St. Mary's Basilica, Phoenix, AZ
1 Cor 12:4-13
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
1. The tradition of celebrating annually the Red Mass to invoke the inspiration and strength of the God the Holy Spirit upon those charged with the administration of justice in society comes to us from the Middle Ages. In that time of the Church’s life, during which there was a clear and strong understanding of the essential unity of reason and faith, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the beginning of the new judicial year pointed to the irreplaceable foundation of the service of pronouncing the just and the right on behalf of one’s brothers and sisters. Judges, attorneys and other servants of justice in a Christian society understand that the solid rock upon which the administration of justice rests is obedience to the law of God, which is written upon every human heart and which is the precondition of good order and peace. It is the law which God teaches us both by reason and by faith.
2. God the Father pours forth the Holy Spirit upon the ministers of justice for the sake of His people. As our Lord teaches us in today’s parable, God the Father entrusts to them the gift of administering His justice, so that they, His "good and faithful" servants, may bring forth an abundant harvest of good order and peace in society (Gospel). In the context of the celebration of the Red Mass, the Gospel parable calls to mind the heroic life of Saint Thomas More, patron saint of all ministers of justice, who, when he, as the chief minister of justice in the land, was about to be executed for refusing to violate a most sacred tenet of his conscience, declared: "I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first" (A Thomas More Source Book, ed. Gerald B. Wegemer and Stephen W. Smith, Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004, p. 357). Saint Thomas More understood that there could be no contradiction between his service of his nation and his service of God, and that, in fact, he could only serve his nation truly and faithfully by his true and faithful service of God.
3. At the beginning of a new judicial year, the ministers of justice call upon the help of God the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, both revealing God’s law, His justice to them, and strengthening them to obey His law, to do what is right and just on behalf of their neighbor, without boundary or exception, to be good servants of the nation by being God’s good servants. Celebrating the annual Red Mass calls to mind the truth that the service of judges, attorneys and other legal professionals has its ultimate source in God Who alone is just and Who alone teaches us, in the intimacy of our hearts, how to act justly for the sake of our brothers and sisters, for the sake of our society and, indeed, our world. According to the traditional formulation of a definitive sentence, the judge, in giving the final disposition of the sentence, always first declared: "Having God only before my eyes."
4. The red of the Mass vestments, which was also the red of the judge’s robes in medieval times, reminds us of the perfect obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son made man, to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the obedience which led our Lord to pour out His very lifeblood for our eternal salvation. Through His Passion and Death, our Lord fulfilled the prophecy about His vocation and mission:
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him.... Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide. But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted (Reading I).
God’s ultimate pronouncement of justice on our behalf was the offering of the Body and Blood of His only-begotten on Calvary for our eternal salvation, the Sacrifice made present for us in the Holy Mass we now celebrate (cf. Jn 12:31-33). For the ministers of justice, participation in the
Holy Sacrifice of the Mass always gives them new inspiration and new strength for their necessary and most challenging service. Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Holy Spirit is poured forth into their souls from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, in order that they may serve justice in society and, thereby, serve the good of all their brothers and sisters.
5. The red of today’s vestments points to both the outpouring of the Blood of Christ from His glorious pierced Heart and to its fruit, the outpouring of our lives in obedience to God’s law, in the service of justice on behalf of all other brothers and sisters, which is the first and most fundamental expression of Christlike love. The minister of justice bears a most heavy burden, the burden of emptying himself of himself, in order to have God alone before His eyes, in declaring what is just and right on behalf of his fellow citizens. At the same time, he enjoys the grace of the Holy Spirit for the carrying out of his service which is the foundation of peace in the lives of individuals and in the life of society. To administer justice is indeed a spiritual gift, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit at work in the world for the sake of the whole Body of Christ, for the sake of all for whom Christ has poured out His life on the Cross (Reading II).
6. As we fervently pray for the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all who have the responsibility for the administration of justice in our society, we are deeply conscious of the critical situation in which the ministry of justice finds itself in our nation. More and more, we witness the violation of the most fundamental norms of divine natural law in the policies and laws of our nation, and in the judgments given by her courts. Justice founded on obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, first of all, must safeguard and defend the inviolability of innocent human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, and the integrity of the faithful and indissoluble union of man and woman in marriage through which spouses, in cooperation with God, create and nurture new human life. At the same time, the law more and more dares to force those with the sacred trust of caring for the health of their brothers and sisters to violate the most sacred tenets of their consciences, and to force individuals and institutions to cooperate in egregious violations of the natural moral law. The reality of the situation is cloaked in a false garment of justice, for example, the direct taking of human life at its very earliest stages of development and the direct abortion of infants in their mother’s wombs is justified as the research necessary to find cures for dread diseases or as necessary for "reproductive health," and the violation of the integrity of the marital union is justified as the practice of tolerance.
