Early Catholic qualms over Anzac Day

           Lest we forget

Catholics, along with people of other faiths and none in New Zealand, missed out on ANZAC Day services and commemorations last year because the nation was under a lockdown.

This time, the enemy was not a foe against whom the nation had taken up arms. It was – and is – an invisible invader called Covid-19.

But there was once a time when Catholics in this country did not attend some ANZAC Day services – this was because Catholics could not attend “combined services”. Or at least they weren’t supposed to attend.

In many early ANZAC Day observances, religious elements featured prominently, according to an article by Margaret Harris in the “International Encyclopaedia of the First World War”.

“Inter-denominational services were held in public outdoor spaces and in churches. Catholics, barred from interdenominational services by their beliefs, held separate church services in their own venues,” she wrote.

One example of such a service was held in 1919, when, according to an NZ Tablet article cited in a 1994 doctoral thesis by Christopher van der Krogt, “Catholic returned soldiers marched from Bunny Street [in Wellington] to the Sacred Heart Basilica, where [Archbishop] Redwood offered a solemn requiem Mass and preached on the demands of loyal citizenship”.

The thesis, titled “More a Part than Apart – the Catholic Community in New Zealand Society 1918-1940”, stated that Catholics were anxious to participate in the expressions of patriotism in interwar New Zealand.

One correspondent to the Tablet in 1919 complained that only a few towns had any Catholic observances, the thesis noted.

The desire of Catholics to commemorate the fallen was reflected in a request to Rome by the bishops of Australasia in 1923 that permission

Zealandia coverage, 1965

be granted to hold one requiem Mass in each parish church on April 25, even though the feast of St Mark was on that day at the time, and the day occasionally fell on a Sunday. Rome gave permission for this to happen.

But while requiem Masses were thereafter held in each parish church on April 25, the thesis noted, “little effort seems to have been expended in dissuading Catholics from attending” other, interdenominational services.

However, in 1930, the main Auckland commemoration was moved from the Town Hall to the Cenotaph, and while there was some religious music played, the occasion was essentially secular. Bishop James Liston attended the afternoon service arranged by the Returned Soldiers’ Association at the Cenotaph, at which wreaths were laid on behalf of the Catholic community, the thesis stated, noting that a more religious service took place at the Town Hall in the morning.

But that change was not reflected throughout the country. The thesis stated that “a Wellington parish newspaper (Catholic News) complained that, although the city’s war memorial had been built by members of different denominations in honour of both Catholic and non-Catholic soldiers, the refusal of the civic authorities to hold a purely civil function effectively excluded Catholics from participating. They therefore arranged their own parade for Catholic returned servicemen, but were clearly embarrassed by the unnecessary tension between their religious and patriotic loyalties”.

A 2014 doctoral by Barry Buckley noted that a change was in the wind after World War II.

This thesis, titled “As loyal citizens. . . .The relationship between New Zealand Catholicism, the State and Politics, 1945-65”, noted that “returned servicemen brought back with them a much more relaxed attitude to denominational difference, and while returned Catholic chaplains were required to observe Church discipline as regards other denominations, their shared experience with Protestant chaplains was useful in dealing with sticking points, such as ensuring ANZAC Day commemorations were conducted as civic, rather than religious ceremonies”.

“Yet, while interdenominational co-operation had improved during the war, the attitude to ecumenism by Catholic authorities remained distinctly negative,” Buckley noted.

It took the Second Vatican Council to move beyond this position.

As Nicholas Reid wrote in “Founders and keepers – Men and women who made the Catholic diocese of Auckland”, “encouraged by the council, the 1960s saw a greater acceptance of ecumenism by Catholics. Most barriers to Catholics praying in common with non-Catholics were now dissolved. [Archbishop] Liston became a full participant in interdenominational ANZAC Day services”.

We pray to God that Catholics in this country are able to attend ANZAC Day services alongside people of all faiths and none and won’t have to a repeat of last year’s lockdown.

We remember them…

The following is an excerpt from the “Passing Events – As We See Them” editorial comment column in the April 22, 1965 edition of Zealandia. It was written by Fr E.R. Simmons (editor) who served in the Royal Navy (British) during the war, before being ordained in 1953.

. . . Thus ended one of the most unsuccessful campaigns in modern war (Gallipoli and the Dardenelles). And yet, this campaign has become for us a symbol of the heroic sacrifice of New Zealanders in wars this century. There is something very appropriate in this – because Gallipoli, where no commander won any credit, was a place where the patient endurance of the ordinary soldier stands out, clear and plain. Whereas a successful campaign throws the spotlight on the commanding general, an unsuccessful one puts the sufferings of the common soldier in the public eye.

On Sunday, the fiftieth anniversary of the ANZAC landings, we will remember in our Masses the dead of both world wars. There is a special appropriateness in our doing this, for the first Mass at ANZAC was celebrated by Father E. McAuliffe on the morning following the landing on the slopes of Gaba Tepe, where so many were to give their lives. In our Mass, we remember them, together with the tens of thousands who have died for New Zealand.

It would be wrong to make heroes of our dead, to see them as something approaching martyrs. Most men in war are like those cheerful, patient, dogged men on Gallipoli, fighting fiercely for incomprehensible ends, enduring what they could not change.

They fought for their country, and that is enough; the flags and drums of patriotic fervour have little place on the front line of any war. Let us remember them as they would like to be remembered – as men who did what they had to do, and who deserve the tribute of our prayers.




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Michael Otto

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