The Red Mass: Asking the Holy Spirit for guidance for the legal community Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Susanna D. Herro, President, St. Thomas More Society   
Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

MADISON -- When the Red Mass is mentioned, people often express some curiosity about it and wonder what it is, where it originated, and why it is called "red."

The last question is the easiest to answer. It is because the celebrant of the Mass wears red vestments and long ago, some of the royal judges also had red vestments.

What is a Red Mass?

But what is a Red Mass? It is a Mass, usually celebrated as the new judicial term begins, to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance for all those engaged in the justice and legal systems.

As Catholics, justice and mercy are two core values and they are intertwined in our systems of dispensing law. The Red Mass is traced back to Paris, France, in A.D. 1245. The tradition is noted in England in A.D. 1310. but took awhile longer to be instituted in the United States.

The first known Red Mass in our country was celebrated in Detroit in 1877. The tradition has spread across the country to many areas.

One of the most prominent Red Masses is in Washington, D.C., where members of the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, sometimes the president, lawyers, and others join together in the Cathedral of St. Matthew to seek wisdom, guidance, integrity, and fairness.

St. Thomas More Society

St. Thomas More Societies are the frequent sponsors of the Masses and that is the case in the Diocese of Madison.

The St. Thomas More Society is inspired by our namesake, the patron saint of lawyers and judges, to foster the growth of members in attributes exemplified by St. Thomas More: deep faith, integrity, intellectual rigor, and fellowship.

He is the patron saint of lawyers through his martyrdom as he would not deny his faith for the convenience of his king's desire to remarry against the rules of the Church. St. Thomas More is reported to have told the crowd at his beheading in 1535 that he was dying as "the King's good servant, but God's first."

Four hundred years later, in 1935, Thomas More was canonized. In his time, he was renowned as a diplomat, lawyer, scholar, and as a family man known for his wit and wisdom. His legacy continues and he is a model for all who serve in the legal profession.

Red Mass in Madison

The St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Madison invites everyone, of all faiths, to attend the Red Mass on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at St. Patrick Church, 404 E. Main St., Madison.

The Mass is open to all yet especially requests guidance for all who actively seek justice, such as Supreme Court justices, judges, government officials, lawyers, law faculty and students, law enforcement officers, and court personnel along with their family and friends.

The Mass will be celebrated by Bishop Robert C. Morlino.

An hors d'oeuvres reception will follow in the parish hall. There is no charge to attend Mass. However, to attend the reception, send a check for $10 per person made payable to the "St. Thomas More Society" by Friday, Sept. 4, to Deb O'Brien, DeWitt Ross and Stevens, S.C., 2 E. Mifflin St., Suite 600, Madison, WI 53703-2865.

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