7. The present situation of our nation is the source of our deepest concern as we pray for the ministers of justice. In our nation, the lives of millions of our unborn brothers and sisters have been and continue to be legally destroyed through embryonic stem-cell research and procured abortion; the lives of those who have the first title to our respect and care – the seriously ill, those with special needs and the advanced in years – are increasingly viewed as a burden to be eliminated from society; our laws presume to redefine marriage and the family, the first cell of the life of our society, in defiance of the law of nature; and the freedom of conscience is denied to individuals, even taxpayers in general, and to institutions by policies and laws which force cooperation in acts which are always and everywhere evil.
8. We see before our eyes the evil fruits of life in a society which pretends to take the place of God in making its laws and in giving its judgments, in a society in which those in power decide what is right and just, according to their desires and convenience, even at the cost of perpetrating the gravest harm upon their neighbor. We see before our eyes the evil fruits of life in a society in which a right conscience no longer guides those who make laws and give judgments, in which those in power no longer have "God alone before their eyes." In such a society, the administration of justice is no longer a participation in the justice of God, an obedient response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but a façade cloaking our own selfishness and refusal to give our lives for the sake of the good of all our brothers and sisters. It is the kind of society which we, as Americans, have rightly deplored and against which we have so often fought at the greatest human and material cost to our nation. It is a society which is abandoning its Judaeo-Christian foundations, the fundamental obedience to God’s law which safeguards the common good, and is embracing a totalitarianism which masks itself as the "hope," the "future," of our nation. Reason and faith teaches us that such a society can only produce violence and death and in the end destroy itself.
9. The situation of our nation, profoundly disturbing as it is, cannot be for us a cause of discouragement, let alone abandonment of the ministry of the justice which comes from God and, therefore, serves the good of all without boundary or condition. Uniting ourselves to Christ in His Eucharistic Sacrifice, we accept not only our portion of His suffering for the sake of justice but are also filled with confidence in His victory over sin and the forces of evil. Praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the ministers of justice in our society from the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, His Eucharistic Heart, we must be completely realistic about what the prompting of the Holy Spirit will demand of them in our time. At the same time, we must be confident that the Holy Spirit will give them the wisdom and courage to declare what is just and right on behalf of their brothers and sisters. If we are tempted by doubts of faith, we should contemplate again the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of our brother in the Communion of Saints, Saint Thomas More. Even as the Holy Spirit inspired and strengthened Saint Thomas More to be true to his conscience, not only for the sake of the salvation of his own soul but for the good of the people he had been called to serve, even so the Holy Spirit will produce the same holiness of life in our ministers of justice, so that they will be able to declare at all times: "I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first."
10. My brothers and sisters who are the ministers of justice, all of us depend upon you to speak what is just and right on our behalf and on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those whose lives are in any way threatened. Conscious of the heavy burden which you carry, especially in the present situation of our nation, we beg God, today, to pour forth upon you in abundance the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you, in Christ, will judge "[n]ot by appearance ... nor by hearsay" but with the justice which has its foundation in obedience to the law of God. We thank God for your presence with us today, as we offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, giving thanks to God for your service on behalf of us all and petitioning an abundance of God’s grace for the fulfillment of your most fundamental and noble service of us all. In a special way, we pray that you may never give way to discouragement or to the abandonment of the demands of your
conscience, but may enjoy always the comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit dwelling within your souls.
11. Christ now makes present for us the immeasurable and unceasing outpouring of His love on the Cross. From His glorious pierced Heart, he pours out upon us all the healing and strength of the Holy Spirit. Let us lift up our hearts to His Eucharistic Heart, let us be one with Him in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, so that we may live in justice and peace with one another. Let us lift up to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus those charged with the administration of justice on our behalf, imploring for them the gift of the Holy Spirit to inspire and strengthen them in declaring what is just and right on behalf of all our brothers and sisters, especially those who are in most need.
O Sacred Heart of Jesus, abode of justice and love, have mercy on us.
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mirror of Justice, pray for us.
Saint Thomas More, pray for us.
(Most Rev.) Raymond L. Burke
Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura