THE RED MASS
The Mass of the Holy Spirit, or Red Mass, was authored in 802 by
Alcuin, an ecclesiastic at the court of Charlemagne. Initially, it was not
associated with the Jaw and the judicature but was intended primarily
to be a devotion to the Holy Spirit.
It was not until the rise of the universities in the twelfth century,
with their new professional law faculties, that the Red Mass tradition
started. Between 1100 and 1130, the Law School at Bologna developed Into
the leading center for legal studies under the direction of Irnerlus. It Is
felt that he probably Instituted the practice of commencing each academic
year with a Special Mass.
In 1243, Pope Innocent IV created the Roman Rota, the highest court
In the judicial system of the Catholic Church. It was the practice of the
judges or "advisors" to invoke divine guidance and strength for their
judicial duties by offering the Mass of the Holy Spirit.
The practice spread throughout Europe. King Louis IX of France
built LaSainte Chapelle in 1248 for the celebration o! such a Mass before
the court terms commenced. This practice has continued, despite the
destruction of the chapel in 1790 and its reconstruction under Louis·
Philippe. However, now It Is celebrated In Saint-Germain I' Auxerrols In
The name "Red Mass" did not attach until the practice of celebrating
the Mass of the Holy Spirit (before Michaelmas Term, September 29)
started in England under the reign of Edward I in 1307. The twelve
judges of the King's Bench, clothed in their scarlet robes, Jn addition to
the red vestments of the celebrant and augmented by the typically red
robes of the academic doctors present, merited the new title. This tradition
has continued down to today In Westminster Cathedral. Similarly Angli·
can services are held in Westminster Abbey.
The practice came to the United States in 1928. Patrick Cardinal
Hayes celebrated a Red Mass for the bench and bar on October 6, 1928,
at St. Andrew's on Duane Street In New York City. Subsequently, it
spread to Chicago In 1934 and to other cities. In the United States, the
Red Mass is usually sponsored by the Catholic Lawyers Guild. Custom
in England and in the United States schedules the Mass for the reopening
of the Courts in the fall.
Notre Dame Law School, "The Red Mass" (2016). The Red Mass. 13.