Blog Post

Supreme Court Opens with Traditional Red Mass

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist On the eve of the opening session of the Supreme Court, five Justices joined Vice President Joe Biden at a traditional Red Mass in Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew. The Washington Post is reporting that Chief Justice John Roberts and three other Catholic members of the High Court, Antonin Scalia, Samuel A. Alito and Clarence Thomas, sat in the front rows on Sunday in a Cathedral packed with lawyers and law students. Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, also attended the Mass. Catholic Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor did not attend, nor did Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. The dean of the Georgetown University Law Center led a prayer, and a federal judge served as an usher. "Your presence here is witness to the importance our nation places on the rule of law," Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said from the pulpit. In the sermon, which was delivered by the Vatican's Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia, the congregation was told about how the tradition of the Red Mass began during a time of civic strife very similar to today's. "The Church understands the nearly overwhelming complexity of the climate which envelops the practice of law and the administration of justice today," the Archbishop said.  "Our enactment of this ancient ritual of the Red Mass joins us to the generations of judges and lawyers who pursued their professions conscious of their need for divine grace and guidance." The tradition of the Red Mass, which is devoted to praying for jurists and lawyers, dates back to the 13th Century when the Mass officially opened the term of European courts. Government officials, lawyers and judges would process into the church wearing red vestments to signify the fire of the Holy Spirit's guidance to all who seek to uphold justice in the world.  The tradition was introduced into the United States by Cardinal Patrick Haves of New York in 1928, and is now celebrated annually in dioceses throughout the United States as a way to invoke God's blessings on members of the Bar, the Bench, the legislature, law enforcement, and all protectors and administrators of the law. "I think the significance of this event is that so many of them come," Archbishop Wuerl told the Post after the Mass. "They come to ask the blessing of the spirit before the new session, but also to give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, particularly that we are a nation of laws." © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®