so that it becomes part of the life of the diocese of Hamilton,” Bishop Lowe said.
The bishop said an initial desire was to have the Miha Māori at the cathedral during the Year of Mercy, but this had not been possible, “and we wanted people to have time to learn the Mass settings”.
He admitted that he had to learn to celebrate the Mass in Te Reo Māori since coming into the diocese. He added that he had had several landmark interactions with Māori as bishop, including the powhiri at his ordination as bishop, his first Sunday at Murupara and celebrations to mark 175 years since Bishop Pompallier came to Tauranga-moana.
After the Mass, the congregation was invited to enjoy a plentiful lunch at the Gerry Sullivan Events Centre at Marian School. Among the fare on offer were containers of “mobile hangi” meals, which were very popular.