The Red Mass - KOTA Territory News

The Red Mass



Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

The 57th annual Red Mass was held last Sunday, the day before the United States Supreme Court begins its new term.  It was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington D.C. 

The Red Mass takes its name from the color of the vestments and is said to go back for centuries to Rome, to France, and to England.  It celebrates the legal profession, and “prays for the wisdom of God,” according to a spokesman. 

While the Red Mass is a Catholic Mass, powerful individuals from other faiths are asked to attend this invitation-only event.  Several Justices of the Supreme Court usually attend, along with congressional leaders, diplomats, cabinet secretaries, and other dignitaries.  Past presidents have also attended.      

One might think that such a gathering to pray for wisdom in legal matters is a good thing, and many do.  Others, however, take a much different view - charging that the Mass is really nothing other than an opportunity for the Catholic Church to lecture on issues of importance to the Church.  One of the Justices who no longer attends is reported in a book to have said that she quit going because she grew tired of being lectured to by Catholic officials. 

There is a Red Mass during the South Dakota Bar Association annual meeting, though it’s not officially connected with the meeting.  To my knowledge, it’s not controversial.  It’s not an invitation-only event attended by only by the powers that be in South Dakota.  It’s a regular Mass open to anyone who wants to attend, usually a relatively small number of people.  The one I attended a few years ago focused on asking for wisdom in dealing with legal matters, something many of us in the legal profession welcome with open arms – more wisdom.  We often deal with challenging issues and need all the help we can get.

South Dakota is a very long way from Washington DC in many ways, not just geographically, so one might think that a subject like the Red Mass would generate different reactions depending upon the venue.  Yet, perhaps that’s not true.  One should never assume, especially on the subject of religion and politics and the law, particularly when they’re mixed together. 

On the CNN Belief Blog where this Red Mass was reported, there were twenty-five pages of comments from readers.  You can read more there, and many other sources.

E-mail Gary is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.


1.      You see yet another car accident at a spot where there have been many accidents in the past and will be more accidents in the future? 


2.      You learn another person is hurt using a machine that has injured others in the past and will injure others in the future? 


3.      You watch a dangerous practice – like where a school bus parks – you know is a disaster waiting to happen?  


What should you do? 


Try to prevent the next accident, injury, and catastrophe from happening. 


How can you do that? 


Send a letter or email to those responsible – the highway department, the owner and operator of the machine, the school district - putting them on notice of the danger.


Your letter or email will either prompt a "fix" or help the next innocent victim establish liability against those who failed to act.   


Taking a few minutes to write a letter or email can have a huge impact; you can be a difference maker. 

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