Before I say anything about the “Red Mass scheduled for next Wednesday,” let me jus take my hat off to Chief Justice Corona and former President Joseph Estrada.
In my last column I wrote that the invitation to Chief Justice Corona to attend the presidential inauguration placed the Chief Justice in a very awkward position. After all, President Aquino had snubbed him and had refused to take his oath before him. But Corona came nevertheless and patiently sat through the entire ceremony (even if his presence was not acknowledged in the President’s inaugural address). President Estrada for his part had fought hard to deny Aquino the presidency. He lost; but he too sat through the entire ceremony.
The presence of the two public figures was a humble but eloquent silent appeal for national unity.
* * * * *
Next Wednesday, at the Manila Cathedral, at 9 in the morning, His Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, together with at least fifteen other bishops, will preside at a solemn celebration of a “Red Mass” for judges and justices, members of the Bar, law school professors and government officials. The Cardinal has sent out his personal invitation to members of the judiciary, of the executive department, of Congress and to other members of the legal profession and to officials and professors of colleges and universities.
But what is “The Red Mass”? It is the Mass of the Holy Spirit. Following a tradition that dates back to the high Middle Ages, the Mass is called Red from the red liturgical vestments traditionally worn by the celebrants to symbolize the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost. Historical records indicate that the tradition started principally in England and France.
In England the tradition is said to have commenced during the reign of Edward I, about the year 1310. In essence, the Mass was meant to call upon the Holy Spirit to grant light and inspiration to lawyers in pleading and to judges in adjudicating during the coming term of court. It became the custom for the entire Bench and Bar to attend the Red Mass at the opening of each term of court. The judges, who were all doctors of the law, wore the impressive red robes belonging to that office and attended the Red Mass as a body
The Messe Rouge in France is said to have started ahead of England in 1245. However, in 1906, following the modern tendencies of the French people, Parliament considered the ceremony to be offensive to their conception of liberty of conscience. Thus a resolution was passed prohibiting the celebration of the Messe Rouge. During the first World War a temporary suspension of the prohibition was obtained by the Paris Bar as a gesture of respect for the lawyers who had died in the battle for France and humanity. But the prohibition was revived later and the Messe Rouge in France, it seems, has passed into history.
Today the best known Red Mass is the one celebrated annually at the Cathedral of St. Matthew Apostle in Washington, D.C. on the Sunday before the first Monday of the October term of the U.S. Supreme Court. It is attended by Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, the diplomatic corps, the Cabinet, other government officials and sometimes the by President of the United States. “The Red Mass” was dramatized as episode 69 in the television series The West Wing.
An annual Red Mass is also celebrated today in cities in various countries, among them Canada, United States, Australia, Ireland and Scotland.
Although the Red Mass is an old custom which was started for jurists of a community once a year to gather before the Altar of God to ask for the light and the strength which only God can give them to fulfill their high public responsibility, it is now offered also for the entire members of officialdom.
The Red Mass has recently led to annual Masses for other occupational groups. For instance, in the United States "Blue" Masses are celebrated for police officers and others engaged in public safety, as well as "White" or "Rose" Masses for doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals.
The Red Mass, or Mass of the Holy Spirit, is a peculiarly Catholic celebration. But it is not just for the benefit of Catholics. It is a way of expressing what is found in the Preamble of our Constitution where the sovereign Filipino people implore “the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.” More contemporaneously for our nation, it expresses the desire that the ambitious goals proclaimed by President Noynoy Aquino in his inaugural speech last week will become a reality for the Filipino people.
Finally, it is the hope of the Cardinal of the Archbishop of Manila that the Red Mass will become an annual practice in Metro Manila and in other parts of the country.