The Deacon's Bench

Thumbnail image for’s Catholic lawmakers will celebrate the annual Red Mass this Sunday, and a producer at CNN looks at some of the history behind this event: 

The beautifully ornate Catholic church in the nation’s capital has seen its share of history and controversy.

In 1963, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle was the site of John
F. Kennedy’s funeral. After the service, on the steps outside, the
slain president’s young son famously saluted his father’s memory.  But the church is also the site of an annual Mass that has drawn
criticism for what many see as an unhealthy mix of politics, the law
and religion.

Washington’s annual Red Mass, which celebrates the
legal profession, will be held this year on Sunday, October 4 — the
day before the Supreme Court begins its new term. Several justices
traditionally attend, along with congressional leaders, diplomats,
cabinet secretaries and other dignitaries.

Past presidents have also attended, though there is no word yet on whether President Obama will appear.

It is a Catholic service, but power brokers of other faiths are asked
to attend the invitation-only event. Justice Stephen Breyer, who is
Jewish, is a regular.

The Mass “takes its name from the color of
the vestments. … [It] goes back centuries, to Rome, to France to
England,” Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said.

“There was the idea [to] bring all the people who are involved in the
law … once a year so that together, they can simply pray for the
wisdom of God.”

The church, built starting in the 19th century,
is considered one of Washington’s hidden gems. Tucked between modern
office buildings a few blocks from the White House, it is a mix of
architectural styles, a hint of ancient Roman style, a splash from the
Italian Renaissance and a definite Byzantine flavor.

Matthew, noted Monsignor Ronald Jameson, was the patron saint of civil
servants, appropriate in a city where the federal government dominates
the workforce.

Five justices attended last year’s Red Mass,
which was similar in tone to other recent gatherings. Cardinal John
Patrick Foley, who has held several prominent positions in the Catholic
Church, noted many parts of the Bible “sound very much like American
ideals” and reminded the members of the high court to build a society
“of justice, of peace and of love.”

There’s much more, including some of the controversy and criticism surrounding this annual event, at the link.

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