03 October 2010

Red Mass- St. Matthew's Cathedral

So, I’ve already visited St. Matthew’s Cathedral, but I went back today for a very special occasion. Today was the date of the annual “Red Mass,” a special Mass offered every year at the start of the Supreme Court session. Bishops and other Catholic dignitaries gather to ask the Holy Spirit to guide the nation’s justices and others involved in law. It often draws high-ranking federal officials, including Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Supreme Court Justices, and is hosted by the John Carroll Society, a fellowship of Catholic business, legal, and community leaders.

I’m not sure why, but it wasn’t easy to find information about the Red Mass. I eventually emailed St. Matthew’s Cathedral, asking what time the Mass would be held at. I got a response back from Maureen, an assistant to the Rector of St. Matthew’s, who told me it was a 10:00 AM Mass, and then asked me if I was interested in ushering! I said yes (because I knew it would make an interesting blog post! Or rather, a less uninteresting blog post).

Ushering wasn’t too much work, and I’m glad I got to take part in such a special Mass. Archbishop Donald Wuerl was the principal celebrant, and he was joined by several other Bishops, as well as a representative from the Vatican. Vice President Joe Biden sat in the front row, and across the aisle was John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States, as well as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Associate Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

The actual service was incredibly special. It started off with a large procession of dozens of bishops and priests, accompanied by incense and the powerful organ and brilliant choir of St. Matthew’s Cathedral. Members of the Knights of Columbus proceeded to the front of the church with the American flag, and the choir led the national anthem. It was fascinating to see the flag raised in the very classical-styled Cathedral; it was an interesting moment of church meeting state. I also enjoyed seeing Vice President Biden and Chief Justice Roberts walk up at the same time to receive communion.

The homily was given by The Reverend J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., who is the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what it was either. After doing my homework, I learned that it is a Vatican “congregation” dedicated to the regulation and promotion of liturgy, sacraments, and many other aspects of Catholic life. In his homily, Reverend Di Noia recited parts of the Latin poem “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” in between comments on the importance of the Red Mass. He said that the Holy Spirit was asked to make sure that the justices maintained their “personal integrity and spiritual equilibrium” in light of contending interests and political pressures.

All in all, this was a very cool Mass and something to remember if you’re ever in Washington on the Sunday before the first Monday in October. I also got to shake Archbishop’s Wuerl’s hand for the second time this semester. I didn’t bother to tell him to read this blog again, but I did get a picture with him!


Pictures (click to enlarge)
Vice President Biden enters the cathedral, he's the fellow in the red tie. He's taller than I thought he'd be.

The choir, and the musicians that accompany them, were spectacular today.
Myself and Archbishop Donald Wuerl. Glad I ran into John, a FOCUS missionary, and James, another GW student, who took this picture for me!

Questions? Comments? Interesting Dreams? Were any blog readers at the Red Mass today? Share your thoughts in the comments section! 


  1. Wonderful and well-written article. There is also a Red Mass luncheon afterwards at the Washington Hilton Hotel with the Archbishop and other dignataries. Lots of Bloody Mary's sticking with the color and...well, it is a Catholic crowd, lol!!!

    Let me know next year and I will get you tickets.

  2. @Kvorn- Yes, I heard about the luncheon, but wasn't able to attend. Please shoot me an email, I will totally take you up on that!

  3. that's awesome! what a wonderful experience

  4. Thanks A. and my favorite reader, Patsy Anne!