Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

October 10, 2008

Celebrating the Red Mass


This past Sunday, October 5, the annual Red Mass was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC. A tradition that goes back to 13th-century Europe, Red Masses are celebrated in order to ask for the blessing of the Holy Spirit on those who administer justice, especially lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. This medieval tradition was revived in the United States in the mid-twentieth century in Washington, DC, and today is held in dioceses all over the country, typically at the start of a judicial year. The service is called the Red Mass because of the red vestments clergy members wear and is officially called the Solemn Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, “votive” indicating that it is being celebrated for a particular intention. The largest Red Mass in the United States continues to be held in Washington, DC each year. This year four of the five Roman Catholics on the high court - Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas - came to worship at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle; the fifth, Justice Samuel Alito, did not attend. They were joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish. In his homily at the Mass, Cardinal John Patrick Foley recalled that as a young man he seriously considered attending law school rather than seminary and noted the similarities between the two professions: “We both seek to challenge people to recognize their dignity and to live according to it," he said. "We both consider law as a guide to a well ordered society. We both see law as a means in which people can be educated to perceive what is good and to strive for it."

In addition to the Red Mass, several dioceses also celebrate a “Blue Mass” each year in order to ask for a special blessing on the work of policemen and firemen. An important lesson that the Red and Blue Masses teach is that our seemingly secular vocations and careers should not be separate from our identity as Catholics. Whether we are lawyers or doctors, policemen or judges, the Holy Sprit should bless all of our work. Perhaps ask your students today what careers they envision for themselves, and how they can strive to live out and integrate their Catholic faith in those careers, how the Holy Spirit can bless the work that they envision themselves doing.

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