Highlands County Circuit Judge Anthony Ritenour administers the oath of office to attorneys present for an Oct. 22 Red Mass at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring. (BOB REDDY | FC)

Red Mass celebrated for legal community

Sebring  |  With the idea that those who work in the judicial system touch the very fabric of our culture and society, a structure that must always first consider the dignity of the human being above all else, an annual Red Mass was held Oct. 22, at St. Catherine Parish in Sebring for legal professionals in Highlands County.

The Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Frank J. Dewane and concelebrated by priests from the area, invokes the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit upon those in the legal community. 

“Our prayer is that you receive the grace of wisdom, courage, compassion and right judgement, while seeking always to uphold the dignity and the rights for every person and the good of the community,” Bishop Dewane said.

Citing the 1965 Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty), Bishop Dewane noted that is was partially based on the U.S. Bill of Rights, notably the First Amendment, the freedom of religion.

“Religious freedom means we have the right to live out our religious convictions in a modern society,” Bishop Dewane continued. “To give witness to them. To be the leaven in society through the living of our faith. In our work regarding religious liberty; we are asking for space to serve with integrity.”

He acknowledged that while those in the legal profession may serve the legal system in different ways, they first and foremost serve the Lord. The Red Mass serves as a poignant reminder, to those who participate, about who they are and from where they originate.

Highlands County Circuit Judge Anthony Ritenour expressed the feelings of many present best when he thanked Bishop Dewane for celebrating the Mass and inspiring the legal professionals of Highlands County to remember their roots which are based in faith. 

“I always enjoy coming to this,” Ritenour said. “The idea of Freedom of Religion that founded this country — that set the point for justice — is something we must all be reminded.”

Following the Mass, Ritenour led the attorneys in the traditional renewing their oath. While leading the group, the judge put a particular emphasis on the closing words of the oath: “so help me God.”

The tradition dates to the 13th century Europe for the courts of the day and earned its name by the red robes worn by the judges. Liturgically, the Red Mass is celebrated as the solemn Mass of the Holy Spirit. The traditional red color of the vestments worn by clergy during the Mass represent the tongues of fire symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

In the United States, the Red Mass tradition was inaugurated in 1928 at Old Saint Andrew’s Church in New York City. Each October, before the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term, a Red Mass is celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. Florida Bishops celebrate an annual Red Mass for the Florida Legislature in Tallahassee. The Diocese celebrates a Red Mass in both Sebring and Sarasota, which was Oct. 2 at St. Martha Parish.