Bishop O'Connell served as principal celebrant of the annual Red Mass celebrated in St. Michael Church, West End.
Bishop O'Connell served as principal celebrant of the annual Red Mass celebrated in St. Michael Church, West End.
Though they often encounter opposition in their work in the public sector, attendees at the annual Monmouth County Red Mass were reminded that as members of the Catholic Church, with God’s grace and the gift of freedom, they have a responsibility to “think, speak and act as God’s witnesses in the world.”

The Mass was celebrated Oct. 10 by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., in St. Michael Church, Long Branch.

“Our actions are rooted in careful discernment of what it means to be a Christian, someone who is called to serve the common good and not self-interest,” Father Jeffrey Lee, pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, said in his homily to the congregation at the noon Mass that included approximately 50 attorneys, judges and the city’s mayor. “Recognizing that God’s grace builds upon our human nature, we humbly stand our ground and take our place in the public square.  

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Red Mass

“The Christian voice is not self-referential,” Father Lee said. “It is about the other, those living on the fringes, the marginalized, those who have no voice.” 

The Red Mass, a tradition that dates back many centuries, gets its name from the color of the liturgical vestments worn by the clergy and the color of fire, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Mass is celebrated to invoke God’s blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as on all public officials.  Red Masses are celebrated in many dioceses including in Washington, D.C., on or near the first Sunday of October for members of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal officials.  

Highlights of the Red Mass that was hosted by St. Michael Parish and the Monmouth Bar Association included the procession of the judiciary entering the church at the start of Mass.

Reflecting on the Red Mass, Father John Butler, pastor of St. Michael Parish, said it is an occasion that “provides opportunities on multiple levels for the legal community and civic leaders (both Catholic and non-Catholic).”

Along with the opportunity to be with each other, the Bishop and other priests and the parish community and worship together on a “typical Sunday,” the Red Mass is also the annual occasion in which they have the added grace of praying to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, guidance and justice at the start of the new judicial year.  

“We come together for corporate worship so that we can unite ourselves with others, both members and non-members in the legal field, to be uplifted and encouraged as together we hear the Word of God, offer prayer, celebrate the Eucharist and receive the Bishop’s blessing going forth,” Father Butler said.

In his homily, Father Lee tied the goal of the Red Mass with the day’s Readings. Recalling when God appeared to King Solomon in a dream and the King was offered the opportunity to ask for something – anything – and King Solomon asked God for wisdom “above anything else,” Father Lee said. “It is wisdom that guides the world in the right direction, according to the law. Wisdom is worth more than riches or prominence.” 

Of the Second Reading, Father Lee said that the Word of God “is living and at work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“This Word is living because it comes from the living God and the living God creates and sustains us,” he said.

The Gospel emphasized Jesus challenging his disciples to both know and live by the law and “allow it to shape one’s choices,” said Father Lee. 

“Freedom is necessary for one to enter the Kingdom of God. The free choices that we make, the sacrifices that we endure … Jesus promises … will be rewarded a hundred-fold.” 

After reciting the Creed, the Bishop read a prayer asking God to bless and protect the “judges and lawyers and all those who serve your law as well as the law of man.” A poignant moment came after the Prayers of the Faithful when the names of 20 recently deceased members of the Monmouth Bar Association were read aloud.

In remarks at the end of Mass, Bishop O’Connell thanked those whom he prefers to call the “ministers of justice” for their presence at the Mass and assured them of his prayers and blessings as they look forward to the year ahead.

Father Butler, who was an attorney prior to entering the seminary, recalled attending Red Masses in the Diocese of Trenton in the early 2000s when he was a member of a law firm in Princeton and before that when he lived and worked in the Archdiocese of Newark.

The Red Masses bring “together many individuals who might not otherwise have shared a common and united experience of worship,” Father Butler said.  “They bring together the common bonds of faith and law and helped to highlight similarities rather than differences and the things that divide.”

As the son of an attorney who is now deceased, Bill Boglioli has many fond memories of attending past Red Masses in St. Michel Church, where he has been a lifetime member and is currently also a member of the parish’s finance council. 

“I see the Red Mass as being similar to the Blue Mass, bringing a profession together that has been charged with incredible responsibilities,” he said.