by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Located across the street from the Kansas Capitol here, assumption Church, one of two buildings utilized by Mater dei Parish, provides an ideal setting for Catholics working in the downtown area to gather in prayer. Noon Mass often sees a mix of private sector and government professionals from various parishes throughout the city praying together as one.
And as the mother church of Topeka, Assumption has served as a gathering place for Catholics to pray before local events such as the annual right to Life rally and March for Life held at the state Capitol, as well as the annual St. Patrick’s day parade.
But it was particularly fitting that on Jan. 16 the church provided a setting for area Catholics — especially those who serve in elected public office and their families, as well as those engaged in lives of public service at all levels of government — to come together in prayer for another purpose: that of participating in the annual Red Mass.
The Red Mass is a term used to denote a special Mass celebrated to ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and guidance for all elected officials and those who serve in government as they grapple with difficult public policy decisions during the legislative session. This year’s Red Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. Concelebrants included Bishop John Brungardt, of the Diocese of Dodge City; Bishop Edward Weisenberger, of the Diocese of Salina; and Msgr. Robert Hemberger, Diocesan administrator and moderator of the curia for the Diocese of Wichita. Joining them were Father John Pilcher, pastor of Mater Dei Parish, and Father Nick Blaha, associate pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish. Deacon Porfidio Ray Delgado of our Lady of Guadalupe Parish assisted.
The origins of Red Mass date back to sometime in the Middle Ages. According to several websites, the first recorded Red Mass was celebrated in 1245 in Paris in La Sainte-Chapelle, built by King Louis IX of France, later canonized as St. Louis. Sixty-five years later, in 1310, the first Red Mass was celebrated in England during the reign of King Edward I at the opening of the High Court. At the time, the entire bench and bar attended the Mass together at the opening of each session or court term. Since the celebrant wore red robes, the judges at that time and all professors of law conformed to the tradition and wore red as well, resulting in the popular term of Red Mass.
In the United States, the first Red Mass was celebrated in New york City in 1928. Since 1953, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., has celebrated a Red Mass annually at the beginning of the opening of the Supreme Court in October. Today, more than half of the dioceses in the United States celebrate a Red Mass at some point during the year.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann reflected on several themes, including how Catholics serving in public office or working for the government should act as they engage in public policy debates, especially during times of disagreement; how the Catholic faith should be a matter of a genuine life rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not a matter for political gain; and finally, how the Catholic serving in public office or in a life of public service should draw upon his or her faith, not as a means of proselytizing, but rather as a means of evangelizing others.