The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Seeing red

It’s the First Monday in October, which means that yesterday was the occasion for celebrating the traditional Red Mass in various cathedrals around the country — including St. Matthew’s, in Washington. The Supremes were there — or some of them, at least:

The archbishop of Milwaukee yesterday reminded six Supreme Court justices on the eve of their new session that “it is a cherished part of our American heritage to rejoice in a mutually enriching alliance between religion, morality and democracy.”


Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,500 in his homily at the 54th annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in the District, Archbishop Timothy Dolan reminded the jurists and other government officials in attendance that “ideas have consequences” and so does participation in the Red Mass.

“Participation in the Red Mass is a humble prayer for the red-hot fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing the jurists, legislators and executives of our government the wisdom to recognize that we are indeed made in God’s image … and then to give them the courage to judge, legislate and administer based on the consequences of this conviction: the innate dignity and inviolability of every human life, and the cultivation of a society of virtue to support that belief.”


Those present at the 112-year-old church included Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Breyer is Jewish; the other five are Catholic.

Also in attendance were deans and professors of law, lawyers and members of Congress.

The Red Mass, which featured Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington as lead celebrant, is an adaptation of the rite that historically opens the judicial year of the Scared Roman Rota, the tribunal of the Holy See.

Since the first recorded Red Mass in 1245, the rite has requested guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice. It gets its name from the red vestments traditionally worn by the celebrant, which symbolize the fire from the Holy Spirit that the Bible says descended upon the apostles.


Archbishop Dolan alluded to such issues as abortion, euthanasia, cloning and human sexuality in his homily and asked the Holy Spirit to descend upon U.S. judicial leaders.

“In a world where we’re tempted to act like animals instead of like God’s icon, in a culture where life itself can be treated as a commodity, seen as a means to an end, or as an inconvenience when tiny or infirm, in a society where rights are reduced to whatever we have the urge to do instead of what we ought to do, we need all the wisdom and fortitude God can give us,” the archbishop said.

Dolan, by the way, is one of the more colorful and engaging prelates in the country — and a man frequently mentioned as a leading contender to be the next Archbishop of New York.

Photo: Catholic Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington accompanied Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. from the Cathedral of St. Matthew yesterday after the traditional Red Mass. From the Washington Times.

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