The term Red Mass is used for a votive Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit celebrated at the beginning of a judicial year. The custom of opening a judicial year with Mass seems to have originated in Europe in the thirteenth century. It received its name from the fact that the celebrant was vested in red for the mass of the Holy Spirit, but also from the red robes that judges wore in those more colorful times.
The Red Mass is offered to invoke divine guidance and strength during the coming term of court, although its scope has now been widened to include invoking guidance and strength for legislators a5 well, indeed, for all those who are in any way connected with the law. It is celebrated in honor of the Holy Spirit as the source of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and fortitude, gifts which are particularly necessary for all those who are involved with the law.
The readings that have been chosen for our celebration today are from the selections that the Lectionary provides for civil needs, specifically for justice and peace. I would like to examine with you what God’s word says especially about peace and how peace is connected with the opportunities and responsibilities of those who are gathered here this afternoon.
in the first reading (Is. 32.15-20) the prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a time of future idyllic happiness when people will live in abundance and security in a world characterized by justice and peace.
The second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4-6-9). It’s from near the end of the letter where Paul is offering moral exhortation to his readers. He tells them that, if they pray properly and live virtuously, God’s peace will come to them, a peace “which is beyond all understanding.”
Finally, our gospel reading (in. 14.23-29) is about peace, too. In the course of Jesus’ conversation with His apostles at the last supper, He has told them that He will be leaving them, but that He will send the Holy Spirit in His place. The Spirit will give them His peace, and that peace will remove distress and fear from hearts.
What is God telling us in these selections from His word? He is telling us that He wants us to be at peace, that the final future He has in mind for us is a future of peace, that even now as we journey toward Him through our earthly life we can enjoy some measure of His peace if we are open to receiving it from Him.
Three things are important here. The first is to be aware that, in most Scriptural contexts, peace does not mean just the absence of war. In Scripture, peace is the harmony that arises, through God’s gift, from everything working together for the good of all, When heart and mind and body and everything around us are all harmoniously alive and active as God meant it to be, then we have peace. Obviously, peace in this world is, at best,
provisional. True and final peace can only come in a world that is less changeable and less sinful than ours. Yet God does offer us the possibility of a degree of peace here and now, perhaps as a kind of sample or prelude to what is to come later, or perhaps to prepare us to know and appreciate what final happiness consists in.
The second important thing we need to be aware of as we listen to God’s word today is that peace comes as God’s gift. It’s not something that we can achieve for ourselves, either here or hereafter. Notice how, in all three readings, peace is something that comes to us from God. It’s not a human accomplishment. Peace belongs to the Lord as Creator and Redeemer, and it is He who give it to us.
The third important thing in these readings is implied rather than expressed, and that is that we have some part to play in preparing ourselves and others to receive the peace that God intends us to have. One of the basic lessons of Judaeo-Christian revelation is that God has chosen to enlist human help in carrying out His will. Yes, creation is His gift, but we are called to help bring it to its fulfillment. Yes, peace is His gift, too. That harmonious fulfillment of all our potential in a context of dynamic balance can only come to us through His giving, but it will not come without human cooperation. We cooperate with God’s will for our peace by making ourselves ready and receptive for what God offers us, since He won’t impose His gifts on us and we cannot receive them if we are not properly disposed.
We cooperate by helping others understand and reach out for what God offers, by helping to provide contexts in which the meaning of our earthly existence becomes clear, by providing the possibility of human experiences that will teach people what their humanity is, what their humanity can be. We are all called to be channels of God’s providence for His world, all called to be providers of God’s peace. We don’t bring about God’s will through our human actions, but we offer ourselves as instruments so that the Lord can work through US.
And we do that in all kinds of ways. Parents do it by bringing up their children in an atmosphere of love and care that teaches them about the love and care of God. Teachers do it by making their students acquainted with the wonders of the world that God has entrusted to us. Priests and bishops do it by proclaiming the goodness of the Lord, by assuring people that they are loved and looked after by the Master of creation, by the Lord of redemption. In all sorts of different ways, we are all instruments and agents of God’s peace.
So are people of the law. I’m sure you don’t need me to lecture you on the nature of law. You have all probably done a lot more thinking about that than I have. But I would like to hold up for your consideration the idea of law as a component of and contributor to peace, to peace in the sense in which God’s word has been using it this afternoon.
If peace is the harmony that arises from everything working together for the good of all, if peace is ultimate human fulfillment, then peace is what we are pursuing when we make and administer law. The proximate purpose of a law may be to determine who is allowed to vote, or how drug dealers are to be punished, or how much tax each citizen in to pay on property or income. But the ultimate purpose of law is to make it possible for us to live together in tranquility and predictability. Laws are important because they keep us from getting in each other’s way, because they enable us to carry out our individual and social potential without a constant concern for survival. Laws are important because they help us experience that preliminary terrestrial peace that models in some analogous way the heavenly peace that God has in store for us. Just as lawlessness is a synonym for savagery, so law is a synonym for humanity. And it is for our humanity that God prepares His peace “which is beyond all understanding.”
There are a lot of conclusions that could be drawn from this convergence of divine and human interests. One is that human laws have a moral dimension and that their morality depends on the extent to which they are in accord with God’s plans for peace for His human creatures. Another is that there is a certain degree of religious obligation attached to the observance of human law. We are called to obey it because it is somehow involved with our eternal salvation.
But there is still something more that needs to be said when we speak of the convergence of divine and human interests in the context of law, and that is that those who involve themselves with human law are doing God’s work. Whether they be makers of the law, or charged with the law’s enforcement, or interpreters of the law when disputes arise, or resource persons to provide guidance and direction to their fellow citizens in dealing with the law, all those who are men and women of the law are men and women who are involved with the work of the Lord, with helping to express and to bring about some degree of the peace that God intends as our final goal. Beyond questions of partisan politics, beyond questions of the particular role you play in the realm of the law, there are in the contexts in which you work deep considerations of human dignity and human worth, of basic rights, of the quality of human life here and now and about the future of this world of ours. All that is inherent in your work with the law, all that is involved with the pursuit of peace in which you collaborate with God’s plan for His good creation.
In effect, agents of government and people of the law are responsible for maintaining the worth of creation. You are charged with bringing to specific expression the loving will of God for the world that He has made, charged with giving people the experience of peace. The demands of civility that are essential if there is to be peace of any kind, things like the protection of human value human dignity, human potential, human achievement, these demands of human civility are yours to foster and defend.
Please know, then, that what you do is important. We all know that those of us who are in authority, government and legal personnel are open to criticism and reproach. Given the contingency of human reality, it is rare that any decision by legislator, administrator, or judge receives universal applause. Often your motives are questioned. Sometimes your intelligence is impugned. Human insight and human prudence are indeed limited, so it is probable that you will be wrong on some occasions. But none of that is enough to undermine the basic worth and dignity of what you do.
These are the reflections about peace that were suggested to me by the selections from the word of God that we heard this afternoon. But before I conclude, there are two more things that I need to say.
First, thank you, ladies and gentlemen of government and the law. Thanks for you care for our country. Thanks for the efforts you expand for the defense and betterment of humanity, especially the poor. Thanks for the improvements you strive to make in human civilization. Thanks for all the services you offer us, your fellow citizens. But most of all, thanks for the concern for peace that you share with God our Creator and Redeemer.
Secondly and finally, I want to recall to you another piece of Scripture that I believe is relevant here: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt. 5.9)
Most Rev. Daniel E. Pilarczyk
Archbishop of Cincinnati
S. D. Gl.