By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
A centuries-old tradition invoking the Holy Spirit to guide all those who seek and administer justice was continued Oct. 1 at the second annual Monmouth County Red Mass in St. Michael Church, West End.
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Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., served as principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass where priests and acolytes alike were vested in red, the color symbolizing both the presence of the Holy Spirit and evoking the English traditional color of the academic robes and hoods worn by those who have earned a degree in the field of law.
Concelebrants included Father John K. Butler, pastor of St. Michael Parish; Father Mark D. Nillo, the parish’s parochial vicar and Catholic chaplain of Monmouth University, West Long Branch; Father Mark A. Kreder, pastor, St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River, and Msgr. Thomas J. Mullelly, diocesan vicar for clergy and consecrated life.
About two dozen lawyers, judges, professors and others in the legal profession preceded the clergy in a procession into the church as the Red Bank Catholic High School Chamber Choir, under the direction of Shawn Mack, sang the ancient “Ecce Sacerdos Magnus” responsory. Other members of the bar sat next to their families and colleagues in a show of solidarity in their profession.
“Law exists to serve the common good,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily. “It has its origin in God whose first acts in creation were to make something out of nothing, order out of chaos.”
The First Reading from Ezekiel (18:25-28) heard the House of Israel proclaiming God’s ways are unfair, the Bishop continued. “When virtue – God’s ways – turns to iniquity – our ways – what should we expect? Law is the way we deal with our choices. Its object is life not death, good not evil, the way things should be, not the way things should not, intellect and freedom seeking what is right and rejecting what is wrong.”
Bishop O’Connell noted that Red Masses were being celebrated in churches and cathedrals around the world that day, too, timed to coincide with the beginning of the new term of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It lifts up the law and those who serve as its ministers among us – lawyers and judges and legislators – praying to God for them, for wisdom and justice and judgment to further the common good,” he said. “It is a noble thing, a holy thing, a sacred thing to do because the purpose and object of the law is noble and holy and sacred.”
The Bishop noted that goodness prevailed in the Gospel Reading from Matthew (21:28-32), where two sons are asked to work in their father’s vineyard. The first assented but did not work, while the second, despite his initial refusal, did his father’s bidding.
“In the second case, goodness and right prevailed,” he said. “That’s what law does: when considered, it makes things better or, at least, it should.”
The Bishop continued, “Even when we separate Church from state, law is just good humanity, law serves the common good for God’s creation. Here’s a thought: let’s begin our ministry of law with life, life in its beginning, life at its natural end, life everywhere in between. Perhaps it is time, now more than ever, to make God’s work here on earth, our own, our law, our life.”
The Honorable Lawrence M. Lawson, a retired Monmouth County assignment judge of the state Superior Court, solemnly read the roll of recently deceased members of the Monmouth County Bar at the conclusion of the Prayer of the Faithful. Lawson noted the 13 jurists “were our brothers in that which we were gifted: the practice of law.”
Following the Mass, the Bishop, priests, congregants and members of the American Bar Association lingered under bright sunshine on the church’s front patio, snapping photographs and greeting one another under the eye of local police officers.
As Monmouth County Freeholder Thomas A. Arnone mingled with the jurists, he noted the Red Mass was a prime opportunity for him to “support the judicial system and recognize the dedicated public servants.”
John and Carol DeBartolo stood amidst their fellow jurists, smiling at the camaraderie of those in various roles in the legal profession. Carol DeBartolo, a former court reporter who now serves in the office of St. Rose School, Belmar, nodded as her husband, an attorney in Red Bank, said, “We know many people here. This is a beautiful tradition.”
Dorothy O’Hara, a member of St. Michael’s and the Red Mass’ steering committee, explained, “I’m not a lawyer, but I thought it was important to become involved with the planning of this. We must pray for justice, as the Bishop said, for law should make things better.”