Red Mass celebrated in Washington

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WASHINGTON - At the annual Red Mass, those who work in administering justice were reminded that the law rests on principles including respect for human dignity.

Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, delivered the homily at the Oct. 3 Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, which is held annually on the day before the Supreme Court begins its new session.

"Positive law rests on certain principles the knowledge of which constitutes nothing less than a participation in the divine law itself: the pursuit of the common good through respect for the natural law, the dignity of the human person, the inviolability of innocent life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage, justice for the poor, protection of minors, and so on," Archbishop Di Noia said.

He noted that "a consensus about these principles inspired the founders of modern democracies, and although it was profoundly influenced by Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. ... This consensus was understood to transcend religious and cultural differences."

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was the main celebrant of the Red Mass. Concelebrating bishops at the Mass included Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio to the United States; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde.

The 1,200 people at the Mass included Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and five current members of the U.S. Supreme Court: John G. Roberts Jr., the chief justice of the United States; and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The annual Mass, which seeks to invoke the blessings of the Holy Spirit on those who work in the administration of justice, was also attended by government officials including other judges, and by local attorneys and deans and students from Washington-area law schools.

The Red Mass "provides all of us the opportunity to ask God's blessings on those who administer the law," said Archbishop Wuerl.

The Mass is sponsored by the John Carroll Society, a Catholic group that includes laymen and laywomen drawn from all areas of professional and business life, in service to the archbishop of Washington.

In his homily, Archbishop Di Noia traced the 700-year history of the Red Mass, noting that the tradition of a special Mass at the opening of the judicial term "is as old as the legal profession itself."

A Red Mass was celebrated in Paris in 1245 and in Westminster, England, in 1301. The Mass got its name from red-colored liturgical vestments worn by the celebrants, since fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and red was also the color of early judicial robes.

The tradition of the Red Mass, he said, honors "the sacred character of the law and the vital civic role of its guardians."

"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, for enlightenment, for consolation, for refreshment, for solace, for healing, for comfort, for hope," Archbishop Di Noia said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010