A replica of the Altar Stone used to celebrate the first Catholic mass in Australia was unveiled by Randwick City Mayor Councillor Tony Bowen at the Laperouse Museum today. The Altar Stone was blessed by Franciscan Father Paul Ghanem. This was followed by lunch sponsored by Randwick City Council and provided by the Friends of the Laperouse Museum.
The Altar Stone was commissioned by Randwick City Council and will be on permanent loan to the Friends of Laperouse Museum to be exhibited at the Museum.
The original altar stone was recovered in three pieces from the wreck of La Boussole in Vanikoro in 1964 by the Association Salomon of Nouméa and Mr Reece Discombe. In an élan of generosity the pieces were sent by their
respective custodians to Sydney, to be reunited and placed on exhibition in the Laperouse Museum for the opening in 1988. One of the pieces was broken in transit, which explains why there are now 4 pieces. These original pieces were sent to the Musée National de la Marine in Paris in 2008, where they remain. The original stone was 35cm x 35cm x 3cm. This reproduction was carried out in Paris by Madame Barbara Donné Donati. It is made of powdered stone and a binding agent, and was coloured by using natural earth pigments to obtain colouring as close as possible to that of the original. Two Catholic priests, le Père Claude-François-Joseph Receveur and l’Abbé Jean-André Mongès, accompanied Lapérouse as scientists and chaplains on his voyage around the world. L’Abbé Mongès was aboard La Boussole and Père Receveur, L’Astrolabe. As priests, they celebrated Mass daily wherever they went. When priests were travelling, they would take with them a consecrated altar stone which served as a portable altar. This allowed them to place the stone on any available surface to celebrate the Mass, whether at sea or on land. Given its history and function, it is almost certainly the original altar stone that was used by L’Abbé Mongès in the first celebration of Mass in Australia, either on ship or shore in Botany Bay in January, 1788. It would also have been used by him to celebrate the Messe de Funérailles(Funeral Mass) of Père Receveur on February 17, 1788. As such, it is of immense significance to the history of the Catholic Church in Australia.
Randwick City Council has also commissioned a bronzed reproduction of the Eucalyptus Tree Stump that marked the grave of Pére Receveur at La Perouse. The bronzed trunk will arrive in early 2013.

In addition to Mayor Councillor Tony Bowen, other guests in attendance were Mde Berti, the Hon Don Harwin Speaker of the Legislative Council and Patron, the Hon Michael Daley MP, Member for Maroubra and Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Patron, Councillor Scott Nash, who during his time as Mayor was instrumental in obtaining support for the commissioning of these historical reproductions, Deputy Mayor Councillor Noel D’Souza, Councillors Robert Belleli, and Geoff Stevenson.

At the ceremony Father Ghanem praised the bipartisan approach of Council in bringing the replica back to the Museum, and suggested that this mirrored the French and English as they supported each other in the Bay.
He then went on to talk about the Altar Stone which is an essential part of ‘Mobile Mass Kit’. Within the Altar Stone is a relic and  without it the Mass could not be celebrated. The Altar Stone, in effect, brings the church building out into the world.
Father Ghanem then placed the items used in the Mass one by one upon the Stone – the Chalice, the Paten, the Cross, the Asperges, and the Bible.
He described Receveur as a Franciscan and suggested that the Canticle of the Creatures where St Francis calls all of God’s creation “brother” and “sister” would have suited him admirably as he was a botanist and naturalist.
He then went on to recite  The Canticle of the Creatures:
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,all praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
All praise be yours, my Lord,through all you have made,and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;and through whom you give us light.How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moonand the stars; in the heavens you have made them,bright, and precious, and fair.All praise be yours, my Lord,through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,all the weather’s moods,by which you cherish all that you have made.All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,so useful, humble, precious and pure.All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,through whom you brighten up the night.How beautiful is he, how cheerful!Full of power and strength.All praise be yours, my Lord, through our SisterMother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,and produces various fruits with colored flowersand herbs.All praise be yours, my Lord,through those who grant pardon for love of you;through those who endure sickness and trial.Happy are those who endure in peace,By You, Most High, they will be crowned.All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,From whose embrace no mortal can escape.Woe to those who die in mortal sin!Happy those she finds doing your will!The second death can do them no harm.Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanksAnd serve him with great humility.

Finally, he gave the blessing.