Friday 25 June 1847 was a busy day in the newly founded City of Melbourne. It was on this day that not one, but two, dioceses were officially established: the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne and the Catholic Diocese of Melbourne. This year marks the 175th anniversary of these events, and to mark the occasion, a specially commissioned Mass setting will be launched at both cathedrals on Sunday 26 June, celebrating the city’s storied history.

The new Mass setting, arranged by Dr Philip Matthias, Director of Music at St Patrick’s Cathedral, has been written for both Anglican and Catholic liturgies, and brings together families, individuals, histories and stories to create a collaborative musical setting. Entitled One Family in Christ, the setting embraces Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Irish, Croatian, Tongan, Vietnamese and Filipino communities and their music.

This new Mass setting has been the fruit of collaboration since the start.

‘It all started when the two cathedral deans—Very Rev. Werner Utri and Very Rev. Dr Andreas Loewe—got together and were thinking about celebrations for both cathedrals (St Patrick’s and St Paul’s) because both dioceses are 175 years old this year, and this cathedral is 125 years old,’ Philip explains.

‘So they thought, how can we get together and celebrate this?’

This is Philip’s tenth Mass setting, and he describes it as different from its predecessors. ‘For this one, I thought, what could we do? Where to start? So my head went to the book Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths. He’s not an Indigenous fellow but has got great respect from the Indigenous community.’ In the book, Billy talks about three stages of Australia’s history, starting with First Nations history, which he posits remains unsettled and never fully acknowledged.

‘It’s changing but it takes a long time,’ shares Philip. ‘And then there’s settler history—colonialism—and then you’ve got multicultural history. I thought that was a really rich way of looking at things, so I went back to the deans and said that I want to embrace that concept as part of the Mass and they said that’s fantastic. The next question was, How?’

Philip reflected on his extensive musical work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over the years and their approach to the process. ‘It’ll come, I thought … just go gently and it will find its own being. And it certainly has.’

The new Mass setting has been a slow but rewarding journey for Philip and his collaborators. The final product acknowledges the First Nations, settler and multicultural histories and communities of Australia, with an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kyrie composed by John Wayne Parsons; a traditional Irish Gloria; a traditional Tongan gospel acclamation; a Torres Strait Islander Sanctus composed by Toby Whaleboat; a Filipino Agnus Dei composed by Therese Medina; a Croatian psalm setting; a Lamb of God composed by Robert Pida, and a hymn and intercessions sung in traditional Vietnamese.

The joy of the occasion is not lost on the communities, either, Philip says. Therese Medina, the long-time conductor for the Filipino Chaplaincy Choir of Melbourne, says she feels humbled to have been asked to compose a part of the Mass setting for the 175th anniversary, and for the Filipino community to join the St Patrick’s Choir on the day. It’s not the first time they’ll be performing at St Patrick’s Cathedral, either. Therese previously conducted the choir during the 2015 visit of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

Along with the Filipino community, around 50 members of the combined Vietnamese community choirs of Melbourne will also sing at Sunday’s Mass. ‘They’ll sing the intercessions, and then the Tongan community will sing the gospel acclamation,’ Philip explains.

‘Hiep, who’s the external liaison for the local Vietnamese community, wrote to me and said, “The combined choirs are so happy … I have no words to express their happiness”. That’s the sort of stuff that makes this project alive.’

Philip is keen to continue collaborating with the various communities in one way or another. ‘I hope we can keep the relationships going. We’re moving forward together in music,’ Philip says.

‘It’s inclusive of communities, not just doing the music of tradition—the sort of high-end music we’re used to. We want to be real about how they come together as one, without losing the identity of the local community.’

‘Of course, we want to do the best “Church music” there is—Haydn and Schubert and all that great music. You could say that’s the “high end right proper music”. But we’re also in Australia … and people are real and have their own understanding of the world and Catholicism and how they survive—particularly multiculturalism—and let alone First Nations people.

‘It’s like the Vietnamese or the Filipino choirs: they adhere to the Mass perfectly, but they also “own it” themselves. The language helps of course, but that’s something we can all learn from,’ Philip believes. ‘How do we align ourselves so that it’s “as one”?’

In fact, as part of Sunday’s Mass, Philip has been teaching the St Patrick’s Cathedral Gregorian Schola a traditional Vietnamese hymn. ‘And there’s a Croatian psalm too. The Kyrie will be Indigenous, which is quite appropriate at the start. The Gloria is built on traditional Irish tunes.’

Philip says the journey to this Mass has been surprising and fascinating from both a technical and personal point of view. ‘The one thing I was worried about was that it wouldn’t make sense overall – that it’d be like a patchwork quilt and people would think, “Who put all those colours together like that?!”

‘But I didn’t worry about it because I thought, it’s all coming from the same pool – even though they’re different cultures and styles. And this is just the start. These relationships are now forming because of it.’

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Dr Philip Matthias, Director of Music at St Patrick’s Cathedral.

For Philip, the Mass has not only been an exercise in collaboration with local choirs but has also been an opportunity to integrate learnings from years of working with Indigenous groups and musicians.

‘I’m really conscious that I never try and do this stuff on my own. All this music has come from being with the communities … being with them and hearing their voice,’ he says. ‘I’m conscious of working from the ground up with the people,’ a process that Philip says has been ‘so enriching’.

‘These people are so beautiful and welcoming, and they’re pleased to see you, too, perhaps because we’ve come with arms wide open.’

He likens the experience to something he picked up from the Aboriginal elder Ray Kelly Sr, a Dhungutti man and academic from the University of Newcastle.

‘Ray Kelly Sr once said to me, “We’re here, and you’re here. And we’re happy to be like this. If you tell me your story, I’ll tell you mine. And then we move on … That’s so true. And I carry that with me,’ Philip smiles.

The new musical setting, One Family in Christ, will be celebrated as part of the 11am Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Sunday 26 June. The occasion marks the 175th anniversary of the founding of both the Anglican Diocese and Catholic Diocese in Melbourne. Sunday is also the conclusion of the 10th World Meeting of Families, which is intended to highlight family love as a vocation and as a way of holiness. Following the 11am Mass, there will be a range of festivities around the cathedral grounds. All are welcome.