Red Mass celebrates gifts of the Holy Spirit to attorneys

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kan., and Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph, pose with Erik Bendorf, current president of the Catholic Bar Association-Kansas City and Joshua McCaig, one of the CBA’s founders, following the Red Mass Oct. 26 at Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

LEAWOOD, Kan. — The Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, concelebrated by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Oct. 26, along with Fr. Ken Riley, at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., was a Mass tradition first celebrated in 1245 at the Cathedral in Paris. In ensuing years, the Mass was celebrated in several cities of France in honor of Saint Ives, the Patron Saint of Lawyers. From France, the tradition spread to most European countries. Beginning in England around 1310, during the reign of Edward II, the Mass was held at the opening of each term of Court with all members of the Bench and Bar, dressed in their red Court robes. The dates coincided with new sessions of the Roman Rota, the court of the Holy See and, as Bishop Johnston said in his homily, “The red became associated, not only with the color … of the judge’s robes, but also the Holy Spirit.” Hence its name, the Red Mass.

In the U.S., the first Red Mass was held in 1877 at Saints Peter and Paul Church, Detroit, by Detroit College, now the University of Detroit Mercy. UDM School of Law resumed the tradition beginning in 1912 and continues the annual celebration. In New York City, a Red Mass was first held in 1928 at the Church of St. Andrew, near the courthouses of Foley Square.

The Red Mass had spread to Topeka by 1943 and then in the early 1950s, the Red Mass began being celebrated in the Diocese of Kansas City at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, continuing annually until at some point in the 1980s. A Kansas City area attorney, Martin Meyers, remembered attending the Red Mass as a young lawyer, with his father and succeeded in getting the Red Mass reinstituted. It was celebrated in 2006 for the first time in more than 25 years. As the Mass is attended by attorneys, paralegals and law students from all over the Kansas City area, recent Red Masses have alternated between Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Kansas City, MO., and Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan.
In a Red Mass, the focus of prayer and blessings concentrate on the leadership roles of those present and the gifts of the Holy Spirit — wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude, are usually invoked upon those present.

Attorney Joshua McCaig, who was instrumental in the 2015 establishment of the Catholic Bar Association— its Kansas City affiliate, Catholic Lawyers Guild of Kansas City, was founded in 2007 — envisioned the CBA providing a community where legal professionals could grow in their relationship with Christ and members could challenge each other to live out their Catholic faith, both privately and professionally. This was the fourth Red Mass celebrated since its establishment. This annual Mass in Kansas City was organized by the local affiliate and its president, Eric Bendorf, in conjunction with CBA-KC advisors Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Johnston along with CBA chaplain Fr. Ken Riley.

In his homily, Bishop Johnston, also a canon lawyer, said, “It is an honor to celebrate another Red Mass with all of you who serve … as lawyers, judges, legislators, clerks and (in) other roles. Thank you for your dedication to your profession and to the common good. We are always joined as well by several canon lawyers (canon lawyers are people too) who serve the faithful within the Body of Christ, the Church. All of you provide something … essential for the common good and a well-ordered, just society. So vital, so important, but something that we … often take for granted. So, we offer up prayer today in a special way for all of you who serve in these vital professions.

“Not long ago, someone gave me a book … of a collection of addresses by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. One of the addresses is entitled, ‘The Vocation of a Judge.’ In the talk, Justice Scalia points out that there is not much material on the subject of what makes for a good judge. He said that the Constitution does not require that Justices on the Supreme Court or federal courts even be lawyers. There are a few things, generally understood, and framed in the negative, such as when a judge ought to recuse himself from a case, what public appearances he must avoid, and gifts he should not accept. But, on what makes for a good judge, there is really no prescribed criteria. He even recalled one definition of a judge, ‘as … a lawyer who knows the governor.’ In the remainder of his talk, Justice Scalia did identify things he believed made for a good judge, but I’m not going … into that. If you want to know what he said, you can read this book.”

Bishop Johnston added that it wasn’t the homily’s purpose to define what it is to be a good lawyer or judge. “Instead, with the help of God’s Word,” he continued, “let’s consider how we might be better Christians, because it stands to reason, the better women and men we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, the better we will be in all things, including our vocations and professions.

“The readings for our Red Mass offer a fitting start for some basic guidance. Like so many of the readings from the Book of Genesis, the episode about the Tower of Babel addresses how human beings get into trouble. In some ways, it’s a repeat of the first sin of Adam and Eve, except this time, instead of a single couple, it is in the form of an entire society: ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves, otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.’

