Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Red Mass Gathers Judges, Lawyers For Prayer

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 7, 2007

Speaking to the state’s Supreme Court justices, dozens of federal and state judges and a crowd of Atlanta lawyers at the annual Red Mass, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory commended the judiciary in its role as the guardian of rights.

Judges have an “indispensable role in safeguarding that balance which allows, and indeed encourages, religious freedom while inviting people of faith to full and active participation in the making and the promoting of public policy,” Archbishop Gregory told the worshippers at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Atlanta Sept. 27.

America’s strength since its earliest days is that “we could become a people who held firmly to our individual religious convictions without imposing those convictions upon others,” Archbishop Gregory said.

The United States is a better country because of its founding principles that “advance and celebrate our religious traditions while pursuing the unifying concerns and the collective desires of a single nation comprised of people of many and varied faiths, races and ethnic communities, and even those who might choose to confess no religious faith whatsoever,” said Archbishop Gregory.

Worshippers in the historic Atlanta church on Peachtree Street asked blessings at the Red Mass on judges and lawyers. The Red Mass gets its name from the scarlet vestments worn by the clergy that symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit. The 700-year tradition marks the beginning of the judicial year.

The Mass had an ecumenical and interfaith dimension as many non-Catholics and spiritual leaders from other faiths attended and participated. Rabbi William Rothschild read from the Hebrew Scripture and Dr. Gil Watson of Northside United Methodist Church read from Christian Scripture. The prayers of the faithful were read by Protestant clergy.

During Communion, dozens of people approached with their arms crossed, indicating they were not Catholic, to receive instead a blessing from Archbishop Gregory or retired Archbishop John F. Donoghue.

Nearly 60 judges with red stoles around their necks marched into the church, followed by a dozen priests and the archbishops. The St. Thomas More Schola, a group of lawyers and non-lawyer singers from various parishes around Atlanta, sang the Gregorian chant “Veni, Creator Spiritus” followed by the entrance hymn with the Atlanta Brass Society.

“It’s a wonderful way to recognize the serious, serious responsibility we carry out every day,” said Judge Doris Downs, chief judge of Fulton County Superior Court. “The judiciary does need the prayers.”

Downs was one of three honorees recognized this year by the St. Thomas More Society, an independent group of Catholic lawyers, at a luncheon after the Mass. The other award recipients were former Gov. Roy Barnes and attorney Frank Strickland.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Margaret Murphy said the Mass served as a good reminder to judges and lawyers about their duties.

“I feel strongly about Micah 6:8,” said Murphy, alluding to the verse which states, “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

All seven justices of the state’s highest court attended the Mass and Chief Justice Leah Sears was one of three judges to bring up the bread and wine during the offertory. None of the judges is Catholic.

Ed Konieczny, president of the Catholic lawyer group, said he only heard good reports about the Mass.

“It was absolutely beautiful in every sense of the word. It exceeded my expectations. I was particularly grateful to Archbishop Gregory. His homily and his liturgical style made everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, feel very welcome,” said Konieczny, a lawyer at the firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell.

The St. Thomas More Society raised the ire of groups that oppose abortion by honoring Barnes. The archbishop declined to attend the award ceremony due to the former governor’s stance on abortion. Barnes was among those attending the Red Mass.

During his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke broadly about Catholic social teaching and called on judges to be courageous when weighing challenges facing the country on “issues of justice for the marginalized, the neglected, and the vulnerable.”

“Because religion remains an important concern for the great majority of people in this vast nation of ours, its manifold expressions also require a delicate balance that we must observe to ensure that individual religious beliefs are respected while the common good is pursued,” he said.

Archbishop Gregory said it is proper for people of all religious traditions to pray for “wise and righteous” judges.

“May all the members of our judiciary administer, apply and interpret the laws of this wondrous nation in such an insightful way that we all feel secure trusting in your wisdom, integrity and prudence,” he said.

Mass ended with “O God Beyond All Praising,” as Archbishop Gregory greeted people and posed for pictures outside of the church.