PORTLAND — Bishop Richard J. Malone invoked God’s blessing and guidance in the administration of justice for members of the legal community Friday morning at the Red Mass held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
“The idea is not only that the community wants to offer its prayerful support for you in your work,” said Malone, head of the Roman Catholic church in Maine. “Our presence together here today suggests also the possibility of some connection between the religious dimension of our lives and our professions.”
Members of the state’s legal community have participated in the Red Mass since it was reinstated in 1998 by Bishop Joseph Gerry, who is now retired. After the Mass each year, a luncheon is held at the Portland Country Club and features a guest speaker.
This year, Justice Robert W. Clifford, 74, of Lewiston spoke about the important role religion should play in public life. Clifford retired in 2009 after 23 years on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He continues to sit on the bench as an active retired judge.
“There has been a lot of controversial litigation in recent years over to what extent religions should be in the public square,” said Clifford, who is a practicing Catholic. “I am suggesting to you that the lessening of religious influence in our culture could have serious consequences for our future, and on our system of justice, especially on the rights of citizens who are touched by the legal system.
“I say this because most of the basic rights possessed by all citizens in our country come from common law, and are grounded in the natural law, and in principles that are rooted in Judeo-Christian values,” he continued. “If the source of those values disappears from the public consciousness, then the rights based on those values may not be as secure as we would like them to be.”
The religious values that historically have influenced America’s public consciousness include the concept that the rights of human beings flow not from the state but from the Creator and from natural law and cannot be taken away without “some very serious justification,” Clifford said.
The justice pointed to prohibitions against killing, stealing and lying codified in law as being based on Judeo-Christian traditions. He warned that pushing religion out of the public square could lead to an erosion of individual rights.
“In countries where the state becomes hostile to religion, and religion is suppressed, and driven from public life, the importance of the state tends to increase, and the value of the individual to decrease,” he said. “The rights protecting citizens, although they may be written into constitutions and statutes, in reality, can be suppressed and not fully recognized in practice. We should never lose sight of the fact that those rights we possess are our natural rights, that come to us from our Creator.”
The name “Red Mass” is derived from the red vestments worn by the celebrants of the Mass. The vestments symbolize the tongues of fire that indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit and recall the traditional scarlet robes worn by attending royal judges many centuries ago, according to Malone.
In Washington, D.C., the Red Mass traditionally has been celebrated the week before the U.S. Supreme Court begins its session on the first Monday in October. That Mass has been attended by leading members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, including the president, members of the U.S. Supreme Court, members of the diplomatic corps and other guests of all religious faiths.