Editor’s note: Bishop Lucia celebrated the annual Red Mass Sept. 29 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. The prepared text of the homily he preached on that occasion appears here.
At this noon hour, it is a privilege for me to welcome members of the judiciary, the legal profession, the courts system, and civic government to this house of worship as we join together for this time of prayer.
For those joining us through livestream today, a little background about today’s liturgy might be helpful. The Red Mass is a Mass of the Holy Spirit (thus the red vestments) celebrated annually in the Catholic Church for all members of the legal profession, regardless of religious affiliation — judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students, and government officials — marking the opening of the judicial year.
The “Red Mass” dates back to the thirteenth century when it officially opened the term of the court for most European countries. The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. From there, it spread to most European countries.
Around 1310, during the reign of Edward I, the tradition began in England with the Mass offered at Westminster Abbey at the opening of the Michaelmas term, which coincided with the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29. In the United States, the first Red Mass occurred in New York City 92 years ago on October 6, 1928. This Mass was celebrated at Old St. Andrew’s Church with Cardinal Patrick Hayes presiding.
So, it is most appropriate that we gather on this Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael for this year’s Red Mass as the courts are convened and the books are opened. Certainly, it has been a year for the record books! Nonetheless, sisters and brothers, the Word of God reminds you and me that our God is one who comes to us and meets us where we are at.
The setting for our first reading is at the time of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. In all that can oppress us, you and I are reminded by the prophet Daniel of the dominion and kingship of our God. Furthermore, we observe God’s attention to us in our Gospel reading, where Jesus has his eye on Nathanael even before they meet up.
Now I confess, such attention can be both consoling and disconcerting. As public people, we know we are always under scrutiny. Yet even the Code of Canon Law, in Canon 17, reminds one to look at law both from its text and its context. I believe that is what our Scripture readings are seeking us to do as well.
I don’t know if you like to fly, but I do actually. Sometimes I have had the thought of being a pilot. I like especially the view from an airplane. What a change of perspective! Not just from the point of view of what I am seeing, but even in my attitude, my disposition! In fact, as much as I like to fly, I am very conscious that up in the wild blue yonder, despite my knowledge of physics and the skills of the pilot, I am ultimately in the hand of God. Like the scene in today’s first reading, as I take it all in I am invited to share in God’s vision of the world, not just my own limited outlook.
Today’s Feast of the Archangels and the Red Mass we join in are a good time to be reminded of this bigger picture of reality. That is what Jesus is asking Nathanael to do. Nathanael seems to believe in Jesus. But that might have been because he was momentarily impressed when Jesus said he had seen him under the fig tree. But what happens when the court is convened and it is nothing but one headache after another? That is where Jesus tries to stretch our faith a la Nathanael. He tells him, in effect, “You haven’t seen anything yet! There’s a lot more to me than you think!”
Brothers and sisters, as shared in the Word Among Us today, “Just as Jesus sought to open Nathanael’s eyes to who he is and to heavenly realities, so he wants to open our eyes as well. He is the Son of God. His majesty and power are beyond our comprehension. Thousands of angels are ministering to him, worshipping him day and night. And yet he is also the Son of Man, the One who has come to redeem us, to suffer for us, and to save us from sin. He uses all of this awesome power to serve us and bring us to eternal life with him.”
Unfortunately, like our fellow apostles, sometimes we get stuck at “ground level.” We know about Jesus in our heads, but you and I can forget how great he is. We might feel as if we are the ones in control of the world around us. That is when we need to remember today’s court scene in Daniel and cultivate a heavenly perspective.
The need for such a perspective was brought home to me as I was reviewing the U.S. bishops’ document on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. There is one section in the introduction that causes me to pause every time I read it. It states: “As Catholics, we bring the richness of our faith to the public square. We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all… For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around” (Introduction).
Sisters and brothers, this is my prayer for all who gather at the Lord’s Table this noon hour — that our faith will influence the way we live wherever we find ourselves. We pray that our vision in life will be God’s vision. “Lord, help me to ‘see greater things.’ I want to share your perspective.” Amen.