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Red Mass

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Title: Red Mass  
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Red Mass

Red Mass
Red Mass
Red Mass at Villanova
Type Mass
Classification Roman-Catholic
Scripture Acts 2:1-4

A Red Mass is a Mass celebrated annually in the Catholic Church for judges, attorneys, law school professors, students, and government officials. The Mass requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice, and offers the opportunity to reflect on what Catholics believe is the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.

Originating in Europe during the High Middle Ages, the Red Mass is so called from the red vestments traditionally worn in symbolism of the tongues of fire (the Holy Spirit) that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Its name also exemplifies the scarlet robes worn by royal judges that attended the Mass centuries ago.[1]

In many countries with a Protestant tradition, such as England and Wales and Australia, a similar church services is held to mark the start of the legal year, with judges customarily wearing their ceremonial regalia.


  • History 1
  • Red Mass today 2
    • Ireland 2.1
    • Philippines 2.2
    • Scotland 2.3
    • United States 2.4
  • Other Masses 3
    • White Mass 3.1
    • Rose Mass 3.2
  • In popular culture 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. In certain localities of France, the Red Mass was celebrated in honor of Saint Ives, the Patron Saint of Lawyers.[2] From there, it spread to most European countries. The tradition began in England around 1310, during the reign of Edward II. It was attended at the opening of each term of Court by all members of the Bench and Bar. Today the Red Mass is celebrated annually at Westminster Cathedral.[1]

In the United States, the first Red Mass was held in 1877 at Saints Peter and Paul Church Detroit, Michigan by Detroit College, as the University of Detroit Mercy was known at the time. UDM School of Law resumed the tradition beginning in 1912 and continues to hold it annually. In New York City, a Red Mass was first held in 1928 at the Church of St. Andrew, near the courthouses of Foley Square, celebrated by Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, who strongly advocated and buttressed the legal community's part in evangelization.[3][4]

In Canada, the Red Mass was first celebrated in Québec City in 1896, in Toronto in 1924 and in Montréal in 1944. Its sponsorship was assumed by the Guild of Our Lady of Good Counsel in 1931 and by The Thomas More Lawyers' Guild of Toronto since 1968. It was re-instituted in Sydney, Australia in 1931.

Red Mass today

The main difference between the Red Mass and a traditional Mass is that the focus of prayer and blessings concentrate on the leadership roles of those present. The gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude, are customarily invoked upon those in attendance.[5]


In Ireland, the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit (the Red Mass) is held annually on the first Monday of October, which is the first day of the Michaelmas Law Term. The ceremony is held at St. Michan's Roman Catholic church, which is the parish church of the Four Courts. It is attended by the Irish judiciary, barristers and solicitors, as well as representatives of the diplomatic corps, Gardaí, the Northern Irish, English and Scottish judiciary. The judiciary do not wear their judicial robes, although formal morning dress is worn.


In the Philippines, De La Salle University, Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, and other Jesuit schools, and Holy Angel University annually celebrate the Red Mass, which they call "Mass of the Holy Spirit." The University of Santo Tomas and the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, both Dominican institutions, also celebrate the Red Mass, known as Misa de Apertura, that is followed by the Discurso de Apertura to formally open the academic year.


In Scotland, a Red Mass is held annually each autumn in St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh to mark the beginning of the Scottish Judicial year. It is attended by Catholic judges of the High Court of Justiciary, sheriffs, advocates, solicitors and law students all dressed in their robes of office. The robes of the Lords Commissioner of Justiciary are red faced with white.

United States

Diocese of Austin 2009 Red Mass Announcement

One of the better-known Red Masses is the one celebrated each fall at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. on the Sunday before the first Monday in October (the Supreme Court convenes on the first Monday in October). It is sponsored by the John Carroll Society and attended by some Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet and other government departments and sometimes the President of the United States. Each year, at the Brunch following the Red Mass, the Society confers its Pro Bono Legal Service Awards to thank lawyers and law firms that have provided outstanding service.[1]

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Jewish, used to attend the Red Mass with her Christian colleagues but no longer does so due to her objection to the use of images of aborted fetuses during a homily opposing abortion.[6] In the 2011 St. Matthew mass, all three female members of the Court — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who is Jewish), Sonia Sotomayor (who is Catholic) and Elena Kagan (who is Jewish) — stayed away, while the six male members — including Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish — attended. The mass was conducted by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who called it "an opportunity to pray 'for all of those involved in the administration of justice,'".[7]

On September 30, 2012, six of the nine justices were at the Red Mass, tying the number who attended in 2009.[8] Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Breyer, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Kagan were present, while Justices Alito, Ginsburg and Sotomayor did not attend.[8] The homilist was Archbishop Timothy Broglio, archbishop for the military services and supervisor of Catholic military chaplains. Archbishop Broglio said, [W]e gather as a community of faith to beg an abundance of blessings upon the women and men of our judiciary and the legal profession. It is a moment to pause and pray for those who serve our Country and foster justice for all."[9][10]

