Local communities of grace across the Archdiocese of Melbourne are busy preparing to unite for a weekend of prayer from Friday 24 March to Sunday 26 March 2023. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has said that this weekend, which coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord on Saturday 25 March, ‘promises to be a moment of grace for the local Church, as together we meditate on Mary’s fiat, her total “yes”.’

As parishes, communities and movements throughout the Archdiocese plan opportunities for prayer over the weekend, so too have the team of chaplains from CatholicCare Victoria’s Catholic Prison Ministry.

Sr Mary O’Shannassy SGS OAM leads the team of chaplains, who serve in 10 prisons for adults across the Archdiocese, in both metropolitan and rural areas. She says it’s important that the residents in prison feel they ‘belong’ and that they have opportunities to participate, where they can, in the activities of the Archdiocese.

Sr Mary says the chaplaincy team ‘will need to be very creative’ in its approach to the weekend’s activities of prayer as there are scheduled times for the use of the chapels in the various prisons. The chapel spaces are shared with chaplains from eight different faith traditions.

‘We’ll be utilising those times when the people come over to the chapels, and we’ll be informing them of the opportunity to join with the Archdiocese of Melbourne in prayer,’ explains Sr Mary. ‘It’s a tight schedule, so we’ll be meeting in small groups when the chaplains are there for prayer and Scripture sharing, maybe also praying the Rosary, and we will be preparing a small handout with Scripture suggestions for them and offering the residents some tips on how to use their own quiet time for prayer.

It will be general, though there will be an introduction about the fiat and Mary’s ‘yes’ and how the residents can perhaps say yes to what God is asking of them in their lives now. We can do the best we can within the limits of the prison environment

‘We want to encourage them to be aware of what’s happening in the Archdiocese’s special weekend and to invite them to be part of it, to get that sense of connection for the residents,’ Sr Mary says. ‘We want them to feel a sense of belonging to the Archdiocese, to be part of the Archdiocese—to be there—because that’s what we try to bring through to the women and men.’

The three bishops in the regions—Bishop Shane McKinlay in the Diocese of Sandhurst, Bishop Greg Bennet in the Diocese of Sale, and Bishop Paul Bird CSsR in the Diocese of Ballarat—and Archbishop Comensoli, Bishop Martin Ashe and Bishop Terry Curtin in Melbourne all visit prisons across the state to say Masses for the residents.

‘When the parish priest or an assistant priest comes for Mass, if there are newcomers, we make sure that they know that they’re from the local parish and that the residents are the parishioners of the parish for the time being,’ she explains.

Mary, model of discipleship

Fr Peter Hoang is the parish priest of St Christopher’s, Airport West, and he is very excited about the opportunity Fiat brings. ‘I love God and I love the Blessed Virgin,’ he says, ‘and I love drawing people to God in this way.’

On Friday 24 March, from 7pm to 8pm, Fr Hoang will be reflecting on ‘Mary’s big “yes”’ in three dimensions, he says. The first dimension is that of her actual ‘yes’; the second is her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth and the Magnificat; the third is her sense of being a ‘handmaid to the Lord’. The hour will be broken up into segments: a time of song will be followed by a reflection and a decade of the Rosary, and this rhythm will be continue until they complete the night with a time of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction.

Fr Hoang hopes many people will take this opportunity to draw closer to God and respond with a big ‘yes’ like Mary did.

On Saturday 25 March, St Clare’s of Greater Box Hill Parish will be hosting an hour of Adoration and guided meditation from 8pm to 9pm.

This style of prayer is already part of parish life at St Clare’s, says Fr Tony Kerin, their Parish Priest. Every Saturday morning, Fr Phuong Vu offers a guided meditation through one of the psalms and parishioners respond well to it.

On the day, Fr Tony says his meditation will take people through the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise, line by line. Their hour of Adoration will conclude with Benediction and be followed by a 9am Mass of the Annunciation.

Fr Tony says it is important for us to reflect deeply on Mary’s fiat. ‘If we are to live lives of purpose and discipleship, we need to be open to relinquishing the desire to have total control over everything we do.

For our life to fulfil God’s expectations, we need to release the restraint our tiny hopes have on our living. Mary modelled this excellently when she let God do what he wanted rather than limiting herself to doing things she felt comfortable with.

To find out what parishes near you are doing for Melbourne’s upcoming ‘Weekend of Prayer’, please check the Fiat schedule which is being updated regularly.