THE TRADITION OF THE RED MASS
The Red Mass is an ancient custom dating back to the 13th century, when the
solemn votive Mass began being celebrated annually at the opening of the
judicial year. From the earliest of times, the Mass has been attended by the
judiciary, attorneys at law, law professors, high ranking government officials,
distinguished guests, and others who work in the legal arena. The Mass was
intended to gather those from the noble legal profession for the purpose of
seeking divine guidance and strength for the coming term of court.
The Red Mass is celebrated in honor of the Holy Spirit, from whom flows the
wisdom, understanding, counsel, patience, energy, and courage necessary for the
administration of justice. Those who work in the legal profession prayerfully
seek these virtues, which are essential to the courtroom, law practice, and public
Originating in the great cities of Europe, the Red Mass tradition continues in
Westminster Cathedral in London, and in other preeminent cathedrals of Paris,
Rome, and other European capitals. The Red Mass came to America in
October of 1928, where it was first celebrated in New York's old St Andrew's
Church, located in the shadow of the towering state and federal courthouses.
The tradition is celebrated annually in Washington, D.C. at the start of the
Supreme Court term, where the justices are joined by members of the bar,
presidents, members of Congress, law faculty, diplomats and other such
officials. The Red Mass has further spread throughout this country, to venues
such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Indianapolis and New Orleans, to
name a few.
The venerable custom derives its name from the red vestments of the celebrant,
representing the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit, and from the brilliant scarlet
robes worn by the Lord High Justices of the middle ages. The Mass is attended
by those of Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, and all religious beliefs who work in
the legal arena, as they come together for this annual public celebration of faith
and the law.
Invoking this ancient tradition, Bishop John M. D'Arcy has invited those who
strive for the cause of justice to the inaugural Fort Wayne area Red Mass at the
beautiful and recently restored Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Notre Dame Law School, "Tradition of the Red Mass" (2016). The Red Mass. 12.