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Justice is ‘a divine characteristic’ of God, archbishop says at Red Mass

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard

By Mark Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Addressing a congregation that included Supreme Court justices and law students attending the Oct. 6 Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory encouraged those involved in law to reflect God’s justice and mercy.

"Justice is a divine characteristic of God himself. Whether we are Christian, Jewish or Muslim in heritage — we all believe that God is perfectly just and always merciful," Washington’s archbishop said. "And those of you engaged in the administration of justice can and must never completely remove those divine qualities from your service and your calling."

The annual Mass, traditionally held on the Sunday before the Supreme Court opens its term on the first Monday of October, invokes God’s blessings and guidance on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as on all public officials.

Archbishop Gregory noted, "We pray for all of the members of the judiciary and legal world because yours is the tremendous responsibility of attempting to reflect God’s perfect justice and mercy in interpreting the laws of our nation and for all those who will come before you during this next year."

Those affected by the administration of justice, he added, include those who may have committed crimes, and "those whose language, culture, race, or religion are not your own, as well as those who are at precarious moment on the spectrum of human life."

"None of them are unimportant and all of them approach you for what they hope will be a sign and an expression of God’s truth," he added.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. attended the Mass along with Associate Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer. Retired Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy also was there.

Massgoers also included U.S. Attorney General William Barr; U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia; and U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco; along with numerous judges and local attorneys, along with deans, professors and students from area law schools. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America; and John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, also were at the Mass.

The name of the Red Mass derives from the red vestments worn by the clergy during the solemn votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, representing the tongues of fire symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit.

"We begin another judicial season asking for a generous outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all who serve us in the realm of our legal structures," the archbishop said. "May each one of you rejoice in a spirit of integrity, courage and wisdom each day of this new year of legal justice and human compassion."

Archbishop Gregory added, "We begin a new judicial season always filled with hope that honesty and integrity will prevail and that the laws of our nation will be properly applied and observed. Those who work in the legal world carry a heavy burden and you must constantly work relentlessly to ensure that truth and fairness are not denied to any plaintiff or defendant."

The 67th annual Red Mass in the nation’s capital was sponsored by the John Carroll Society, a group of 1,000 lay men and women in the Archdiocese of Washington from a variety of professions who participate in religious, charitable and social activities.

Archbishop Gregory said he was pleased to celebrate this year’s Red Mass as the new archbishop of Washington. He was installed in May.

He first preached at the Red Mass in Washington in 2002 when, as bishop of Belleville, Illinois, he was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He preached at the Mass in 2015 as archbishop of Atlanta.

"New beginnings are always good for the soul," Archbishop Gregory said. "Each year at this time, the legal world opens a new judicial session and that also should inspire us to give thanks for the gift of this particular component of our freedom that is captured and operative in the courts of our land and in the opportunity to pursue justice as a legitimate expression of our freedom and hope."

Praising the important role of the judicial branch, the archbishop noted, "Every court in the United States remains an enduring and irreplaceable manifestation of our freedom as a nation and as a people.

"Distinct from the legislative or executive branches of our government, your enduring value is primarily to be found in your careful and balanced pursuit and impartial application of the twin virtues of justice and mercy under the laws of our country."

Archbishop Gregory noted that the artistic representations of justice adorning modern court buildings reflect the ideals of that work.

"The statue of a woman wearing a blindfold and often holding an ageless balancing scale is a frequent and apt symbol of what justice must be for all of us — evenhanded and without bias and prudent in attempting carefully to weigh all sides of an issue," he said.

That figure, he added, seemingly "declines to be concerned about or even take notice of the appearance of wealth, age, gender or power — she only mulls over the merits of the issues that she carefully balances on her scales of justice."

Concluding his homily, Archbishop Gregory prayed: "May this new judicial season bring you increased wisdom and prudent judgments. May this new legal calendar bring our nation a boundless new hope and confidence in our freedom as a people. And may God be glorified in all that you do in all the myriad courts and legal corridors of our land in attempting to reflect his always more perfect justice and mercy."

Concelebrants of the Mass included Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services; Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia; and Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario E. Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell Jr. and Michael W. Fisher.

The 13 priests concelebrating included Msgr. Peter Vaghi, chaplain of the John Carroll Society and pastor of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland; Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the cathedral’s rector; and Msgr. John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

At the beginning of the Mass, a Knights of Columbus color guard marched down the aisle carrying the U.S. and Vatican flags, and the congregation sang the national anthem. As Mass ended, the congregation sang "America the Beautiful."

This year’s Red Mass was celebrated 40 years to the day after St. John Paul II celebrated Mass at the cathedral Oct. 6, 1979, during his papal visit to Washington.

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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

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