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Bishop celebrates Red Mass for lawmakers

Christian Myers | Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yesterday was a red-letter day, as members of the University community, particularly, the law school community, celebrated the traditional Red Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend presided over this year’s iteration of the annual Red Mass. He said the Mass is a long-standing Church tradition that invokes the aid of the Holy Spirit for people in law-related vocations.

“The Red Mass is a tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages, the 13th century,” Rhoades said. “It is called ‘red’ because the priest or bishop wears red vestments, red being the color of the Holy Spirit. The purpose is asking God’s blessing and guidance on those in the legal profession.”

Rhoades said each year, the Red Mass and his homily are dedicated to a specific topic relevant for Catholics in the legal profession and civic office.

“Last year I talked about the injustice of the [Health and Human Services] mandate and religious freedom,” he said. “This year, the topic is the meaning of freedom and what a culture of freedom is. True freedom is rooted in moral truth.”

The Red Mass is celebrated worldwide each October, Rhoades said. He said he presides over two Red Masses each year, one in Fort Wayne and one in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This year’s Mass was his fourth at Notre Dame.

Red Masses often attract prominent members of the legal profession and politicians, Rhoades said. Me`mbers of the United States Supreme Court attended the Red Mass held in Washington, D.C., this past week, and the governor of Pennsylvania used to attend the Red Masses over which Rhoades presided when he was Bishop of Harrisburg, Pa., from 2004 to 2009.

Rhoades said various judges, lawyers and civic officials from the area joined professors, law students and undergraduate students in the Basilica for yesterday’s Red Mass.

 His homily focused on current world issues relevant to the topic, as well as the teachings of St. Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers and statesmen, and the “rich teaching of soon-to-be St. John Paul II.”

More serves as a powerful example of a faithful lawyer whose dedication to truth serves as an example for Catholics in the legal profession, Rhoades said. More died defending the freedom Rhoades spoke of in his homily.

“More’s faithfulness to the truth led to his being beheaded,” Rhoades said. “He was really a martyr of freedom and conscience.”

Rhoades said he referenced the writings of Blessed John Paul II in his homily because the late pope had a great deal to say about freedom and truth.

“He wrote on this theme quite a bit, and I have reflected often on his teachings,” Rhoades said. “He taught that freedom can lead to a lot of trouble if not rooted in moral truth.” Rhoades said he values the Mass as a chance to meet, advise and pray for the Notre Dame Law community.

“[The Red Mass] gives me an opportunity to meet law students and law professors, and to encourage them in living their faith in their profession,” he said. “There are excellent scholars here who help the Church, so it’s good to come here and pray for them.”

Notre Dame’s Red Mass has always been sponsored by the Law School, but last year the political science department joined in, and this year the constitutional studies minor has followed suit, Rhoades said.

 It’s been a positive development in the last year,” he said.

In his homily, Rhoades said he believes the current and future leaders of law and civil service in attendance can work to ensure moral truth is part of a shared notion of freedom in the United States.

“You can help to rebuild the moral foundations of a genuine culture of freedom,” he said. “I believe the future of our nation depends on a culture that adheres to the moral truths and values without which our democracy is imperiled.”

Contact Christian Myers at cmyers8@nd.edu