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Judges step up for traditional Red Mass at Sacred Heart

By Sarah Whitman, Times Columnist
LUIS SANTANA | Times (2016)
Judges take the oath of office during Red Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa in 2016. Tampa judges and attorneys attend the mass, which is a blessing for those in public service.

A sea of black robes will fill Sacred Heart Catholic Church today (Oct. 13) when Tampa judges, lawyers, law educators and students gather to honor Red Mass, a Catholic tradition dating back to the 13th century.

Red symbolizes the liturgical color of the Holy Spirit, said retired Federal Judge Father Tim Corcoran, who pastors St. Mary Catholic Church in Tampa. Every October, men and women of the law meet to seek God and reignite the fire of justice.

Red Mass gatherings take place throughout the United States and Western world. Presenting priests, vested in red, recite scripture and call the Holy Spirit, speaking upon attendees a need for wisdom, understanding and fear of the Lord. Corcoran, who sits on the board for the Tampa Bay area Mass, said he expects up to 300 attendees this year.

Among those scheduled to attend are two Tampa lawyers and one Pinellas County judge who were recently ordained as deacons. Attorneys Eugene Beil and John Carter, and circuit court Judge John Schaefer, will participate. Bishop Gregory Parkes of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will celebrate the Mass.

I spoke to Corcoran, who was ordained in 2012 after retiring from the bench, about the upcoming event.

What is the significance of the Red Mass? What keeps the tradition alive?

It is an annual opportunity for members of the legal profession to ask the Lord to send the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon them so they can perform their duties in a more righteous manner. It is a moment of reflection. A call to God so we can do our jobs better. In the old days, there were terms of court. Now our courts (with the exception of the Supreme Court) run 12 months a year. Traditionally, Red Mass was held in October to open the term.

Regarding the separation of church and state, how does this not cross the line?

There is nothing that precludes a lawyer or judge from practicing their faith. The First Amendment established freedom of religion and that we are not required to be part of any specific church. If a lawyer or judge wishes to worship and seek council from the Lord, they are allowed to.

Also, a Red Mass is very open and inviting. Members of all faiths are welcome to attend.

Several men of law were ordained this month, is this unusual?

Last Saturday, Bishop Parkes ordained eight new deacons. Four of the eight happened to be lawyers. Three of those four will be assisting at Red Mass, less than a week after their ordainment. It's a first. To my knowledge, we have not had this happen within our Diocese before.

What standouts to you as a special moment at the annual Red Mass?

The Florida Bar, which is accredited by the Florida Supreme Court, has an absolutely beautiful oath. One of the judges at Red Mass reads that oath and it is an annual renewing of the vows of sorts, to do right and service justice, to do good and not harm.

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Red Mass begins promptly at 12:10 p.m. today (Oct. 13) at Sacred Heart, 509 N Florida Ave., Tampa.

For more information, visit sacredheartfla.org. Also, the church will host a fall festival from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 15) at its north campus, 3515 N Florida Ave. The event includes games, bounce houses, food and a climbing wall.