Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger delivers the homily during the Red Mass, held in honor of those in the legal profession, on Friday, Jan. 8, at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (Cindy Schultz photo)
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger delivers the homily during the Red Mass, held in honor of those in the legal profession, on Friday, Jan. 8, at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. (Cindy Schultz photo)
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Nobody would doubt it was a Red Mass.

The altar of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany was filled with bright, red poinsettias, left over from the previous week’s Christmas Masses. A few church-goers donned red sweaters or red masks for the occasion. And even the pews were marked in red from the ropes used to block off seating areas to maintain social distancing.

It was the perfect fit for this year’s Red Mass for Legal Professionals on Jan. 8 at the Cathedral. Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrated the annual Mass, which is sponsored by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Diocese of Albany.

Bishop Scharfenberger himself holds a Licentiate in Canon Law from The Catholic University of America, a Juris Doctor of Law degree from Fordham University, and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1991.

The Red Mass, which originated in France and England during the 13th century, served as a marker for the official opening for the term of the court for most European countries. The tradition later made its way to the United States in 1928. The name of the Mass comes from the red vestments worn by clergy and the scarlet robes worn by judges in 13th century England.

Bishop Scharfenberger added that the color “red” is the color of the Holy Spirit, which plays a large role in the celebrations. The Mass’ custom is to invoke the blessing of the Holy Spirit on the work of all the judiciary and legal professionals. The Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom, understanding and counsel, and is blessed upon legal professionals to dispense in the form of justice in the courtroom.

Bishop Scharfenberger referenced this counseling in the Gospel reading, Luke 5:12-16, when Jesus healed a man with leprosy, who at the time was deemed “unclean” from his disease, and was cast out by society.

“In history there have been laws passed to put people of certain looks or certain religion into prison,” said the Bishop in his homily. “But Jesus finds a way to accommodate those in society who aren’t deemed worthy of justice.”

Anne Hurley, a medical malpractice lawyer and parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar, tries to attend the Red Mass each year. Hurley calls the Mass a “great gathering” of lawyers, from civil to criminal, as well as students learning the law. In the end, “it’s the camaraderie” that draws her here.

“Everybody comes together even in these times,” she said. “We are lawyers. We are Catholics. We can be both.”