Friday, October 03, 2008

This Weekend in Washington: The Reddest of 'Em All

The timing might get more attention than usual this year thanks to election season, but early fall's opening of the judicial term sets the traditional backdrop for the annual spate of Red Masses... which recent weeks have seen (or will see) take place in, among others, Atlanta, Providence, LA, Brownsville, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Manchester, Kansas City, Lubbock, Detroit, Harrisburg, Seattle, Toronto and -- back in its birthplace -- at Westminster Cathedral in London.

Begun in the 14th century as the church's moment to invoke the Holy Spirit's blessing and help on the judiciary, the celebration -- suspended in Britain at the time of the Reformation, but revived there in 1891 -- had its American introduction in New York in 1928. In the years since, however, its focus increasingly geared beyond judges to the entire community of lawyers and public officials, the most-prominent Stateside celebration of the "Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit" has come to be celebrated in the capital, where this year's liturgy awaits on Sunday morning.

First held at St Matthew's Cathedral in 1954, recent rounds of the Washington Red Mass have taken on a consistently higher profile, with the congregation led by the first Catholic chief justice in eight decades and a POTUS with close ties to the church often in attendance. Always timed for the day prior to the opening of a new Supreme Court term, last year's Mass lacked President Bush, but drew six justices (including the five who form the Court's first-ever Catholic majority).

Organized by the capital's John Carroll Society, the liturgy's become one of the tougher tickets of official Washington's rites of fall, and given the octane of officialdom present in its front pews, a security check of attendees now stands among its traditions (along with the requisite demand for the enforcement of Canon 915). Its choice of preacher always closely watched, this year the pulpit honors'll fall to none other than John Cardinal Foley, the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

While the Red is the original and best known of the "profession Masses" held to bless and honor the members of a field, its spirit has spawned similar celebrations for other groups: the Blue Mass salutes law-enforcement and public safety personnel, medical professionals of all stripes are celebrated at the White Mass... and in a new twist on the custom, one DC parish recently held a "Gold Mass" for folks involved in the creative and performing arts.

PHOTO: Reuters