The Red Mass

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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.


Original Red Mass programs, and other materials provided by the Archives of the University of Notre Dame.

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