Homily of the cardinal for the red mass 2021


Image: M Mazur CBCEW

Source: CBTE

Cardinal Vincent Nichols delivered this homily during the Red Mass on the first day of the legal new year, October 1, 2021, in Westminster Cathedral.

This Mass, this “Red Mass”, is a cry from our hearts for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. How right that each year we have this opportunity to pray for the strengthening of the link between the administration of our laws and the ultimate righteousness which is the gift of God.

I must begin by thanking you not only for coming together for this Mass today, but for your work in the various fields of law. I especially thank those who hold the immense responsibility that accompanies the office of judge. Thank you, you who are lawyers and notaries, those who support your work, and those who, through the good offices of the Thomas More Society, have helped to organize our presence here together, with the necessary solemnity.

Each mass begins with an admission of failure. This Mass is no exception. While personal fault is of course central to our confession of sin, I also have in mind that the administration of the law is inevitably imperfect and limited. We are here before the One who alone knows all hearts, who alone is all truth, who alone is the source of true righteousness. Here we renew our determination to couple our sense of inadequacy with a renewed sense of service with integrity.

The tensions in our society and our culture are exposed with, it seems, more and more frankness. Free and reasoned discussion is difficult to sustain, partly because of the way opinions, beliefs, resentments are expressed, and partly because of a growing practice of listening only to those with whom we are. we agree. Social media echo chambers can contribute to the corrosion of smart speech and respectful dialogue.

This attack on the deeper bonds of society is often expressed in the language of individual rights. There is, of course, a genuine desire to explore those rights, to recover those that have been lost, or to establish those that have never been recognized. And that often becomes the work of our courts. You are often confronted with the fierce passion of resentment, which was recently described to me as “the great accelerator of conflict and chaos”.

What can faith contribute at this time? In essence, this contribution lies in the insistent proclamation of the transcendent dimension of the human person, of the truth that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, comes from God and is intended for God. This truth of humanity is the source of our strong and relentless affirmation of the innate dignity of every human being. It is the testimony of our faith: that each person is endowed with a dignity that emanates from the Creator, and that without this horizon the dignity and the duties associated with it can easily be lost. Without this horizon, the esteem attributed to people will not depend on this first and fundamental criterion, but on their perceived usefulness, or on their access to a claim for rights.

It seems to me that the arena in which the administration of law is primarily exercised is that of human rights, not that of human dignity. Of course, dignity and rights are deeply linked, philosophically. But the law deals with codified rights rather than innate human dignity. Therein lies the tension with which you live and which we bring before the Lord in this Mass.

Allow me an example. The recent case of Heidi Crowter. She argued that the provisions of the current abortion law constitute an offense against her in that this law allows abortion until term if there are substantial risks that, if the child were born, ” he would be seriously handicapped ”. Heidi is a person with Down’s syndrome. The High Court judgment concluded that the current abortion law was not illegal because it aimed to strike a balance between the rights of the unborn child and the rights of women.

I fully understand Heidi’s cry: “The judges might not think [the law] discriminate against me, the government may think it is not discriminating against me, but I’m telling you I feel discriminated against. ‘ His cry is rooted in his instinct for his innate dignity as a human being, made in the image and likeness of God. This is an argument that is not easy to integrate into a judgment on conflicting rights, which does not have a broader or earlier frame of reference.

In the Gospel passage that we have just heard, Jesus thanks his Father for the message which has been “entrusted” to him, a message “hidden from the wise and intelligent” and “revealed to simple children”. This message, in turn, is entrusted to us, his disciples. The message entrusted to us indicates the status of every person in the eyes of God, the love in which they are held, the forgiveness offered to them in repentance, at the cost of the death of Jesus, the Eternal Word of truth in our flesh and blood. Entrusted to the truth, we struggle to embody it in our words and actions, in the ambiguities of our human fragility and the limits of our human constructions.

Isaiah’s words remind us that from the beginning the Spirit of the Lord is given so that those chosen for this gift may be the instruments by which the order of life, in all its righteousness, such as wanted God, to be established. Our faith tells us that this radical order of creation is still only fulfilled in Jesus Christ when his promise is our common thread and our inspiration.

So today we rightly implore the Holy Spirit to guide and shape our best efforts so that, through the great blessing of our faith, we, in turn, may be instruments of that righteousness and of witnesses of its integrity.

May God bless us today for all that lies ahead.


Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster

Red Mass is celebrated annually in Westminster Cathedral on the first day of the legal year, to call on the Holy Spirit to guide the judiciary and the legal profession to guide them in their work. Mass arrangements are made annually by the Thomas More Society, whose members are primarily Catholic members of the judiciary and bar, as well as lawyers.

Key words: Red Mass, Cardinal Vincent Nichols

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