Five U.S. Supreme Court justices attended the 2013 Red Mass. Justices on hand were Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. It has become a ritual that ushers in the court’s fall season, continues a 60-year-old tradition and is intended to bless the upcoming work of the Supreme Court and other judges and public officials. In his sermon, Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell said "petty partisanship and ever-politicizing rhetoric should have no place at all when men and women of good will come together to serve the common good." The mass is followed by a brunch at the Washington Hilton, where the John Carroll Society presented awards to lawyers and law firms that have provided legal services to people in need in the Washington area.[11]

On September 24, 2013, the oldest continuously celebrated Red Mass in the United States held its 101st anniversary in Downtown Detroit at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, Saints Peter and Paul Church, 629 Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan. The Honorable Robert P. Young, Jr., Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, delivered the Renewal of the Lawyer’s Oath of Commitment.[12]

The first Red Mass in Boston was celebrated on October 4, 1941 at Immaculate Conception Church under the auspices of Boston College.[5] A Red Mass is also celebrated at St. Joseph's Cathedral in the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire,[13] and at the Basilica of the Assumption in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.[14]

Other Masses

In the United States, the liturgical custom of holding a Red Mass has more recently led to annual Masses for at least two other occupational groups; "Blue" Masses for police officers and others engaged in public safety, as well as "White" or "Rose" Masses for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals.[15]

White Mass

The tradition of the White Mass in the United States finds its origins in the development of the national Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s. The White Mass, so named by the color worn by those in the healing profession of medicine, is held in recognition of the dedicated work of healthcare professionals and to ask God’s blessing upon patient, doctor, nurse, and caregiver.[16] The Archdiocese of St. Louis celebrates a 'White Mass' every year for those involved in healthcare. The Mass is associated with St. Luke, the patron of physicians and surgeons, whose feast day is October 18.[17] The Archdiocese of Atlanta also celebrates a White Mass honoring health care professionals,[18] as does Creighton University.[19] St. Patrick's Cathedral in Norwich, Connecticut held its twenty-fifth White Mass in 2015. The speaker at the brunch following the mass was Lt. Commander Seth Flagg M.D. of the U.S. Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment.[20]

In Lewiston, Maine, the White Mass is held in February to coincide with the World Day of Prayer for the Sick, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as "a special time of prayer and sharing, ...and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ". It is celebrated on February 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.[21]

Rose Mass

Since 1992 the John Carroll Society has sponsored a Rose Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, to acknowledge medical, dental, nursing and allied workers and volunteers and the many health care institutions in the Archdiocese of Washington. It takes place annually on the fourth Sunday of Lent (“Laetare Sunday”), a Sunday when the vestments worn by the celebrant are rose-colored. The color rose was chosen as the rose has come to symbolize “life,”[22] The The Lansing Guild of the Catholic Medical Association hosts a Rose Mass in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In popular culture

Controversy over the constitutionality of the Red Mass and attendance by American officials has been dramatized in such shows as The West Wing ("The Red Mass") and Law & Order (by John Munch in "Sideshow"), a character known for his obsession with conspiracy theories.[23]


  1. ^ a b c "The Red Mass", The John Carroll Society
  2. ^ "The Origin and History of the Red Mass", Tampa Bay Catholic Lawyers Guild
  3. ^ History of the Red Mass Thomas More Society of South Florida
  4. ^ John M. Swomley, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics
  5. ^ a b "About the Red Mass", The Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Archdiocese of Boston
  6. ^ 'A Tale of Two Priests' (print edition); 'Priests Spar Over What It Means to Be Catholic' (online), November 16, 2009, TIME Magazine, p. 36. Accessed December 3, 2009.
  7. ^ "Supreme Court justices attend Mass before new session...", Associated Press via, October 2, 2011, Retrieved 2011-10-02.
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ "Archbishop Broglio Delivers Red Mass Homily", Archdiocese of Washington
  10. ^ , October 5, 2012National ReviewFranck, Matthew J., "Needless Fear and Trembling Over the Red Mass",
  11. ^ , October 6, 2013Legal TimesMauro, Tony. "A Plea for Civility at Annual Red Mass in D.C.", The Blog of
  12. ^ "University of Detroit Mercy School of Law to Celebrate 101st Annual Red Mass"
  13. ^ "Red Mass", Diocese of Manchester
  14. ^ "Red Mass", Archdiocese of Baltimore
  15. ^ St. Anthony Messenger, monthly Catholic magazine, January 2008, p. 46.
  16. ^ History of White Mass", Catholic Medical Association
  17. ^ "White Mass for Catholic Health Care Professionals", Archdiocese of St. Louis
  18. ^ "White Mass Honoring Catholic Health Care Professionals", Achdioecese of Atlanta
  19. ^ "Catholic Health Care Providers to Celebrate White Mass on Oct. 18", Creighton University
  20. ^ , April 19, 2015The BulletinDiaz, Jaclyn. "Health care professionals honored at White Mass",
  21. ^ "White Mass 2014", Prince of Peace Parish, Lewiston, Maine
  22. ^ "The Rose Mass", The John Carroll Society
  23. ^ " 

External links

  • Legal Drawings by Simon Fieldhouse, illustrating Red Mass
  • 2010 Red Mass at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
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