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Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) concelebrates Mass.

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 that descended on the Apostles. Additionally, Judges of the High Court of England and all doctors of law wore red robes or academic hoods.[1]


The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. From there, it spread to most European countries. Around 1310, during the reign of Edward II, the tradition began in England. It was attended at the opening of each term of Court by all members of the Bench and Bar. The tradition was introduced into the United States in 1928 at the Church of St. Andrew, New York City,near the courthouses of Foley Square, celebrated bu by Patrick Cardinal Hayes, who strongly advocated and buttressed the legal community's part in evangelization.[2][3]

The Red Mass was recommenced in Toronto in 1924 and has continued it to this day. It was re-instituted in Sydney in 1931.

Red Mass today

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 Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet and other government departments and sometimes the President of the United States. 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 a series of homilies opposing abortion.[4]

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 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. The Mass is presided over by Keith Michael Patrick Cardinal O'Brien.

In the Philippines, Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan has celebrated the Red Mass annually as the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

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.[5]

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.

External links


  2. History of the Red Mass Thomas More Society of South Florida
  3. John M. Swomley, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics
  4. '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.
  5. St. Anthony Messenger, monthly Catholic magazine, January 2008, p. 46.