The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Seeing Red

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.

Comments read comments(1)
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Sebastian Kizhakkeyil

posted October 3, 2009 at 12:22 am

No catholic politician must be ashamed of his catholic faith. Instead, they should be proud of their religious heritage and personal faith. Remember, Tony Blair, the previous Prime minister of UK, is a catholic now although Catholicism is almost banned among politicians in UK. Newt Gingrich, the ex-speaker of Congress, has also embraced Catholicism in recent months. The Red Mass is not a mixing of religion and politics. It is an occasion for those holding high Constitutional offices to bear witness to their faith in public. They should proclaim to the public that their catholic faith is a precious treasure and not something of a burden or shame. In a world of growing decadence of moral values, political leaders should set their example for upholding moral values and human rights. May St. Matthew intercede for all political leaders and legal luminaries to perform their duties faithfully and honestly.

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