Members of Melbourne’s legal profession gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Monday 31 January for the annual Red Mass to mark the official opening of the legal year.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli celebrated the Mass, with concelebrants including Fr Werner Utri (Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral), Fr Cameron Forbes (Chaplain to the Melbourne Catholic Lawyers’ Association), Fr Tony Kerin EV (Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Tribunal of Victoria and Tasmania) and Fr Frank Brennan SJ (Rector of Newman College).

About 100 legal representatives were present at the annual Red Mass celebration including judges of the High, Federal, Supreme, County and Magistrate’s Court, Queens Counsel, solicitors, and barristers from metropolitan and suburban legal firms. In welcoming those gathered, Archbishop Comensoli expressed his thanks for their ‘work for justice throughout the city of Melbourne and surrounds’.

Being a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, Archbishop Comensoli prayerfully requested guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice, invoking the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude upon all who were present.

In this annual moment of prayer for the commencement of the Law Term, may we seek the way of the Son of David, Jesus Christ, in the services we bring to the people we encounter and the processes we engage in,’ the Archbishop said in his homily.

During the Prayers of Intercession, Ms Roisin Annesley QC called on all gathered ‘to pray for our judges, magistrates, and all who hold judicial office … that they may they faithfully adhere to justice and vigorously defend the common good following the fine example of Sir Thomas More, our patron.’

She continued: ‘We pray for the fair and proper administration of the law, so that in Australia the dignity, freedoms and rights of all people may be protected from injustice, and they may receive fair representation, compassion and care.’

‘We pray for all lawyers, that they may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct with conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with law, courteous with adversaries and together attentive to conscience.

The Red Mass celebration dates to the Middle Ages when English judges processed from the Temple Bar to Westminster Abbey for Mass. Its name derives from the traditional red colour of the vestments worn by clergy during the Mass, representing the tongues of fire symbolising the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The tradition of having a religious celebration at the opening of the legal year is observed by many religious denominations in different parts of the world. In Melbourne, in addition to the Red Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, religious celebrations on the opening of the legal year have taken place in St Paul’s Cathedral, in synagogues and in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Images by Fiona Basile for Melbourne Catholic.