Red Mass offered for those who work for justice



On Tuesday, Sept. 27 I celebrated the traditional Red Mass for judges, attorneys, law professors and government officials at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. This annual celebration invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit for all those involved in legal professions. The homily I gave on that occasion is printed below. On Oct. 4, I delivered a similar homily for members of the legal profession that gathered at St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton.

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for this year’s Red Mass. As you know the Red Mass is celebrated annually in the Catholic Church for judges, attorneys, law school professors, students and government officials. On this occasion, we celebrate the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit to ask for guidance for all who seek justice. This offers us the opportunity to reflect on what we believe is the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession. As we invoke the grace of the Holy Spirit upon all of you who serve in the legal profession, we also give thanks to God for your distinguished service on behalf of truth and justice, so central to the legal profession and to the Gospel.

Our liturgy today has a long history, originating in Europe during the High Middle Ages. It derives its name from the color of the vestments, traditionally worn in a Mass of the Holy Spirit, that symbolize the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost. Additionally, Judges of the High Court of England and all doctors of law wore red robes or academic hoods.

The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. From there it spread to most European countries. In our own country, the Red Mass was first held in 1877 at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Detroit, Michigan. In 1928, the first Red Mass in New York City was held at the Church of St. Andre near the courthouses of Foley Square. It was celebrated by Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, who strongly advocated the legal community’s part in evangelization.

One of the better-known Red Masses is the one celebrated each fall at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. on the Sunday before the first Monday in October. As you know the Supreme Court convenes on the first Monday in October. Typically the Supreme Court Justices, members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet and other government departments attend the Mass.

Yours is a lofty profession. The symbolic scales of justice depicted often on the walls of a courthouse or on the desk of an attorney truly rest in your hands. Through you the distribution of justice enables you to acknowledge, promote and protect the dignity of the human person. You recognize the call to live in solidarity with others in promoting the common good of all. The fulfillment of your responsibility requires not only an extensive education and preparation but also access to the wisdom that can be gained from your colleagues and past practices and decisions.

I think it is noteworthy, on this occasion, that we invoke the Holy Spirit. This suggests that the wisdom we need to decide wisely has a divine source. In Sacred Scripture, the Holy Spirit is called a teacher, an advocate and one who will help us to understand all that Jesus said and did. St. Paul reminds us, the Holy Spirit himself helps us to ask for the right things. “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning” (Rm. 8:26-27).

The choice of the Gospel of the Beatitudes today carries a lesson for all. The Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel are often referred to as the “Attitudes of Life” or the “Attitudes of Being.”  They go beyond the Ten Commandments in a way that does not only keep us from sinning against God and neighbor but also compel us to love one another in a godly way.

To live humbly is to be honest before God and in our dealings with all people in such a way that allows us to know what gifts we have received from God and to recognize others’ gifts that complement our gifts.  A humble person is willing to use personal gifts as well as the gifts of others to build up the kingdom.

To mourn is not just about grieving a loved one’s death but an attitude that recognizes sin and grievances in the world for which we long for correction. To mourn for someone whose life has gone awry is to long for the correction of their ways and to strive to help them.

To be meek is not to be weak. It is the attitude that allows a person to admit honestly there may be someone better at doing something and having the wisdom and courage to let it happen.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is the call of everyone who has heard the Gospel or is in a covenant relationship with the Lord.  The prophets of old remind us time and again that we must take care of the poor, tend to the widows and provide for orphans and the homeless. Jesus was straightforward in telling us that whenever we minister to the least of our brothers and sisters, we are ministering to Him.

To be merciful is to participate in God’s own life. We know well the prayer that Jesus taught us and how we ask God to judge us as we judge others. Showing mercy to those who have wronged us is, in actuality, a living icon of the image of God. It is what we long for and even expect from Him.

To be clean of heart requires that we have no motivation but the love of God.  There can be no desire for public praise. No need for compliments. We live because we are God’s and we die longing to be with Him in eternity.

To be a peacemaker, one who strives for concord, harmony, unity and reconciliation, begins in the family, continues in the workplace and the local community, and ends in a global society. Whether it is in the office, the courtroom, the family room or where ever you go, you need to be men and women of peace, firmly grounded in your faith and aware of the natural law written in the hearts of all.

Last Thursday, in Berlin, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke to the German Parliament. He began his reflections on the foundations of the law with a brief story from Sacred Scripture. In the first book of Kings, it is recounted that God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request. What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success – wealth – long life – destruction of his enemies? He chooses none of these things.  Instead he asks for a listening heart so that he might govern God’s people and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kings 3:9).  Through this story, the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for us.  Your profession must be a constant striving for justice and, hence, it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Success must be subordinated to justice, to the will to do what is right and to an understanding of what is right.

Thank you for the witness of your lives.  Thank you for devoting yourselves to a profession that always seeks the right. At this Mass, and throughout the year, please know that I will be praying for you. I want you to have a listening heart, in the manner of King Solomon, so that you will always do what is right, by listening first of all to God and His law.

If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202. 


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