Celebrants at the Red Mass gather around the altar for the eucharistic prayer Jan. 14 at St. Mary’s Basilica. The Mass signifies the opening of the legislative session.
Celebrants at the Red Mass gather around the altar for the eucharistic prayer Jan. 14 at St. Mary’s Basilica. The Mass signifies the opening of the legislative session. (Tamara Tirado/CATHOLIC SUN)

Lawyers, lawmakers, judges and politicians were on hand at St. Mary’s Basilica Jan. 14 for the annual Red Mass.

The event, marking the kickoff of the legislative year, implores the Holy Spirit’s guidance for those charged with making and interpreting the law as well as those who have made the law their life’s work.

Sponsored by the St. Thomas More Society — a local alliance of Catholic attorneys — and the Diocese of Phoenix, the Red Mass is unique in that it draws both high-profile homilists and well-known public figures.

Rep. Andy Tobin, Speaker of the House in the Arizona Legislature, delivered the first reading and the Hon. Joseph Mikitish of the Maricopa County Superior Court presided at the renewal of the oath of admission to the bar that took place at the end of the Mass.

In a homily punctuated by jokes and flavored by quotes from Scripture, Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M., called for immigration reform, characterizing the current system as “dysfunctional.”

The U.S. bishops often challenge lawmakers to respect the dignity of the human person, Bishop Ramirez said, from the unborn child to the poor, the hungry and the immigrant.

“The U.S. bishops in no way favor open borders,” Bishop Ramirez said. “We believe that every nation needs to protect its sovereignty.”

And while the “weight of civil law must be imposed on those that are guilty of criminal pasts,” Bishop Ramirez said, the U.S. bishops’ concerns center on the “unification of families, for those who have met with the real threat of violence… and for those seeking the opportunity to live decent and dignified lives. We want to assist those who seek to contribute to the community, to pay their taxes, to provide for their children and to live in safety.”

Bishop Ramirez lauded the U.S. legal tradition as honoring the rule of law. Some immigrants, he said, are fleeing countries where the rule of law is not respected, where “chaos, disorder, plunder, violence and grave insecurity are the order of the day.”

Quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Bishop Ramirez stated that, “any law that degrades the human personality is unjust.

“When civil laws are not rooted in eternal and natural law, and violate human dignity and create injustices, than those laws must be declared unjust,” Bishop Ramirez said.

In his remarks, Alan Tavassoli, president of the St. Thomas More Society, noted that the organization exists to help those in the legal profession who see their work not just as a job, but a mission.

“As legal professionals, we must consider healing the wounds of our fellow man and woman and forming, interpreting and enforcing our laws, not only for those who have a voice in the system, but the countless numbers who do not,” Tavassoli said. “We are called to speak out against oppression, to act, to take sides for what is right in the eyes of God.”

The tradition of holding a Red Mass goes back to 13th century England and signaled the opening of Parliament. Red vestments are worn since it is a Mass of the Holy Spirit. Red is also the color signifying martyrdom, such as that suffered by St. Thomas More, an English lawyer who refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church of England. He was executed in 1536.