History of the Red Mass
The inaugural Red Mass for the St. Thomas More Society of the Diocese of Allentown took place on
Sunday, October 31, 2010 at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena (Allentown), with Bishop John Barres presiding.
Historically, the custom of celebrating Mass for the Bench and Bar began in Europe.
The first Red Mass was held in 1245 in La Sainte Chapelle (Paris), which was built by King Louis IX of France, who was later canonized as St. Louis. In England, the celebration became traditional at the opening of each term of the Court. There the celebrant of the Mass wore red vestments, and the judges of the High Court at the time of King Edward I, who were all doctors of the law, wore red robes, thus giving rise to the name "Red Mass."
The tradition was brought to the United States, where the first Red Mass was celebrated in New York City, at St. Andrew's Church, in 1928. It continues now in more than half of the states in the U.S., and one of the more well-known celebrations occurs at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, when the United States Supreme Court convenes. Sponsored by the John Carroll Society, it is attended by Justices of the Supreme Court, members of the United States Congress, diplomats, government officials, and occasionally the President.
Liturgically, the celebration is a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, for which the color red signifies a willingness to defend the truth inspired by God even at the cost of shedding one's blood. The public prayers invoke divine blessings upon all those involved in the work of the Law - especially judges, lawyers, and elected officials.