Serving as guest homilist for the Diocese’s annual Red Mass, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington called upon judges, attorneys, legislators and other public servants to “be authentic witnesses of truth and freedom, peace and justice.”
“We have to acknowledge that the peace and justice for which we along are sadly threatened today. So what do we do? How do we respond? Jesus tells us: Listen to the Word of God, follow it, allow it to reign in your hearts,” Bishop Burbidge said during the Mass, celebrated Oct. 12 at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Visiting bishops traditionally serve as homilists for the Red Mass, an annual liturgy that usually takes place as the U.S. Supreme Court begins its new session. The Mass invokes the wisdom of the Holy Spirit on behalf of judges, attorneys, legislators and all who are involved in public service. The liturgy is named for the color of the vestments worn to symbolize the Holy Spirit.
Several dozen congregants – wearing masks and following social-distancing guidelines – attended the liturgy, including local legislators and judges, members of the bar, and those involved in the legal profession. The Mass was also livestreamed via the Diocese’s YouTube channel in light of the pandemic
“Imagine the darkness and the evils that would be eradicated if we truly listened to the Word of God and followed it; the Word of God that tells us that on every human heart is written Natural Law, from which all other laws must flow,” Bishop Burbidge said. “Imagine the blessings that would be ours if we embraced the wisdom of our forefathers, ‘that all persons are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’”
“Life and liberty are not given to us by a human person or a human institution,” the bishop remarked. “They come from the hand of God.… Some forget this. Sadly, some reject it. Some get tired of proclaiming it.”
Bishop Burbidge told the congregation that the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength are necessary to defend the sacredness of human life in all its stages and to uphold the dignity of human beings.
“We need these gifts to bring justice to the poor and the weak and the vulnerable, to rid our communities of racism and discrimination and violence,” he said. “We need these gifts to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience, and to take care of God’s creation, our common home.”
“By your example and integrity of life, bring the presence of Christ into the public arena,” he urged the congregation. “Be authentic witnesses of his saving work in the world.”
During the Mass, Bishop Ronald Gainer offered a special blessing for the members of the legal community, that “the Holy Spirit would bless, inspire and direct” them in their roles, and that God would bestow counsel and fortitude upon them.
The Red Mass is sponsored each year by The St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania. It works to promote the spiritual and intellection wellbeing of its members and to acquaint them with the life and ideals of St. Thomas More, a devout Catholic lawyer who was beheaded by the order of King Henry VIII for refusing to sign the king’s Act of Supremacy and Act of Succession.
In remarks at the conclusion of the Mass, the society’s president, Joseph Cardinale, Esq., said the liturgy was a much-needed spiritual opportunity in the midst of a contentious election season.
“In this highly politicized season, I am glad that we are able to still attend the Red Mass in person this year, despite the ongoing pandemic. The constant campaigning and endless political discourse that we have prior to elections I’m sure wears on all of you as I know it does to me,” he said.
“The Red Mass serves as a welcome reminder that all of us in the legal profession and government share a common goal, which is to do what is right for the people we serve and uphold justice. No matter our political affiliation, we all have the same duty, which is to ensure that justice is administered with fidelity,” Cardinale said.
In seeking to pray for and promote religious freedom, the St. Thomas More Society holds days of reflection, an annual dinner meeting and a Mass on St. Thomas More’s feast day in June. For more information on the society and to request membership, visit www.saintthomasmoresociety.com.
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness