Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O Connor celebrated the Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Red Mass on 1st October 2007 at Westminster Cathedral.
The Mass provides an opportunity for those involved in the legal profession to call upon the Holy Spirit to guide their work over the coming year. The main body of the congregation was made up of Catholic Barristers, solicitors, policemen, probation officers and others connected with the courts.
In his homily Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor commended the role model of St. Thomas More. He reminded the congregation that Thomas More faced difficult choices and suggested that there may be parallels for the legal profession with the situation in Britain today. “Being a martyr today may well mean, firstly, having the wisdom to recognise when choices have to be made between sticking to the values of the legal system and witnessing to the values of the Kingdom of heaven and, secondly, having the courage to live with the consequences of being ‘the King’s good servant, but God’s first’ as St. Thomas More said on the scaffold.”
This was a reference to Thomas More’s resignation as Lord Chancellor and execution due to his disagreements with King Henry VIII. The Cardinal said that “there is a chance that some of you will already have had to face real dilemmas when aspects of the law of the land do not quite dovetail with the ethical principles that are derived from the Gospel.”
In addition, he commended the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux saying: ”It is difficult to bear witness to Christ without an interior spiritual life, of day by day prayer, self sacrifice and reading the word of God.” St Therese pioneered a way of living the Christian life, something which the Cardinal encouraged all those present to adopt.
Leading legal voices
The Mass was attended by Catholic judges from the Court of Appeal and those on the High Court Bench including Mr Justice George Newman who attended on his last day as High Judge, Sir Paul Kennedy, Sir Swinton Thomas and Mr Justice Neil Butterfield, the current President of the Thomas More Society who organised the Mass. The Mass was also attended by those on the benches of all the Circuits as well as judges from the European Court of Human Rights and the Irish Bench and Bar.
An important point in the year
The Red Mass has always been an important moment in the legal year. Prior to the Reformation the judiciary and legal profession gathered at Westminster Abbey on the first day of Michaelmas term to invoke the assurance of the Holy Spirit in the year ahead. This practice stopped during the Reformation in the sixteenth century. The custom was revived in 1891 and from then until 1904 was celebrated in the parish church of St. Anselm and St Cecilia, Kingsway. In 1904 the Mass was transferred to Westminster Cathedral at the particular wish of Archbishop Bourne (as he then was). Every year since then the tradition has continued.
The arrangements for the Mass are made each year by the Thomas More Society, whose membership comprises mainly Catholic members of the Judiciary and Bar as well as solicitors.