– File Photo
The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law hosted its first Red Mass at Saints Peter and Paul in 1912. Today, the ceremony is attended by judges, lawyers, and officials of all faiths asking God to bless, strengthen, and enlighten civic and religious leaders, all servants of the law and all people of faith, to effectively achieve justice and freedom for all with cooperation and mutual trust.
Tradition of ceremony at Detroit law school dates back to 1912
By Steve Thorpe
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law will host its 101st annual Red Mass on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at noon at Saints Peter & Paul Jesuit Church, followed by a luncheon in the atrium of the School of Law adjacent to the church. The celebrant will be Rev. Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J., provincial of the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus.
The Red Mass is intended to be an occasion for judges, lawyers, civic leaders, and law students of all faiths to pray together at the beginning of the new judicial term, “asking God to bless, strengthen, and enlighten so that in cooperation and mutual trust we may effectively achieve justice for all.”
The custom of a special religious ceremony for the bench and bar at the opening of each term of the court arose principally in England, France, and Italy in the early 13th century. A mass was celebrated in honor of the Holy Spirit, for which red vestments were worn, eventually providing the celebration with the name Red Mass.
UDM’s annual Red Mass dates back to 1877 when Detroit College, as the University was then known, began its first year with a mass at Saints Peter and Paul Church to ask the blessings of the Holy Spirit on the coming year’s work. The School of Law continued the tradition when it opened in 1912, again hosting the Red Mass on behalf of the Archdiocese of Detroit at Saints Peter and Paul through the present.
Another of the better-known Red Masses is the one celebrated each fall at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., on the Sunday before the first Monday in October just before the Supreme Court convenes. The event is often attended by Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, diplomats, the Cabinet and other government departments and occasionally even the President of the United States. On Sept. 30, 2012, six of the nine Supreme Court justices were at the Red Mass, tying the number who attended in 2009.
The ceremony has, over the years, gained in popularity internationally. In Canada, the Red Mass was first celebrated in Québec City in 1896, in Toronto in 1924, in Montreal in 1944 and was re-instituted in Sydney, Australia, in 1931.