At Red Mass, a prayer for those who administer justice

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WASHINGTON - The archbishop of Atlanta called on worshippers to invoke the Holy Spirit for guidance and support of people in the legal profession so that they may "reach greater wisdom" in administering justice.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, speaking at the 63rd annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington Oct. 4, told lawyers, educators and government officials in attendance that they work in a noble endeavor that becomes "more essential with each passing generation."

He also stressed that their duty is to uphold religious freedom, a vital right in the country.

The Red Mass is celebrated the Sunday before the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court's new session on the first Monday in October. Sponsored by the John Carroll Society of the Archdiocese of Washington, the liturgy drew more than 1,000 attendees, many serving as judges, lawyers, diplomats, government officials, law school deans, professors and students.

Archbishop Gregory emphasized the importance of "using words that are truthful, precise and unifying" in the law for the good of society and the nation. "It is the duty of those involved in the administration of justice to provide the words and interpretations of the words that are so vital to our national identity, our future and our unity," he said.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the principal celebrant for the Mass. He was joined by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop Washington; Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the U.S.; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

Reflecting on the first reading from the Book of Genesis, when God introduced different languages upon discovering people were challenging God's authority, Archbishop Gregory said, "People were using words to contravene God's plan for us and in search of becoming gods themselves. ... Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes spoke of that residual temptation eloquently when he said: 'The great act of faith is when a man decides he is not God.'"

Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer attended the Mass. Attorney General Loretta Lynch also attended.

U.S. laws, Archbishop Gregory said, are a vast collection of "precious and noble" words, which ought to be understandable and bring a sense of unity with the country.

"It is the mission of those involved in the administration of justice to help us all to understand the meaning of the words of the law and their consequence for the common good that flow from those laws," he said. "Yours is the noble vocation of choosing words and helping us understand the meaning of those words that are intended to safeguard and unite our country."

In a pluralistic society, there is an "implied balance of the rights of all people within the law and its interpretation," which must always include the basic right to religious freedom, he said.

"We pray this day as we should pray each day that God's own Spirit will fill all of you with wisdom, courage and the insight to fulfill your noble responsibilities on behalf of all of us," he added.

Because God is the source of all wisdom, the archbishop continued, prayers must be offered for those who are engaged in the work the government or civil society for the virtues to carry out their duties.

Wisdom, insight, understanding and prudence are "important and necessary for those who deal with human impartiality and justice" in the legislatures, government agencies and courts of the land, he said.

"Our legal system depends upon and demands clearheaded, insightful and prudent experts, but we also desperately need those who humbly seek that truth which only comes in its perfection through God's Holy Spirit," Archbishop Gregory said.

The archbishop reiterated the dependence of the nation's legal system "upon a benign and positive relationship" between religion and the nation's branches of government. He quoted an early member of the Supreme Court, Samuel Chase, who said, "Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people."

"During the course of this coming year, whether you are a judge, legislator, agency official, legal scholar, practicing attorney or citizen, you will be faced with many perplexing issues that will demand your careful attention and discernment," Archbishop Gregory said. "We pray that you will approach these challenges with serenity and insight so as to strengthen our society and bring harmony among peoples in our country. Let your words bring us all greater spirit of understanding and unity as a nation."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015