The Holy Spirit can guide, heal nation, justices hear at DC Red Mass

By Christine Rousselle

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The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

Americans should call on the Holy Spirit to guide and heal the Church and nation, Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi said to attendees at Sunday’s annual Red Mass, celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC.

Vaghi, who is chaplain of the John Carroll Society as well as pastor at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md., spoke at the Sept. 30 Mass of the Holy Spirit, which traditionally marks the beginning of the judicial year. The US Supreme Court's 2018-2019 session opened Oct. 1.

The name Red Mass is taken from the red vestments worn to symbolize the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit.

It is this Holy Spirit whom people should call upon “to return and enlighten us, to enlighten in a special way each of you who serves the cause of justice and the common good,” said Vaghi.

“The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console, to renew, to heal,” he said. “Yes, to heal us.”

Vaghi noted that both the Church and country could benefit from this healing power, as “it is a power that treats the anger and divisions that so need the healing touch of our God if we are to continue our respective missions with love and effectiveness in our day.”

The Holy Spirit is a guide for those working in the legal profession and in government service, as the Holy Spirit helps people experience God’s wisdom and love as “the guiding principles and foundation of our very existence moving us to be men and women of justice, compassion, boundless mercy and joy” in their jobs.

Vaghi drew comparisons between the Holy Spirit as “the spirit of truth” and the words used in the Declaration of Independence.

“So we call upon the Holy Spirit to help us understand and deepen our understanding of these 'truths' referred to in our Declaration of Independence” – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Red Mass, he said, is “a most appropriate time” for one to think about these truths.

“In our day, these 'truths,' truths whose origin is the Holy Spirit, are sometimes seen in ways not always as self-evident – these truths that from the beginning of our national experiment helped define us as Americans – these truths of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. The country is divided, but Vaghi believes that the truths laid out in the Declaration of Independence are a solid base for rebuilding the American consensus.

The Red Mass is celebrated each year prior to the start of the Supreme Court’s new term, and stems from a tradition in the Middle Ages. It is meant for all members of the legal profession, including lawyers, judges, law students, and government officials, Catholic or otherwise. The Red Mass has been celebrated in D.C. for the past 66 years.

This year three Supreme Court Justices, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas, attended the Mass, along with newly-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was also in attendance. Notably not present at the Mass was Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who is currently in the midst of a heated confirmation process for the Supreme Court.

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