Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.
A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

The Red Mass

THE RED MASS is an ancient tradition which marks the beginning of the legal session every year. It takes its name from the red vestments used for a Mass of the Holy Ghost, invoking God’s protection over the judges, lawyers, and officials as they duly practice the law. Msgr. Langham, the Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, was kind enough to post a few pictures of the Red Mass offered at the Mother Church of Catholic England on the splendid cathedral weblog. A similar service is held at Westminster Abbey for the Protestant officials of the law.

The gowns and wigs are currently the everyday court dress of the members of the legal profession. However the current government — who despise Britain, her traditions, and indeed all that is good and holy — are in the process of abolishing much of the traditional legal garb, thus making the courts more “people-friendly” and decreasing respect for the already much-battered majesty of the Law. As Joanna Bogle mentions, in the future, events like the Red Mass may be one of the few occasions on which the attire is seen.

A reception followed in the Throne Room of Archbishops’ House.

Joanna naturally included a photo of her Jamie (above, right) in her post on the Red Mass. (Those who frequent this little corner of the web will have already come across Jamie Bogle here. Oh, and here, here, and here. And here.).

High court judges emerge from the Red Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, seat of the Catholic Bishop of Sydney in Australia.

Above, Archbishop Wuerl and Chief Justice Roberts are seen spookily emerging from the Red Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, perhaps the most prominent in the United States. The five Catholic justices of the Supreme Court usually attend, along with Justice Breyer, who is Jewish. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only other Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court, attended her first year but found the homily emphasizing the sanctity of human life offensive and has not returned since. The two Protestant justices do not usually attend the Red Mass.

The first Red Mass in the United States was held at the Church of Saint Andrew down near Foley Square in the court district in 1928. Of course, our versions lack the lovely garb of the legal profession in other parts of the English-speaking world. Traditional legal attire was dropped in most of the United States apart from simple black robes, except for the Maryland Court of Appeals which retains the red hue appropriate to a high court.

This post was published on Sunday, October 21st, 2007 8:25 pm. It has been categorised under Church Great Britain Tradition.
Aric Anderson
22 Oct 2007 3:05 pm

Although there is no public record of which I am aware, the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit voted to authorize their chief judge to wear a red robe. (This was back when Charles Clark was Chief.) To my knowledge, no Chief Judge has ever taken advantage of the authorization by donning the red.

22 Oct 2007 6:40 pm

“The two Protestant justices do not usually attend the Red Mass.”

I’m very surprsied Souter doesn’t attend.

The Monarchist
23 Oct 2007 1:41 am

Those red gowns with white fur trim are precisely the court dress worn by justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. Though sadly, minus the wigs.

Mark R
26 Oct 2007 4:14 pm

Mr. Anderson:
Scarlet is worn by the justices on the Maryland Court of Appeals (who also wear white bands). U.S. judges have been wearing black since the use of robes dates from the period of mourning after the death of Queen Anne. Scarlet was only recently reintroduced in Maryland.

The Red Mass, for “invoking God’s protection” over Catholic judges, lawyers, and officials practising and/or serving the law…..and if, over time, the law has some-how become formed, to protect the already strong, rich and powerful, what can practising Catholics, judges, lawyers, and officials – practising and/or serving the law do, – to serve justice and truth?

PLENTY! If of course, shame has not lost its true value altogether.

May God bless us all, as evil surely flourishes when good people do nothing!

The Shalom Family

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