At annual Red Mass, legal professionals urged to balance spiritual and civic duties

by Michele Baker

North Texas Catholic

October 8, 2018

Bishop Michael Olson prepares the Eucharist for Communion during the Red Mass, Sept. 27, 2018 at the St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth. The special Mass for public officials and those in the legal profession was concelebrated by Msgr. James Hart (left) and guest homilist Bishop Salvatore Matano of Rochester. (NTC/Ben Torres)


FORT WORTH — Everything about the Red Mass that took place at St. Patrick Cathedral on Sept. 27 suggested Pentecost — from the red vestments worn by the celebrants to the sweetness of incense filling the church as the congregation sang “Come Holy Ghost.”

Indeed, the readings from Acts, Psalm 104, 1 Corinthians, and the Gospel of John came straight from the Lectionary readings for that rite marking the birthday of the Church. Yet this Mass, taking place in the midst of ordinary time, recalled and invoked the Spirit of Wisdom and Truth to guide the nearly 100 lawyers, judges, and public servants gathered.

As echoes of Senate Judiciary hearings and reports of abuse within the Church continue to reverberate among the faithful, the celebration could not have been timelier, guest homilist Bishop Salvatore Matano pointed out.

“I do not think it is an accident that we are here to invoke the Holy Spirit on those in the legal profession at this critical moment in the history of our nation and Church,” Bishop Matano, of the Diocese of Rochester, said. “Think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and then think about what is happening in the legal world today.”

Bishop Matano went on to outline each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, constructing a lesson that was at turns practical and poetic. He concluded his homily with an exhortation to those assembled.

“Never underestimate the significance of your vocation,” he said. “Your work unites the law of God with the law of the land.”

Sara Paglialunga receives Communion during the annual Red Mass. (NTC/Ben Torres)

Bishop Michael Olson presided over the Red Mass, a traditional celebration that dates back to the 13th century when clergy, public servants, judges, and lawyers processed into the church wearing red garments signifying the fire of the Holy Spirit whose wisdom they invoke at the opening of the term of the courts in Europe. This tradition found its way to the U.S. in the 1920s and has been celebrated annually in the Diocese of Fort Worth for 13 years. Bishop Olson advised the committee organizing the Mass to bring his friend and brother bishop to speak.

“Bishop Matano is a man of great faith,” Bishop Olson said. “He has accepted difficult assignments out of his love for Christ and His Church. He has a background in canon law but at heart he is a parish priest and teacher.”

That heart for pastoral teaching came into full view as Bishop Matano spoke during the reception that followed the Mass. He began by expounding upon the famous image in the 12th chapter of the book of Hebrews.

“From birth to old age we all stand in the midst of a great cloud of witnesses,” he said, noting that in a world that analyzes everything one says and does, those chosen to uphold the law of the land have a sacred duty. “Is it possible to hold such a weighty responsibility without recourse to God?” Matano asked. “You have a responsibility to apply the law, always keeping in mind the will of God.”

That point, reiterated throughout the evening, resonated with Robert Gieb, chair of the committee that organizes the event.

“The Red Mass is important because we as lawyers have to do continuing development and it’s all very technical,” he said. “The premise of Bishop Matano’s talk is that the Catholic lawyer’s vocation makes us a bridge between the secular and the fundamental, that is, [between] the city of God and the city of man.”

The tension between spiritual and civic duty remains a challenge but Bishop Matano repeatedly pressed his audience to carry that burden. “Your faith is not a stumbling block to your profession,” he said. “It is the means by which your profession becomes a vocation.”

FORT WORTH — Everything about the Red Mass that took place at St. Patrick Cathedral on Sept. 27 suggested Pentecost — from the red vestments worn by the celebrants to the sweetness of incense filling the church as the congregation sang “Come Holy Ghost.”

Published (until 10/8/2035)