by Lori Corso
On August 28th, Villanova University School of Law will celebrate its annual Red Mass. This special mass is held to “invoke God’s blessing and guidance in the administration of justice” upon all who teach or study at the law school. It gets its name from the red vestments worn by the presiding clergy. Students, faculty, alumni and friends of all denominations are invited to attend the mass in the Villanova Chapel. The homilies (sermons) typically discuss the most pressing social and legal issues of the day (from civil rights in the 1960s to corruption in the 1970s and the threat of nuclear war in the 1980s) and serve as an energizing reminder of why we have entered the legal profession. The Villanova Choir and other Villanova musicians provide excellent music for the service. Following the mass is a complimentary reception in the Arthur M. Goldberg ’66 Commons. The reception is always a hit and has been described as having “sumptuous food and [a] fine selection of beverages.”
Here are some other Red Mass fun facts—many taken from “The Docket,” the law school’s student newspaper which ceased publication in 2001:
- A Red Mass has been used to open the session of the Roman Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Roman Catholic Church since the 15th Century
- In 1995, The Docket awarded superlatives to those who attended including the “Best event coinciding with Red Mass” which was the engagement of two 3L students. There was even one given for the “Most Unnecessary OJ Reference.”
- The first Red Mass in the US was celebrated in New York City in 1928
- Our library features a collection of Red Mass sermons
- A Red Mass opens the October term for the U.S. Supreme Court
- Red Mass is the only official religious function of the law school and has been celebrated since 1957
- The first recorded Red Mass took place in Paris in 1245.
- Villanova’s Red Mass is usually held in the Fall to kick off the school year but in 1978 it was held in the Spring as part of a “Jubilee” celebration
- The shrimp display and food spread at the reception is legendary. You can find references to it here, here, and here.
Other questions remain. What social issue will the homily address this year? Will the faculty melt under their academic robes since Red Mass is being held in August instead of the traditional October or September? Will there be a tower of shrimp at the reception? Come to Red Mass and find out!