The Red Mass and the Calling of the Faithful on the Supreme Court

This week, six justices participated in the tradition of the Red Mass. This is a traditional that originates in Europe around 1245 at the start of the judicial year of the Scared Roman Rota, the court of the Holy See. It is a tradition that has long made me uneasy and this year’s homily by Archbishop Timothy Dolan showed why. In his homily, Dolan reminded the justices of the “mutually enriching alliance between religion, morality and democracy.” He alluded to the Church’s pro-life position on the abortion. He stressed that “[p]articipation in the Red Mass is a humble prayer for the red-hot fire of the Holy Spirit, bringing the jurists, legislators and executives of our government the wisdom to recognize that we are indeed made in God’s image … and then to give them the courage to judge, legislate and administer based on the consequences of this conviction:the innate dignity and inviolability of every human life, and the cultivation of a society of virtue to support that belief.”

The fact is that this country includes a growing population of agnostics and atheists go have increasingly gone to court to fight for the principle of separation of church and state. Among these cases are challenges to the incorporation of religious traditions and symbols into public functions. On one hand, one can hardly object to justices going to a mass at the start of their term (five of the six — except Breyer — are Catholic). However, the Red Mass is a traditional that goes beyond such personal religious observations. It was a tradition that cemented the direct link between the government and the Holy See — it was meant to affirm the incorporation, not the separation, of church and state. For the people meant to rule on such questions, teh symbolism conveys a very chilling message for secularists.