Anzac Day Mass

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Anzac Day Mass

This year our minds turn to the dawn landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1916. A century ago the ANZAC legend was born. Today we honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, remembering the words from St John’s Gospel: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”.  102,000 military personnel have died in the service of their country, many buried in foreign lands where they served.

The Great Wars which have produced the ANZAC tradition increasingly retreat into history. Fewer and fewer living Australians were part of these monumental struggles with their atrocious loss of human life and untold suffering. They are now several generations away from us today. They were definitive moments in the history of the last century and profoundly shaped the world as we know it today.

The Dawn Service at Anzac Cove at Gallipoli will have special significance this year. It has become a place of pilgrimage for increasing numbers of young Australians. Today standing shivering in the cold dawn draped, as they like to do, with an Australian flag they participate in the services held there with great reverence. These young people are drawn to this isolated location in Turkey to link with this particular piece of Australian history. It has become an important way of discovering something of the Australian identity and heritage. It is not about a glorification of war. Nor pride in a military victory (which it wasn’t). It is about being united with young men of another generation who suffered and died on this lonely beach and in the scrubby hills above it.

Many of today’s young Australians visit the war sites where Australians served.  Sometimes it is to make contact with a relative who fought and died there. One cannot visit any of these places without taking time to walk among the graves: the rows of headstones at Lone Pine, or Fromelles, or Bomana.  To note the names and the ages of the fallen, to see row upon row of the fallen. Our hearts are touched. These young men sacrificed their lives for their country.
Here in the silent cemeteries we ponder the example of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. Here we meet the example of past generations of young Australians who have given of themselves for their country and those who have paid the ultimate price.

To die for the sake of the other is a confronting yet inspiring reality. It challenges the narrow self-interest which often preoccupies us. It causes us to examine the motivating principles for our life. It causes us to look beyond what seems reasonable and sensible to what is noble. It asks questions of us: could I do this? The example of sacrifice and service challenges our natural comforts and securities. It invites us to explore self-transcendence, not allowing ourselves to be satisfied with what suits me. We are challenged to look at ourselves and what we live for.  

On this day each year we do not so much honour great leaders, though we acknowledge our indebtedness to them, rather we hold up ordinary men and women. The spirit of Anzac is the spirit of ordinary Australians rising to great personal heights of selflessness and sacrifice. We recognise those who have given of themselves not only for the good of their own country, but often have sacrificed themselves because of the needs of other peoples. So today nations, sometimes at the other end of the earth, acknowledge the debt they owe to Australians who came to their aid in desperate times.

The Collect Prayer which opened the Mass captured the intention of the Liturgy:

Almighty ever living God, you sent your Son to die that we might live, grant, we pray eternal rest to those who gave themselves in service and sacrifice for their country.

The heart of the Christian faith is the account of sacrifice. The life of Jesus Christ was always oriented towards his death. The Gospels cannot be understood without Calvary. The meaning of his coming amongst us was that he would die for us. His death, as we say in the Liturgy, has set us free, free from the ultimate powers of darkness – evil and death itself.

Over the war cemeteries the Christian cross is often placed as its central feature, sometimes standing in stark relief against the sky among a sea of white headstones. This cross marks these grounds as being forever held sacred. This cross also unites the sacrifice of the fallen with the sacrifice of the Son of God on Calvary.

As the cross is the mark of the sacrifice which is at the heart of Christianity, so we can say that the cemeteries of the fallen marked with the cross elevate the deaths of those who are fallen to be an expression of their sacrifice for our freedom. 

In this Mass we remember the fallen. We honour their memory. We commend them to the mercy of God. In this Mass we remember them with gratitude, aware that we now benefit from their sacrifice.

At this annual commemoration we are conscious of the many blessings we enjoy in Australia: freedom, peace and opportunity. We know of many peoples who do not enjoy what we are able to enjoy. We thank God for living in this land and for the blessings that we have in Australia.
This freedom, peace and opportunity are ours today, because others have been prepared to defend this country and protect its freedom. We honour them on this ANZAC day.  We honour all who have fallen in the service of their country."

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 23 April 2016