Catholic Life

Lawyers gather for Red Mass

Catholic lawyers at the Red Mass in Westminster Cathedral on October 1

Catholic lawyers took part in a celebration of the annual Red Mass at Westminster Cathedral on October 1.

The congregation included Catholic barristers, solicitors, policemen, probation officers and others connected with the courts.

The Red Mass provides an opportunity for those in the legal profession to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide them in their work.

Westminster Auxiliary Bishop George Stack celebrated the Red Mass. In his homily he echoed the Pope’s focus on faith and reason in his address to civil society in Westminster Hall two weeks before.

The bishop said: “The Red Mass, during which we invoke the holy spirit of God, is a powerful and public expression of our belief in the inter-relation between faith and reason in one of the most delicate areas of our common life – the exercise of law for the common good.”

Bishop Stack encouraged members of the legal profession to aspire to the qualities listed in the first reading, and said: “Wisdom, insight, counsel and many more seem, to me, to be the same qualities that Pope Benedict invites us to engage with in the national conversation of which he spoke.”

The Mass was attended by Catholic judges on the High Court Bench, Mr Justice Neil Butterfield and Sir Gerald Barling QC, president of the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

Also at Westminster Cathedral were people on the benches of all the Court circuits as well as judges from the Irish Bench and Bar and the European Court of Human Rights, including the Hon Mr Justice Nicolas Bratza.

The Red Mass has always been an important celebration in the legal year. Before the Reformation the judiciary and legal profession gathered at Westminster Abbey on the first day of the Michaelmas term, and law year, to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide it in its work in the year ahead.

This practice stopped during the Reformation but was revived in 1891, and from then until 1904 was celebrated in the Sardinian Chapel, now the parish church of St Anselm and St Cecilia, Kingsway. In 1904 the Mass was transferred to Westminster Cathedral at the request of Archbishop Bourne. Every year since then the tradition has continued at the Cathedral.

The arrangements for the Mass are made each year by the Thomas More Society, whose membership comprises mainly of Catholic members of the judiciary and Bar as well as solicitors.