Red Mass participants including Bishop O'Connell, principal celebrant, concelebrating priests, as well as attorneys and judges, gather for a group photo following the liturgy that was celebrated in St. Michael Church. Mike Ehrmann photos

Red Mass participants including Bishop O'Connell, principal celebrant, concelebrating priests, as well as attorneys and judges, gather for a group photo following the liturgy that was celebrated in St. Michael Church. Mike Ehrmann photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

More than 300 came together Sept. 30 to pray for members of the legal profession and judiciary, regardless of their denomination, ahead of the new term for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We ask God’s blessings, the God ‘in whom we trust’ on the judicial year ahead,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said during the annual Red Mass.

Photo Gallery: 2018 Red Mass

For the third time in as many years, the Monmouth County Red Mass, which calls down the blessing of God and the Holy Spirit on all who seek and administer justice, was held in St. Michael Church, West End.

From talking to those who attended, it was clear that most – including scores of active and retired judges and attorneys from around the area – were familiar with the Mass, a special celebration of the Eucharist for judges, lawyers, law professors and their students, as well as government officials in the legislative and executive branches of government.

Attorney Bruce P. Fromer, a parishioner and member of the Monmouth County Red Mass Steering Committee, and his wife, Joan, presented the gifts of bread and wine during the Mass.

“[There is no question that this [Mass] goes a long way toward making the Church more accessible” to the community at large, said Fromer, a member of the Monmouth County Bar Association.

Common Good

The Red Mass, which has roots dating back to the 13th-century Europe, derives its name from the color of the liturgical vestments worn by the clergy. The color also represents tongues of fire symbolizing the Holy Spirit.

As with many of the liturgies held around the country, the Monmouth County Red Mass coincides with the beginning of the new judicial year of the U.S. Supreme Court and others, which commence the first Monday of October.

The Mass, which began with the sound of trumpets, organ chords and the voices of the choir heralding the procession of the judiciary, was concelebrated by Msgr. James Innocenzi, vice chancellor of the diocesan office of Canonical Services; Father John K. Butler, pastor, and Father Mark Nillo, parochial vicar, both of St. Michael Parish, and Father John O. Chang, parochial vicar of St. Veronica Parish, Howell. Deacon Robert Cerefice, Esq., Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, assisted.

In his homily, Bishop O’Connell spoke of how Catholics in the United States live in two worlds. “We live in a secular world – the state – and we live in a religious world – the Church or comparable communities defined by religious belief. … They are separate worlds but they co-exist simultaneously,” he said.

“In addition to rights, customs, identifying principles and traditions, each of these worlds possesses its own system of laws established to create and preserve order for the sake of the common good,” the Bishop said. “It is the search for the common good inherent in each system that enables each to regard the other with respect.”

“We share one planet, we share one nation whose motto is ‘e pluribus unum’” and while there are borders and differences in ideals within those worlds, “at the end of the day – no, throughout the day – the same human blood courses through our veins,” he continued.

“If there is a ‘human nature’ in search of a ‘common good,’ then our politics and our poetry and our piety ought to seek it out sincerely and make it known in voices and languages that can be understood and mutually respected.”

‘Words of Wisdom’

A poignant moment of the Red Mass each year comes after the Prayers of the Faithful, when the names of recently deceased members of the Monmouth County Bar Association are read. This year, eight names were read by retired Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence Lawson.

At a social after the Mass, Judge Lawson, a Baptist, said this year’s liturgy offered “a light at the end of the tunnel.” In a time of such travail, he said, “it was good to see some civility. Good to see that good people can come together” in prayer and sociability.

Father Butler, himself an attorney, said coming together as a community to pray in the judicial year is a rare opportunity. “It goes without saying that members of the bench and bar were gratified by the Bishops’ words of wisdom,” he said.