Monday, June 22, 2009

The Red Mass

The Red Mass is offered for the legal profession at the beginning of the judicial year to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, strength and hope. The name “Red Mass” comes from the color of the vestments of the clergy and, originally as well, from the robes of the assembled judges and scholars. The red vestments of the clergy recall that the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles and disciples in the form of tongues of fire on Pentecost Sunday. Judicial robes in Europe, where the tradition began, are often a brilliant scarlet. Similarly, the academic robes of professors with doctorate degrees in law were a bright red. Although Masses invoking the Holy Spirit are celebrated on other occasions, notably at the beginning of the academic year at universities, the historic predominance of red at the opening of the judicial year has identified the name “Red Mass” almost exclusively with the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated at that time. The tradition began during the thirteenth century in several European countries. In England, the Red Mass is celebrated on a date close to September 29, Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael), which is the first day of the fall court sessions. In the United States, the Red Mass is celebrated around that date in many dioceses and, on occasion, in connection with bar association activities. In Philadelphia, the tradition began in 1952, when the Red Mass opened the 150th Anniversary celebration of the Philadelphia Bar Association. The St. Thomas More Society of Philadelphia sponsored Philadelphia’s first Red Mass in 1952 at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. An overflow crowd heard Archbishop O'Hara deliver a homily on "The Natural Law." It was such a magnificent occasion that the officers of the Society quickly laid plans to assure that the tradition would be continued. Ever since, the annual Red Mass has been the Society's most visible activity.