PROVIDENCE — Lawyers, judges, state officials and law enforcement professionals gathered at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul last Wednesday, October 5, to attend the annual Red Mass, a traditional Mass celebrated to invoke the blessings and the guidance of the Holy Spirit upon members of the legal community.
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Father Bernard Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference, celebrated the Mass in place of Auxiliary Bishop Robert Evans, the scheduled celebrant, who was unable to attend. As diocesan liaison to the Rhode Island State House, Father Healey lobbies on behalf of Catholic moral issues and frequently witnesses the important role of faith for many of our local political and judicial leaders.
“It’s wonderful to see the members of the bar and the bench get together and pray for wisdom,” he commented.
The Red Mass is rich in tradition and traces its history to the Middle Ages, when members of the court gathered at the start of each judicial term to receive blessings from local clergy. Celebrating clergy wear red to symbolize the fire of the Holy Spirit and as a reminder of the red robes worn by medieval judges. Members of the St. Thomas More Society, a Catholic legal organization and co-sponsor of the Red Mass, renewed the tradition in the Diocese of Providence several years ago as an opportunity for local legal professionals to join together in prayer.
Father Richard F. Reidy, J.C.L., Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., served as guest homilist for the evening. In keeping with Red Mass tradition, Father Reidy’s background in the legal profession offered a unique perspective as he preached to members of the bar and court. Father Reidy graduated from Boston College Law School and worked for several years at a law firm prior to entering the seminary. He also serves as Defender of the Bond for the tribunal of the Diocese of Worcester.
During his homily, Father Reidy recounted a story of two opposing lawyers who walked as friends to the courtroom, putting aside their professional roles for a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. He encouraged those present to follow the example of those two lawyers, going about their daily work without the disrespect or lack of ethical consideration that can sometimes enter the legal and political forums.
“We need reliable examples, our heroes, so that through the years we can be instructed, inspired and uplifted,” said Father Reidy.
He held up the example of St. Thomas More, the 16th century lawyer and statesman and namesake of the St. Thomas More Society who was made a martyr for refusing to renounce the Catholic Church in favor of King Henry VIII. More’s integrity in the face of pressure from the political realm is seen as a model for today’s Catholic legal professionals.
“Thomas More is important — vitally important — to us today because of his integrity and courage,” said Father Reidy. “He would not compromise his conscience even if it meant the loss of position and power, home and health, family and freedom and, ultimately, his life.
“Though this great lawyer was unflinching in the face of tremendous trials with everything at stake,” he continued, “he is also vitally important to our polarized society as a beacon of civility, goodwill and humor to friend and foe alike.”
Father Reidy cited a prayer penned by Thomas More while he awaited trial in the Tower of London in which he asks for mercy on behalf of those who would harm him. The prayer, Father Reidy said, is an example not only of More’s faith but of his willingness to look past disagreement and see the humanity of his fellow statesmen.
“Faith in God was the answer for Thomas More, and it is the answer for us,” he said.
He concluded by thanking those present for their work in the justice system and encouraging them to remember the example of the two lawyers who placed respect for each other above professional disagreement.
Following the Mass, those in attendance gathered in the cathedral hall for a reception. Bill Fields, a member of the St. Thomas More Society, reflected on the importance of the event not only for Catholics but for legal professionals of all faith traditions.
“I thought it was a great Mass,” he said. “It just seemed to a lot of us that this was a good opportunity for people of all faiths to step back and consider what’s important in our career and in our lives.”
Fields said he found Father Reidy’s focus on St. Thomas More during the homily very appropriate, since the saint offers inspiration to many lawyers and judges in need of guidance as they navigate their dual responsibilities to God and country.
“He’s kind of inspirational to us all,” said Fields. “That’s the whole thing — our jobs, our lives are dedicated to the legal system, but our first and foremost dedication is to God.”
Justice Francis Flaherty, former president of the St. Thomas More Society, was also present at the reception. He commented on the importance of the Red Mass as an annual event in the diocese.
“It’s a grounding event for us. It gives us an opportunity not just to get together, but to give some perspective. I think it’s important for people of common backgrounds, common beliefs,” he said.