Red Mass Brings Legal Community Together In Prayer
Published: September 17, 2009
Judge Margaret Murphy of the United States Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of Georgia, folds her hands in prayer as she joins fellow judges from various federal, state, and municipal courts around the state. The judges gathered in the front pews of Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta, for the Sept. 10 Red Mass. (Photos by Michael Alexander)
ATLANTA—The accomplished St. Thomas More Schola and the Atlanta Brass Society led a crowd of nearly 200 in song as Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue and Bishop-designate Luis R. Zarama processed into Sacred Heart Church to a crowd of distinguished members of the Atlanta judiciary, legal and civic community.
The annual Red Mass, held this year on Thursday, Sept. 10, brought together several faiths in an act of prayer and fellowship marking the beginning of the judicial year. The “diverse yet united family of faith” participated with reverence in the Mass, whether they were Catholic, Jewish or Protestant.
Among the guests at the Mass were Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’Nai Torah, Atlanta, and Dr. Gilman Watson of Northside United Methodist Church, Atlanta, who read the Scriptures for the day, as well as former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher and former Fulton County Juvenile Court judge and Georgia Appleseed executive director Sharon Hill, who were honored by the sponsors of the event, the St. Thomas More Society.
Archbishop Gregory spoke directly to the legal community during his homily, urging them to take a moment to reflect as they begin their new year and reminding them of their duties.
“As administrators of justice for our community, we rely upon you to impart judgments that are fair, balanced and impartial. The very nature of public justice rests upon those qualities,” the archbishop said.
“As you embark upon the new judicial term, I am certain that all of you seek to be those types of public servants who are dedicated to allowing the laws of our nation, state, counties and municipal jurisdictions to apply equally to the rich and the poor, the powerful and the marginalized. That is why judges and court officials are so often seen as the very pillars of a community. You embody the highest principles and values of our society.”
The Red Mass is a tradition with roots dating back more than 750 years in Europe. The votive Mass, which means it is celebrated for a specific intention, received its name from the scarlet robes of the participating judges as well as the color of the clergy’s vestments. In this case, the worshippers ask for blessings on the courts and the administration of justice.
The first recorded Red Mass in the United States was in 1928 at St. Andrew Church in New York City. The Mass is now being celebrated in cities throughout the U.S. including Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory served as the homilist and principal celebrant for this year’s Red Mass.
During his homily, Archbishop Gregory also spoke to the day’s readings, drawing from the wisdom of the Scriptures and referring to the reading from Micah.
“Micah urges the wealthy and influential of his own times and ours that personal integrity is the touchstone of public reliability,” he said. “Judges and clerics as well are called to draw our public and private lives ever closer together so that there is a seamless unit between what we might publicly profess and how we might live our personal lives.”
“The poor look to you, the disenfranchised turn to you and the people of our community hold you in high esteem,” he continued. “At the beginning of a new year, may you all resolve to approach the works of justice that will come before you this term with renewed honor and dedication so that the great confidence that has been placed in you will enrich our community and bring all of you deep satisfaction and personal recompense of heart.”
Following the Mass, the crowd gathered at the Capital City Club for a reception and to recognize this year’s honorees.
Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher served on the Supreme Court of Georgia for over 15 years and was the Chief Justice of that court from 2001 through 2005, serving as the 26th chief of the high court since the role was established in 1845.
Born in Fitzgerald, Ga., to Frank Pickett Fletcher and Hattie Sears Fletcher, he attended the University of Georgia where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1956. Fletcher then attended the University of Georgia School of Law, earning an LL.B. in 1958. He later earned an LL.M. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1995.
Fletcher also served in numerous other positions including president of the University of Georgia Law School Association in 1977, chair of local government section of the State Bar of Georgia from 1977 to 1978, and chair of the investigative panel from 1986 to 1987. He retired from the Georgia Supreme Court in 2006.
Former Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Sharon Hill, an Emory University graduate, was also honored. Hill currently serves as the executive director of Georgia Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, which connects top private practice lawyers, corporate counsel, law schools, civic leaders and other professionals throughout Georgia to tackle difficult social problems at their root causes.
Headed by Hill, the organization affects change through “legal advocacy, community engagement and effective policy initiatives.” The mission of the group, as stated on its Web site is: “To listen to the unheard voices of the poor, the children, the marginalized; to uncover and end the injustices that we would not endure ourselves; to win the battles for our constituency in the courts of public opinion or in the halls of justice that no one else is willing or able to fight.”
The St. Thomas More Society Inc., a nonprofit society formed in 1993 and incorporated in 1994 by a group of Catholic lawyers in Atlanta, provides a means of fostering the spiritual, intellectual and professional growth of its members, while providing service to the Catholic Church of Georgia. For more information about the society, go to www.stm-atlanta.org.