United States

Dioceses in the United States celebrate the "Red Mass

Each year in October, dioceses in North America celebrate the so-called "Red Mass". The ceremony invokes God's guidance and blessing on members of the legal community and government officials.

Gonzalo Meza-November 4, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes
Red Mass

Auxiliary Bishop Esposito during the Red Mass in Washinton (OSV News photo /Christopher Newkumet, courtesy John Carroll Society)

Each year in October, dioceses in North America celebrate the so-called "Red Mass", named after the liturgical color of the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit. The ceremony invokes God's guidance and blessing on members of the legal community and government officials, the main guests of this liturgy. It is attended by magistrates, lawyers, government officials and members of the legal academic community. Although in most dioceses this Mass takes place on the Sunday preceding the first Monday in October (the start of the U.S. Supreme Court term), some jurisdictions hold it later in October.

The first Red Mass was celebrated in New York in October 1928. However, its origins date back to the 13th century. It is believed that the first such liturgy, focused on magistrates, took place in the cathedral of Paris in 1245 and then spread throughout Europe. Although the color red currently has a theological meaning that refers to fire and the presence of the Holy Spirit, when the Mass began in 1310 in England, the magistrates of the Supreme Court wore scarlet vestments and thus the name "Red Mass" was popularized.

Washington DC

One of the best known Red Masses is the one celebrated in the American capital at St. Matthew's Cathedral. This year's ceremony took place on Sunday, October 1, 2023. The liturgy was attended by nearly 900 people including two Supreme Court Justices (John G. Roberts, Jr., and Amy Coney Barret) as well as justices from other courts, diplomats and members of the federal government. Although Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Washington DC, usually presides at this Mass each year, on this occasion it was presided over by Auxiliary Bishop Mons. John Esposito (the cardinal was in Rome to participate in the Synod of Bishops).

In his homily, Msgr. Esposito noted, "Gathered here are eminent jurists, legislators, academics and advocates who do the quiet work of helping people with their daily problems. There are also men and women with different roles, all with different social and ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions." Referring to the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost, the prelate said, "Like them, this morning we raise our voices in confident prayer to ask God for the blessings of wisdom, knowledge, and the humility to accept what is true, distinguishing clearly between right and wrong, just and unjust." 

Los Angeles, California

On the other side of the country, on the west coast, this Mass took place on October 25 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Los Angeles. It was organized by the local chapter of the Society of St. Thomas More and was attended by more than 200 people including judges, state legislators, lawyers, legal professionals, as well as Justice Patricia Guerrero, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. The liturgy was presided over by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, and the homily was given by Father Edward Siebert, a Jesuit priest and rector of Loyola Marymount University.

At the end of the Mass, Justice Guerrero delivered an address during which she praised the example of St. Thomas More and evoked the violence and suffering currently being experienced in the world. Guerrero said that St. Thomas More "represents a guiding figure for lawyers, judges and public servants to navigate the complexities of our work and our world. Thomas More reminds us that in a world that can often seem turbulent, we must not abandon our duty as guardians of the law," said Guerrero.

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