by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — Governor Sam Brownback, state legislators and members of the courts heard an inspiring message about law, justice and the way both reflect the divine will at the annual Kansas Red Mass on Jan. 30.
The Mass was celebrated at Mater Dei-Assumption Parish in Topeka, located across the street from the Kansas state Capitol.
For the past two years, the bishops of Kansas have celebrated a Mass — called a Red Mass — for the special intention of the well-being of the state and for guidance of Catholics working in government and the law. It is sponsored and organized by the Kansas Catholic Conference.
The tradition of the Red Mass began in medieval Europe and is associated with the judicial and legal community.
The color red became associated with the tradition because of the red vestments worn by the celebrants, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and for the red judicial and academic robes worn by judges and other court officials.
Red Masses are celebrated in many parts of the world, but the highest profile Red Mass in the United States occurs annually in Washington, D.C., when the U.S. Supreme Court begins its new session in October.
The more recent tradition of the Kansas Red Mass grew out of visits to Topeka by the Kansas bishops. The bishops would have a meal with office holders for fellowship and encouragement.
“We thought that it would be a very good idea to have a Mass that we could invite legislators to, and make it a Red Mass, formally dedicated for the intention of our Catholic legislators,” said Michael M. Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
“[The bishops] pray for them in their very important work [and] encourage them to remember their faith and apply Catholic moral principles to their profession,” he continued. “We don’t check our faith at the door when we leave in the morning. . . . It’s part of everything that we do.”
In his homily, Bishop Edward Weisenburger, of the Diocese of Salina, said that justice is no easy task. The bishop, who has a degree in canon law, talked about the Latin root words that refer to divine law and man-made law.
“I must point out that while there is a distinction [between divine and man-made law], this distinction does not mean that human-made laws are severed from the divine will,” said Bishop Weisenburger. “Quite the contrary. We hope and pray that our laws — even the most civil or basic — reflect in some way the divine will.”
Faith, he said, must guide them in their practice of justice.
“First, I am not, by any means, implying that you need to impose our Catholic teachings into the legal code of our nation or state, trying to circumvent the nonestablishment clause,” said Bishop Weisenburger. “My belief is far from that.”
He rejected the way “faith” is defined by the world — something that can be separated from the rest of life and relegated to its edge, something warm and fuzzy to be occasionally trotted out.
“If you have indeed come to faith in the Trinitarian God whom we worship, and in whom — we believe — gives that life meaning,” he continued, “then what I mean is that your practice of justice needs to be animated by certain basic principles that I suspect are shared by most people of good will and some faith.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was the main celebrant of the Mass. Concelebrating were Bishop Weisenburger; Bishop John Brungardt, from the Diocese of Dodge City; Father Steve Heina, director of evangelization for the Diocese of Salina; and Msgr. James Hake, the vicar general of the Diocese of Salina. Bishop Michael Jackels was not able to attend.
Deacon Chris Seago, from Mater Dei Parish in Topeka, and Deacon Ray Delgado, from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Topeka, assisted the celebrants. Msgr. Gary Applegate of the archdiocese was master of ceremonies.
Before the final blessing and dismissal, Archbishop Naumann pointed out the vigil candles that had been placed on the side altars, symbolizing prayers for Catholics in government: the governor, lieutenant governor, members of the Legislature and the judiciary.
“We hope, as the church, to provide spiritual nourishment to you,” said Archbishop Naumann.
Following the Mass, a reception was held in the offices of the Kansas Catholic Conference, located in the former rectory next to the church.