Sarasota Red Mass Oct. 24

Red Mass celebrating 10 years: Free to Worship Without Fear: The First Amendment guarantees it

Evelyn L. Moya, Esq. (Special to the Florida Catholic)


Since the first Red Mass in the Diocese of Venice was held in Sarasota at St. Martha Church on March 14, 2008; more questions have arisen as to its significance, its history and purpose.

The Red Mass is a special liturgy steeped in Catholic Church tradition since 1245, when the first on record was held in the Cathedral of Paris. It is a liturgy based upon the prayers invoking the blessings of the Holy Spirit to bestow His gifts (among them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge) upon those who serve in the administration of justice.

The popular name “Red Mass’ was derived from the red vestments worn by the judges of the royal courts of Europe. However, it was King Edward I, who started the tradition in 1310, of convening the judges at Westminster Abbey for the annual Mass. The Red Mass is a continuing tradition in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Philippines, Scotland, Wales and other countries although Catholics may not be the majority of the countries’ population.

The first Red Mass in the United States was held at St. Peter and Paul Church in Detroit Michigan in 1877. However, the first official Red Mass is recognized as the one held in New York City in 1928. According to a Time Magazine article it was President Dwight Eisenhower, (Presbyterian) who encouraged his cabinet members to attend the Red Mass held in Washington, D.C., which he attended in 1953, in an effort “to show the nation’s communist adversaries that the United States was not anti-religion.”

Many criticisms have been leveled against the practice of the Bench and Bar attending a Catholic Mass together. However, it must be noted that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the freedom of every individual to worship in the manner of the individual’s choice.  After all, what is there to argue about when praying is asking for what is good. The Red Mass is open to every person of faith. Each event may include a renewal of the lawyer’s oath to serve in truth and justice.

At the nation’s capital, the Red Mass is celebrated annually on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, for opening of the term of the Supreme Court. Persons who serve in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the government have frequently participated. In Tallahassee, the Red Mass is held before the opening of the State Legislature and includes all of the Bishops of Florida.

The Red Mass is presided by a Bishop. It is usually hosted by a Diocese, or Catholic law organizations such as a Thomas More Society (named after the Catholic chancellor beheaded by King Henry VIII for disobedience), or the John Carroll Society (named after the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) or the Catholic Lawyers Guild, such as the one hosting the Red Mass 5:30 p.m., Oct. 24 at St. Martha Parish, 200 N. Orange Avenue, Sarasota.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane will be the principal celebrant. The Mass is intended for judges, lawyers, lawmakers, their families, and staff.

The Catholic Lawyers’ Guild of the Diocese of Venice is also introducing an award to a person the Guild deems as demonstrating the exemplary attributes of a faithful servant of the law while giving glory to God.

For additional information about the Red Mass, please call 941-316-9200.

Bishop Dewane will also be celebrating a Red Mass at noon, Nov. 16 at St. Catherine Parish, 820 Hickory St., Sebring. All Catholic members of the legal profession in the Eastern Deanery (Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto, Glades and Hendry counties) are invited and encouraged to attend. For additional information, please call the Parish at 863-385-0049.