This year will mark the 183rd Anniversary of the first Mass celebrated in Aotearoa. On 13th January 1838 Bishop Pompallier led the celebration in Hokianga on the property of timber merchant Thomas and Mary Poyton. The tradition to gather, remember and worship on the same land is observed every year, usually on the second Sunday of January.
The Hokianga has been known as the “cradle of the Hahi Katorika” (Catholic faith). Local Māori are seen as the first Katorika and the devoted kaitiaki, but Bishop Pompallier brought this precious and lifegiving taonga for the whole of Aotearoa.
The celebration of this first Mass is recounted in Pompallier’s diary;
“I converted the principal room of this one into a sort of temporary chapel, erecting in it my missionary altar, and on the following Saturday, for the first time, the blood of Jesus Christ flowed in this island at the sacrifice of the Mass, which I celebrated, and which had probably never before been celebrated in New Zealand. What vows for salvation were offered to God on that day, consecrated to Mary, and which crowned the octave of the Epiphany! I confided this Mission to the most Holy Virgin under the name of the Assumption. The whole of the Apostolic Vicariate was placed under the name of the Immaculate Conception.”
I confided this Mission to the most Holy Virgin under the name of the Assumption. The whole of the Apostolic Vicariate was placed under the name of the Immaculate Conception.
It is understood that as many Hokianga Catholics as possible gathered for this first Mass, participating both inside the house as well as outside, looking in through the windows (Michael King, God’s Farthest Outpost).
Michael King, in his 1997 book on the history of Catholics in New Zealand – God’s Farthest Outpost, speaks about the significance of Bishop Pompallier’s arrival into the Hokianga just three days before celebrating this first Mass.
“The day for which Thomas and Mary Poynton and their co-religionists had been hoping and praying for the best part of a decade came on 10 January 1838.
On a clear morning the schooner Raiatea, twelve days out of Sydney, sailed inside the high-duned northern head of the Hokianga Harbour and up the ‘river’, as the locals called the vast waterway. Unbeknown to Pompallier, the arrival was highly auspicious in Māori eyes. The full name of the harbour was Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe, the great returning place of Kupe, traditionally the first Polynesian navigator to sight it; and the homeland from which he had come was Rangiatea – or in Tahitian, Raiatea.
The link between the two places was commemorated in the Maori proverb, ‘E kore koe e ngaro, i ruia mai i Raiatea – For I will not perish, but as a seed sent forth from Raiatea I shall flourish.’
The Pikopo (bishop) and his men, then, came literally in the path of Kupe to the returning place of Kupe, as seeds sent forth from Raiatea. Poynton’s Maori friends made much of this connection as they welcomed the missionaries at Totara Point” (King, 45-46).
The day for which Thomas and Mary Poynton and their co-religionists had been hoping and praying for the best part of a decade came on 10 January 1838.
Written by Bishop Pompallier.
Video from Marist Seminary NZ.