What is a “Red Mass”?
The Catholic Church’s Red Mass is celebrated annually for all members of the legal profession, regardless of religious affiliation, including, judges, lawyers, law professors, law students, and government officials. Through prayerful petition and thanksgiving, the Red Mass requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice, and offers the legal community an opportunity to reflect on the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.
The first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. In certain localities of France, the Red Mass was celebrated in honor of Saint Ives, the Patron Saint of Lawyers. From there, the tradition of the Red Mass spread to most European countries.
The tradition began in England around 1310, during the reign of Edward II. The Red Mass received its name from the fact that the celebrant was vested in red and the Lord High justices were robed in brilliant scarlet. They were joined by the university professors with doctors among them displaying red in their academic gowns. The first Red Mass in the United States was celebrated at Saints Peter and Paul Church (Detroit) in 1877 and is now celebrated annually in most, if not all, of the archdioceses in the United States.
Over the centuries, especially in the United Kingdom and the United States, the Red Mass has become more closely associated St. Thomas More – an English lawyer and statesmen who was martyred during the reign of Henry VIII of England for his stance on religious liberty. In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared More "the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians."