The Red Mass

October 1, 2008 | 12 comments

As soon as I post this I have to start getting ready to go with my husband to the Red Mass, a Mass held by the bishop for Catholic judges, prosecutors, attorneys, law school professors, students, and government officials. For some reason, this is always one of my favorite nights of the year. Every year I try to write a post about why this night is so special to me, and every year I give up because I can’t quite put it into words. Though I’ll probably fail again this year, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Maybe I spend weeks looking forward to the Red Mass because it’s held in the beautiful old downtown cathedral (pictured above), and the tradition of the Red Mass is more than 700 years old (the first one was held at the Cathedral of Paris in 1245). There’s nothing like participating in a 2, 000-year-old liturgy as part of a 700-year-old tradition in a 150-year-old church to overwhelm you with the fact that, truly, you are just a part of God’s epic story — not the other way around.

Maybe it’s the ambiance. I remember the first Red Mass we attended, in 2006 before we converted, and how I was moved to tears when the choir began belting out a flawless rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as the entrance procession began. I saw the bishop walk by, then almost a dozen priests from around the diocese (a sight which would have moved me to tears in and of itself, since I was still absorbing the concept that there really are people left in the world who give their whole lives to God), followed by the smiling faces of various ministers from other Christian denominations — all walking in their elegant robes behind a gilded crucifix, hoisted high in the air, the way you might hold the flag of a conquering army.

Maybe it’s the idea of so many people throughout the legal profession coming together to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all that they do; that afterwards we always meet so many fascinating, likeminded people who are a pleasure to talk to.

Or (let’s be real) maybe it’s the fact that various local law firms put together the reception, which is usually held at an exclusive private club, and it’s an amazing spread of delicious food in an oak-paneled ballroom. And there’s an open bar. (I promise, I promise, I’d still love the event if it weren’t for that!)

But I think that the biggest factor might be that the Red Mass was the first Catholic event that my husband and I were ever invited to (probably the first non-Sunday religious event I ever attended), and it also falls within days of our anniversary each year. So as we sit on the balcony of the hotel restaurant that we like to go to to spend some time together after the Mass and reception, sitting in the perfect Texas nighttime air, talking about life, the evening always reminds me of my marriage, and of becoming Catholic — the two best things that ever happened to me.


Thanks to Abigail for letting me call her and hum into the phone so that she could tell me that that song I was thinking of was Ode to Joy. Speaking of which, here’s a cute video version I stumbled across while Googling around to make sure I had the right song:

Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him above the starry canopy.

Above the stars He must dwell.
– Ode to Joy

Photo credit


  1. SixValentes

    Jen, this was a beautiful post (even though my comment has nothing to do with it). I have been away for your blog for a little bit, and I just realized that we are both pregnant! Congrats! I’m 15 weeks today.

  2. Michelle

    Neat video! I’ve never been to a Red Mass before but it sounds beautiful. Enjoy your evening!

  3. Dorothy

    That was such an adorable video of the Ode to Joy! Thanks for sharing it. What a beautiful song! Also beautiful is the fact that you are moved by the sight of people who are all out for God. Love.

  4. elizabeth

    Wasn’t it used in a milk commercial once, back before the “Got Milk?”days? “Drink milk, love life, drink milk, love life, drink milk, love life, driiiiiiiink milk”?

  5. Anonymous


  6. Stephanie

    Hey I know that church!! ;-D

    I love our cathedral. 🙂 I was just there today for the noon mass honoring St. Therese of Lisieux which Fr. Albert celebrated in French, a real treat!

    I’ve never been to a Red Mass, and I didn’t know the history behind it either, thanks for your post, hope you enjoyed the mass!

  7. Bender

    Don’t let it be said that Catholics are a stuffy bunch simply because they like their religion and liturgy solemn and traditional.

    I remember the welcoming festivities for starting law school at Catholic University of America, in D.C. Our first talk was about “the law as vocation.” Then we went outside to a big crab and beer fest.

    Of course, if you like big Masses, I’m not sure when they might have a national or international event down there, but if you’re ever in D.C. around the March for Life, the Vigil Mass for Life the night before is a sight to behold — just watching several dozen bishops and cardinals, followed by hundreds of priests in a packed (that is, overpacked, air-sucking, heat-suffocating) National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, is astounding.

  8. Abigail

    I just found out that Maria’s husband, from Ordinary Time, is attending the Red Mass in Washington D.C. on Oct 5th. Lets all pray that the Justices in the Supreme Court and members of Congress have their hearts touched by their Red Mass in a similar fashion!

  9. The Koala Bear Writer

    Sounds cool. Kinda like my memories and special feeling for the Easter Vigil. It’s great to have annual reminders like this of special events in our lives. 🙂

  10. Sandy

    I wrote briefly this morning about the Red Mass I attended in New Orleans on Monday. It will probably be the only one I’ll ever be able to attend since we live so far out in the boonies, but I was thrilled by it. Thanks for describing it so much more clearly. I hope you won’t mind if I update my post to link to yours?

  11. Meta

    [Delayed reaction] I love the Red Mass! I had never heard of it before my husband started Law School. The Red Mass here at Notre Dame is this weekend (10/12, 10:00 AM, Basilica of the Sacred Heart). EWTN always broadcasts Sunday mass from this basilica, so if you'd like to glimpse how the Fighting Irish do it (or just can't get enough of the Red Mass, or like really pretty choir music & churches), tune in! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

  12. Anonymous

    I find it interesting that you mention God once in your post. I’m no believer, but it seems that you like all the other aspects of this particular ceremony more than the spiritual part. I agree, ancient tradition is interesting and compelling.. but that’s all that the Catholic church has to offer IMHO.


  1. 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 100) | Conversion Diary - [...] Tonight is the Red Mass! I’m so excited. This will be the fourth year in a row that my…
  2. 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 146) : Conversion Diary - [...] and there’s usually a nice reception afterwards. I’ve written before about why that is always my favorite evening of…

Connect With Me On Social Media or Explore My Site



The "THIS IS JEN" podcast is on Facebook & all podcast apps


- Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play (audio)

- Get weekly bonus episodes on Patreon

- Sign up for my email list to be the first
to know about new tour dates