As we begin each judicial year, the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild of the Archdiocese of Boston sponsors the traditional Red Mass to ask for divine guidance in the proper representation of clients and in the proper administration of justice in the courts and in public office. Since its inception, the Red Mass has remained the ceremonial highlight of the Guild’s year.
History of the Red Mass
The Red Mass has a rich history. Beginning in England during the Middle Ages and continuing even through World War II, the entire bench and bar attended the Mass at the opening of the Court’s term.
Liturgically, the Red Mass is celebrated as the Solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit. Its name derives from the traditional red color of the vestments worn by clergy during the Mass, representing the tongues of fire symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Judges of the High Court, who were all doctors of the law, also wore red robes or academic hoods. With so many participants in red, the celebrations became irrevocably known as the Red Mass. The Red Mass historically marked the official opening of the judicial year of the Sacred Roman Rota, the Tribunal of the Holy See.
In the United States, the Red Mass tradition was inaugurated on October 6, 1928, at old St. Andrew’s Church in New York City. Since then, the Red Mass has been celebrated throughout the United States each fall before the U.S. Supreme Court’s term begins.
The first Red Mass celebrated in Boston is eloquently described by Reverend Charles Donovan in his book, The History of Boston College: