'Red Mass' Preacher Reminds High Court Justices of Source of Law

The Roman Catholic Church blessed lawmakers, attorneys, judges, and other legal professionals Sunday during the annual Red Mass in Washington.

Among those in attendance were four of the U.S. Supreme Court's six Catholic justices and one of the court's three Jewish justices.

In anticipation of the official opening of the Supreme Court's fall term on Monday, Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia continued the 700-year-old tradition as this year's homilist by praying for "consolation, peace, and solace" among other blessings to be upon those in the legal profession today.

"[T]he Church," he said, "understands the nearly overwhelming complexity of the climate which envelops the practice of law and the administration of justice today. "

"It was precisely such complexity that gave rise to the legal profession in the 13th century as popes, kings and bishops found it impossible to carry out their duties without expert legal advice," the Vatican cleric recalled in his homily Sunday at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

While the Red Mass dates to the 13th century in Europe, the service did not become an annual tradition in Washington until 1952, when the John Carroll Society began hosting the event to invoke the Holy Spirit upon those who serve the nation in the various sectors of the legal profession.

While the invitation-only service is in no way a mandatory event, the first-Sunday-of-October event has been criticized each year by church-state separationists, particularly because preachers during the mass have been known to address hot-button social and political issues and chide court rulings viewed as out of line with Catholic teaching.

Notably, however, the homilies in recent years have focused on more universal themes, including that of Di Noia, who said those in the legal profession are "entrusted with the discernment and administration of justice and the rule of law according to an objective measure – in effect, according to principles – not of our own making."

And consensus over these principles, he said, "transcend religious and culture differences."

Among the principles he claimed "positive law" to rest upon included the pursuit of the common good through respect for the natural law, the dignity of the human person, the inviolability of innocent life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage, justice for the poor, and protection of minors.

"Among the things for which we ardently pray is the wisdom to affirm and maintain those profound truths about human nature that are at the foundation of the common life we treasure in this great nation," the American archbishop stated before warning of the "growing peril" of humanism.

Before concluding his homily, Di Noia reminded mass attendees that God is the source of the most fundamental human rights and the duties of citizenship.

"Man without God is not more free but surely in greater danger," he warned.

And one of the "many" signs of this growing peril, he said, is the broad threat against innocent human life.

"Thus, along with wisdom and light, today we must also beg the Holy Spirit for the gift of hope in the resurrection," he stated.

Among those in attendance Sunday were Vice President Joe Biden, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas.

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Sonia Sotomayor, who are both Catholic, were not present, although Sotomayor was there last year.

Also absent were Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who are both Jewish. Ginsburg has not attended Red Mass since her first experience, saying that she grew tired of being lectured by Catholic officials.

In contrast, Breyer, who is also Jewish, is a regular attendee of the event.

Also absent was President Obama, who has yet to attend the annual mass.

According to a spokesperson for the Washington archdiocese, most recent presidents have attended the Red Mass at least once during their terms, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

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