The Law at the Service of the Human Person

The tradition of the Red Mass began in England around 1310, following those held previously in Paris.  We continued that tradition today, gathering at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew to celebrate the 61st Annual Red Mass in our community with the sponsorship of the John Carroll Society.  Concelebrating with me was the Most Reverend Kevin J. Farrell, former Auxiliary Bishop here and now Bishop of Dallas, who was the homilist.

The Red Mass takes its name from the red vestments, signifying the fire of the Holy Spirit, and in this Eucharistic celebration the blessings of the Spirit are invoked on all those engaged in the service of the law.  Joining us were members of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government (five U.S. Supreme Court justices attended), as well as many members of the bar.

These legal practitioners are representative of countless lawyers in our town and across the country, some of whom work in government or for large corporations, but many of whom do the quiet work of helping everyday people with their everyday problems.  Among these are the fine men and women of the volunteer Archdiocesan Legal Network and Immigration Legal Services, which provide free services to low-income persons.  These initiatives are coordinated by Catholic Charities and they are greatly aided by the generous support of the John Carroll Society, the D.C. Bar Foundation, Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and many other donors.  Beyond these are the many attorneys who provide pro bono services on their own and those who accept court appointments to represent indigent people for little or no pay.  All of these lawyers provide a great service to people in need, recognizing that the law can be a vocation, not simply a job.  They are certainly a shining example in our community, providing millions of dollars annually in donated time, often at great sacrifice to themselves.

In serving the law, those in the legal profession serve the human person. They should bring competence in philosophical thought, legal expertise, deep respect for the inviolable dignity and inalienable rights of the human person, and awareness of universally valid ethical principles.  For this reason, we gather for the Red Mass, seeking God’s grace of wisdom, counsel, knowledge and understanding for all those who serve our community and our nation through the law.  The gift of the Spirit is intended to ennoble them and, through them, all of us.

This prayerful moment brings together people from a variety of faith traditions who are aware of the power of God’s gifts.  We invoke divine blessings to renew and enlighten them so that not by subjective whim or political expedience will judgments be made.  Rather, they will rest on truth, which gives light and direction to people’s struggles.  It is only in truth that society can find and enjoy freedom and justice.

Indeed, it is only in truth, in the transcendent norms of the natural law, that our man-made “laws” can themselves be judged.  As Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, we’ve historically been very comfortable with the role of a natural order, with the understanding that our fundamental liberties, including religious freedom and the right to life, aren’t granted to us by governments of men or subject to majority rule, but are endowed to us by our Creator as a part of our very being and, thus, are inviolate and inalienable.

To speak out in support of the dignity of all human life, of the blessings of genuine marriage as the union of a man and woman, of the right of the Church to serve others, is not to force religious dogma upon anyone, but is to call society to its own long-accepted principles and commitment to safeguard and foster basic human rights, which is the function of law.  If perhaps this is sometimes forgotten in our culture, this is another reason why we gather now to seek God’s blessings, to remember that there is a higher law, a higher truth, than that which man creates for himself.  For it is only in this higher law that we can truly discover justice and protect human dignity for all.

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