Annual Red Mass welcomes the start of the judicial year
By Enedelia J. Obregón
The Diocese of Austin commemorated an 800-year tradition at St. Mary Cathedral with the 25th annual Red Mass for those in the legal profession.
Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated the Oct. 13 liturgy that began with a procession of judges in their black robes as well as attorneys and legislators. Priests and deacons wore red vestments.
Originally, the Mass opened the term of the court in most European countries. Government officials, lawyers and judges would process in red robes or vestments. The garments signified the fire of the Holy Spirit, from whom they sought guidance as they pursued justice in their daily lives. The tradition was introduced into the U.S. in 1928.
At a reception after Mass, Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general secretary and general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke about religious freedom.
In his homily, Bishop Vásquez said the Holy Spirit imparts the gifts of wisdom and understanding to those in the legal profession to speak the truth just as did St. Thomas More, one of two patron saints for those in the legal profession.
The saint was key counselor to King Henry VIII of England, but refused to accept the king as head of the Church of England. He was tried for treason and beheaded in 1535.
“Because of his great integrity he was willing to undergo martyrdom,” the bishop said, noting More’s last words as he went to the gallows: “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Referencing the Gospel of John, the Bishop Vásquez said Jesus told his apostles he would send them the Advocate, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
“The Greek word for advocate is Paraclete, meaning someone who stands by your side and in legal terms pleads your case,” he said. “The Holy Spirit takes our side and helps us on behalf of Jesus.”
He said the Holy Spirit also guides us in working for justice and carrying out the challenge in Isaiah, chapter 11: Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.
“Those aren’t just words or feelings but an act,” Bishop Vásquez said. “We are called to work for justice. There is a lot of work to be done. We must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and be with us. We must follow church teaching and be constant in how we live our faith … You can’t really be pro-life if you ignore caring for the hungry or working for just wages.”
It is the church –– the Body of Christ –– that must carry on the work of Jesus in this society, especially for the poor, he said. He also encouraged the judges and legal professionals to pray before making decisions on cases.
“It is important you understand the counsel, the knowledge and fear of God and be humble before God and open your hearts to the Holy Spirit,” Bishop Vásquez said.
At the reception, Picarello said the increase in threats to religious liberty is not going away but are being redirected. He noted the redefinition of marriage and the Health and Human Services mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires many employers to offer free contraception through their health insurance plans.
While faith groups directly involved in religious ministry –– such as churches –– are exempt, religiously affiliated nonprofits such as hospitals, universities, charities and for-profit businesses whose owners oppose contraception and contraception services on religious grounds are not.
“This is government coercion against people’s consciences,” Picarello said. “Employers are forced to pay for contraception. That’s a threat to their conscience.”
He lauded the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have a case before the U.S. Supreme Court based on religious freedom. Under the ACA, religious-affiliated organizations do not need to provide contraception to their employees, but they do need to sign a form affirming their objection. This forces the insurer or outside health plan administrator to provide separate coverage.
He also discussed the redefinition of marriage, which forces employers to offer benefits to those in same sex relationships that are offered to the spouses of those in traditional marriage.
Picarello said legal solutions are short-term. What is needed is for the laity to follow the bishops in objecting to such laws and make people realize what is at stake.
“What we need to do is speak the truth to people one-on-one through the New Evangelization,” he said. “The bishops need you. The church needs you.”