Six of the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court attended the annual “Red Mass,” a special church service for members of the legal profession held by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Sept. 30.
The mass, so named because of the red vestments worn by the officiating clergy, is held the Sunday before the high court begins its new term, which is the first Monday in October. In past years, church clerics have used the occasion to harangue the justices on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and tax aid to religious schools. This year marked the mass’s 60th anniversary.
In attendance at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle were Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony M. Kennedy and Elena Kagan. Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas are Catholic; Breyer and Kagan are Jewish. (Justices Samuel A. Alito, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor did not attend.)
Also in attendance were Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of Virginia.
Timothy P. Broglio, archbishop for the military services, was the featured speaker at this year’s mass. During his homily, Broglio refrained from making direct references to controversial topics like abortion, but he did call on attendees to allow their faith to guide their decisions – potentially problematic advice for judges who must serve a pluralistic population.
Broglio urged congregants to think of themselves as “instruments” of a “new evangelization.” He also encouraged attendees to “welcome the strength of the Holy Spirit and the interior dynamism with which He fills our hearts.”
“The faith we hold in our hearts must motivate the decisions, the words, and the commitment of our everyday existence,” Broglio said. “That existence is extraordinary, because it is infused with divine grace. St. Thomas More said that he died the good servant of the king, but the faithful servant of God first. We, too, are faithful citizens only when we embrace the fullness of the principles of our faith and allow them to enliven and fortify our contributions to the life of the nation.”
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told CNN that the mass gives the Catholic hierarchy a unique opportunity to lobby the high court that no other religious or secular group enjoys.
“There is one purpose to have this,” Lynn said. “It is to make clear…just what the church hierarchy feels about some of the very issues that are to come before the court. That is just wrong. And it is wrong for members to go – not illegal – but wrong for the archdiocese to promote and encourage this event.”