By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published November 2, 2006
Localizing a 700-year-old religious and civil tradition, members of the Atlanta legal community joined together for a Red Mass to invoke the blessing of the Holy Spirit on all those who work toward justice.
Sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society, a Catholic lawyers organization, the Mass was celebrated Sept. 28 at Sacred Heart Church downtown. Judges, lawyers and civic officials of all faiths were invited to the Mass, which is traditionally celebrated in the United States at the opening of the judicial year.
The solemn Mass began with a regal prelude by the Atlanta Brass Society and the St. Thomas More Schola as judges processed into the church wearing their flowing robes.
Clergy, including the principal celebrant and homilist Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue, then processed down the center aisle of the church, their scarlet vestments contrasting to the dark business suits worn by many in the congregation.
“It is indeed a great joy for me to join you in celebrating the tradition of the Red Mass—a tradition that had its origin in 13th-century France, in the famed Sainte Chapelle of Paris during the reign of King Saint Louis IX,” Cardinal Rigali said. “That same tradition continues today to invoke the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to assist people of the law in their important service to our society.”
In his homily, the cardinal spoke to the members of the legal community of their great responsibility to society.
“What a splendid contribution you so often make, dear friends, in effectively proclaiming human dignity, human solidarity, the value of human life,” he said. “Yours is a magnificent service to a society in need—a society that officially professes ‘liberty and justice for all.’”
Citing the readings of the day, he said that law has its moral foundation in the relationship between God and human beings and in human solidarity. Those in the field of justice are challenged to hold to the truth rather than to public opinion or varying cultural changes, he said.
“Your task is daunting, but you are people, perhaps not of facile optimism, but of deep hope. And I would say more. You are people of power,” Cardinal Rigali continued. “Today I would emphasize not only all the power inherent in your respective offices but also that immense power with which the Spirit of Truth endows you. All the members of the Church are called to share in the power that the Holy Spirit entrusted in a particular way to the Apostles.”
He encouraged those in a position to affect the law to consider the dignity of every human being.
“Do we not all agree that the role of human law must ensure the dignity of man—every man, woman and child—the protection of the human race and the promotion of those conditions of life that permit human beings to live as such?” Cardinal Rigali asked. “As human situations change, God’s relationship to humanity remains: He is our God and we are His people. As His people we are indeed defined by our responsibility to one another—our responsibility to do what is truly good for one another. And since what is evil remains evil even when declared legal, what responsibility is incumbent on those who make the laws, interpret them and apply them.”
Finally, the cardinal ensured those present of his prayers and recalled the prayer of Pope John Paul II for America—that God would bless the country to remain “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Friends of the law: I am sure that you all share the sentiments of this prayer. I am also sure that you know just how important a role you are meant to play in consolidating God’s blessings on America,” he said. “Yours is a powerful role of service. Yours is a formidable challenge always to proclaim truth and to defend life. In the face of such a task, be strengthened by the promise of the Lord Jesus. Rejoice in the Spirit of Truth, who is poured out in your hearts today.”
The Red Mass has been held annually in Atlanta for members of the St. Thomas More Society, but this year the organization invited members of the legal community from across the state.
Michael Sullivan, president of the St. Thomas More Society and a parishioner at the Cathedral of Christ the King, said that last year Archbishop Gregory challenged the group to organize a Red Mass that reached the wider legal and legislative community and was more on a par with other cities such as Washington, D.C., where the Red Mass is attended by the president, members of the Cabinet, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, federal legislators and other dignitaries.
The model used by the Diocese of Cleveland was especially helpful, Sullivan said.
“We did research and contacted other lawyers from around the country,” Sullivan said. “Atlanta had never had a large scale Red Mass. We sent invitations to more than 270 judges and leaders from the state, federal and local government. Our goal was to have this Mass be an introduction to the Red Mass and a service to honor Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”
At a luncheon following the Mass two non-Catholic members of the legal community were honored for their dedication to the law. U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob and Larry D. Thompson, now general counsel for PepsiCo and a former deputy U.S. attorney general who directed an anti-terrorism task force and corporate fraud investigations, were recognized.
“We hoped to create an event that was as unifying as possible, both bipartisan and ecumenical,” Sullivan said.
Archbishop Gregory expressed his gratitude to the St. Thomas More Society for their work in putting together the Mass.
“The St. Thomas More Society deserves heroic thanks for helping to organize this year’s Red Mass,” the archbishop said. “We will continue to offer this opportunity for prayer for those entrusted with the works of justice within the Atlanta community.”
Archbishop Gregory also expressed his intent that the event will continue to draw an ecumenical congregation.
“It is my hope that in years to come, we will involve more of our ecumenical friends so that the event will draw a wider participation and reflect the religious diversity of the community,” he said. “While it is a Mass, it is also a time of prayer for all those who serve in this part of the country and advance the cause of justice and freedom. We have learned much in offering this event to the community. Hopefully it will improve and grow in the years to come.”
Father Tim Gadziala, a canon lawyer who is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Atlanta and chaplain for the St. Thomas More Society, also focused on the prospect of a larger interfaith community at future Red Masses.
“I thought it was wonderful, seeing many of the civil judiciary and canon lawyers attend together and pray,” Father Gadziala said. “Specifically, I enjoyed the fact that we had a generous response to our invitation to pray together as people of diverse faiths. Next year, I hope that the Red Mass would be more ecumenical, having a diversity of religious leaders to celebrate in prayer. This year’s Mass was only a beginning, and we have a long way to go, and yet we’ve come so far in reaching out to our civic leaders.”
The St. Thomas More Society meets throughout the year. For more information, visit www.stm-atlanta.org.