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:

“On October 4, 1941, the Solemn Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, known in a tradition which goes back many centuries in Rome, Paris and London as the “Red Mass,” was celebrated for the first time in Massachusetts to mark the opening of the judicial year. The ceremony, which took place in the Immaculate Conception Church, was under the auspices of Cardinal O’Connell and the Boston College Law School.

The function drew the most distinguished legal assemblage ever gathered in the state for a religious service. Governor Leverett Saltonstall and Mayor Maurice J. Tobin led the procession…up the center aisle. Among the participants were the chief justice and the full bench of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; the judges of the Massachusetts probate courts and The United States Courts; judges of the land courts, district courts, and the Boston municipal courts; the attorney general of the state and his entire staff; the United States attorney and his entire staff; district attorneys and assistant district attorneys; and representatives from all the law schools and law societies in the state.”

The Red Mass is celebrated in honor of the Holy Spirit as the source of wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude, gifts which shine forth preeminently in the dispensing of justice in the courtroom as well as in the individual lawyer’s office. Other blessings that are commonly requested to prevail in the minds, offices, and court rooms are Divine strength, wisdom, truth, and justice. Today, the Red Mass is attended by judges, lawyers and court officials of all faiths asking God to bless, strengthen and enlighten all servants of the law and all people of faith so that in cooperation and mutual trust, we may effectively achieve justice.

Previous Red Masses

Red Separator
DwightDuncan

Red Mass 2019 – Dwight Duncan

Dwight Duncan is a native of Washington D.C. He is a graduate of Harvard College, Georgetown University Law Center and the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, where he received his Licentiate and Doctorate in Canon Law.  He is a member of Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus.  He has been a…

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Red Mass 2018 – William B. Evans

William B. Evans is the Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police for Boston College. Previously, Evans was the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department from January 2014 until August 2018. Evans served as Interim Commissioner from November 2013 until he was permanently appointed by newly-elected Mayor Marty Walsh. He announced his retirement from the Boston…

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Jim Wright

Red Mass 2017 – Jim Wright

Jim Wright is co-founder and president of The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network.  While visiting the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) monastery in the mid-1990s, Jim and his wife Joanne were inspired by Mother Angelica to start a Catholic radio apostolate, despite having no radio or media experience.  In 1999, The Station of…

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Ray Flynn

Red Mass 2016 – Honorable Raymond L. Flynn

Raymond L. Flynn served as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican (1993-1997) under President William J. Clinton and was elected three terms as Mayor of Boston (1984-1993).  Prior to becoming Mayor of Boston, Flynn served as a Boston City Councilor (1978-1984) and State Representative in the Massachusetts Legislature (1971-1979).  During his political career, Ambassador Flynn had…

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Carl Anderson

Red Mass 2013 – Carl A. Anderson, Supreme Knight

As supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, Carl A. Anderson is the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization, which has more than 1.8 million members. Mr. Anderson has had a distinguished career as a public servant and educator. From 1983 to 1987, he…

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Red Mass 2012 – Representative Chris Smith

Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, NJ) is currently in his 16th term in the U.S. House of Representatives. Smith, 58, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee.  He chairs both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe…

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Rapoza

Red Mass 2011 – Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza

Phillip Rapoza is the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Yale College and a Doctor of Law degree from Cornell Law School. Prior to serving on the bench, he was an assistant district attorney and, later, a private practitioner. He was appointed to…

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Helen M. Alvaré

Red Mass 2010 – Helen M. Alvaré

Helen Alvaré is a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, where she teaches Family Law, Law and Religion, and Property Law. She publishes on matters concerning marriage, parenting, non-marital households, and the First Amendment religion clauses. She is faculty advisor to the law school’s Civil Rights Law Journal, and the Latino/a…

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