Annual Red Mass



On Wednesday, October 3, 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 God’s blessing and the guidance of the Holy Spirit on those responsible for the administration of justice. The homily I gave on that occasion is printed below. On Thursday, October 4, I delivered a similar homily for members of the legal profession who gathered at St. Patrick’s Church in Binghamton.

   It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and to the annual Red Mass. Thank you for coming. The Red Mass, a tradition that dates to Europe in the Middle Ages, usually coincides with the beginning of the judicial calendar. In our country, it is celebrated traditionally on the Sunday before the first Monday of October, which marks the beginning of the Supreme Court’s annual term. According to the John Carroll Society, a lay Catholic group of prominent lawyers and professionals, which started the Mass in the United States in 1953, the purpose of the Red Mass is to “invoke God’s blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as for all public officials.”

   The Red Mass takes its name from the red vestments worn by the attending clergy, symbolizing the fire of the Holy Spirit. We all need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the one who teaches us the meaning of all that Jesus said and did. He is our advocate and guide who leads us to the truth. The truth, of course, is a person, Jesus Christ who told us “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

   Each year at this time as I prepare my homily for this Mass I am reminded of the important role you play in society and for society. Your responsibilities touch the very heart of our society, the human person whether young or old, male or female, healthy or ailing, affluent or impoverished.

   God, in a plan of sheer goodness and love, calls every person into existence. “Created in the image of God and equally endowed with rational souls, they have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine happiness: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1934).  How important it is to recognize the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.

   The human person does not live in isolation. He or she needs to live in society. Society is not an extraneous addition but a requirement of nature. The person’s full potential is developed through interaction with others. Pope Benedict reminds us: “Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others for better or for worse” (Spe Salvi, #48).

   We do not live in a perfect world. We need only to look at ourselves to acknowledge that we do not always make the good choices that we should and indeed we sometimes choose what we should not. I think this is what St. Paul had in mind when he said: “What I do I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate” (Rm 7:15).  And going beyond ourselves, we need only read the daily newspaper or listen to the evening news or, in your case, be confronted with the situations and issues that you meet in your professions, to experience the brokenness that affects society.

    Today we are challenged by many issues which jeopardize the dignity of the human person: discrimination based on sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion; harassment and bullying that not only threaten but invoke violence; assaults on the most vulnerable — the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the immigrant. Your professions bring you into direct contact with these issues. Certainly your study, diligence and experience equip you to address them. But you, and all of us called to uphold the dignity of the human person, need the wisdom, knowledge, counsel and fortitude that are divine gifts, gifts we attribute to the Holy Spirit.

   Wisdom enables us to see the world from God’s point of view, which can help us to grasp the purpose and plan of God. Knowledge directs us to a thoughtful reflection on the mystery of God and prompts us to follow His lead. Counsel or right judgment enables us to make ethical choices that build up and protect the human community. Fortitude or courage supports our efforts to promote the good of others with conviction despite opposition and obstacles.

    Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “the wisdom of Solomon.” God offered Solomon, the young King of Israel, the opportunity to ask Him for what he wanted. Solomon’s response: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong” (1K 3:9). I think, simply put, this passage reminds us that we cannot govern wisely without God’s help. We, too, need to ask for His help and His wisdom as we tend to the people and the situations which are brought to us.

   There is a beautiful passage from the book of Wisdom that I pray often. “God of my fathers, Lord of mercy… give me Wisdom… for I am your servant… a man weak and short-lived and lacking in comprehension of judgment and laws. Now with you is Wisdom, who knows your works and was present when you made the world. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure” (Wis 9:1-6, 9-11).   

   How good it is that we gather today around the table of the Lord. Here we are nourished by His word. Here we are fed by His sacred Body and Blood. Here we can pause, removed from the duties of our professions, and quietly ask God for His gifts of wisdom, knowledge, counsel and fortitude to assist us in the work of building a more just society based on respect for every human person.

   At this Mass, and throughout the year, be assured that I am praying for you. May you be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and use the divine gifts He offers you. I ask also that you remember me in your prayers.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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