The Red Mass


The Red Mass

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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.


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

Included in

Law Commons



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