“Like much of Genesis, and the Old Testament as a whole, the story of the Tower of Babel shows us the contrast between God’s way and man’s way. The tower is a symbol of pride, and humanity’s attempt to conquer heaven and obtain happiness by force, by technology, by cleverness. These attempts only end in confusion, misery, and in being ‘scattered,’ the very thing they hoped to prevent.”

Quoting Catholic philosopher and prolific author, Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., Bishop Johnston continued: “Throughout the Bible, the symbolism remains the same: all human towers to heaven tumble, and all divine descents succeed. Our ‘way up’ always turns out to be a ‘way down,’ and all divine ‘ways down’ turn out to be the ‘way up.’ The Messiah is the prime example.”
He explained that the Tower of Babel episode is a “story about a lie, the lie of self-sufficiency. Sounds a lot like the lie that we hear about a few chapters before in Genesis when Adam and Eve heard these words, ‘You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat [of the fruit of the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.’ Adam’s sin is repeated in us whenever we live under this illusion of self-sufficiency and of wanting to create ourselves and live in independence of God. Or, when we act as though we can define what is good and bad apart from the Creator and the Natural Law. The lie is that we can be ‘like gods’ if we just get rid of God. In truth, human beings become like God only when we enter into the back and forth of receiving and giving love; when we stop trying to create, or as is popular these days, re-create ourselves, and allow God to create us … to live in reference to our Creator.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Bishop James V. Johnston at the annual Red Mass, which was held this year at Church of the Nativity Parish in Leawood, Kan. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

“This is what the Gospel tonight speaks to,” he continued, “the sending of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father. This Spirit is first mentioned in Genesis, at the Creation, where we are told, ‘The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters’ (Gen 1:2). This same Spirit is mentioned in St. Luke’s Gospel at the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’ (Luke 1:15). And, it is this Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that Jesus promises to send upon his Church and every disciple. Interestingly, … Jesus calls this Spirit by a term which one often hears in a courtroom: the ‘Advocate.’

“An Advocate is defined as ‘a person who argues the cause or pleads the case for another person in a court of law.’ In essence, Jesus is teaching us that the Holy Spirit is sent to be our ‘defense attorney.’ But, it is more than that: The Holy Spirit is sent to make Jesus present to us, and remind us of what Jesus said, to ‘guide you to all truth.’ I’ve heard it said that, when faced with temptation, the Holy Spirit is our accuser and the devil is our advocate; after we sin, the devil is our accuser, and the Holy Spirit is our Advocate.”

He added that, as seen in the Tower of Babel episode, pride and sin scatter and divide … in contrast, the Holy Spirit integrates and unites through love and truth. “To be ‘integrated’ is to be whole, and put in religious terminology, the whole person, created by God, is ‘ho-ly.’ We call … persons who are integrated by the Holy Spirit’s power ‘saints.’ The one who was always whole and integrated from the beginning was Mary. She was holy at her conception and remained so. She serves as a model for every disciple. The Holy Spirit is sent to create us anew, to integrate us, to un-scatter us, both individually, and as a people. This newly created people, … brought together and united by the Holy Spirit in Jesus is what we call the Church. … begins at baptism and is strengthened and renewed at confirmation. And, we encounter the Holy Spirit at every Mass in the Eucharist. The sign and reality of our being un-scattered is Holy Communion. God has gathered us to Himself and united Himself to us in love.”

In conclusion he suggested, “… as we celebrate our Red Mass this year … let us call upon Divine guidance and strength for all … present tonight; and ask for those gifts of the Holy Spirit that are so vital and important in the legal professions: wisdom, understanding, counsel and fortitude; gifts which shine forth most clearly in the dispensing of justice in the courtroom as well as in the practice of the individual lawyer. May your work in some way serve to undo the disintegration and “scatteredness” … the effect of sin in our world, and serve the purposes of our Divine Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

At the Mass’s conclusion, Erik Bendorf thanked the members of the clergy who celebrated the Mass. He also offered congratulations to Missouri Supreme Court Justice W. Brent Powell, the CBA’s 2018 St. Thomas More Award recipient, who was unable to attend. He added, “Save the Date — Sept. 27, 2019 for the Red Mass. The place, in Missouri, is still to be determined.” A reception in the church’s hall followed.


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September 26, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph