|Steve Rovig decked out in his Red Mass
regalia - floppy hat included.
I confess. They had me at the floppy hat.
I could be the poster boy for this most un-churched corner of the country. As a result, when the invitation arrived from Seattle University's School of Law asking me to represent the King County Bar Association at SU's annual Red Mass, I was flummoxed. So, I immediately emailed KCBA's past-President Anne Daly.
She assured me that it was a memorable event and that doing a reading from the Bible was pretty straightforward. But she didn't like wearing the floppy hat.
Wait. Did Anne say "floppy hat?" My acceptance of the invitation was winging its way back to Seattle University in a heartbeat.
So, what is a Red Mass? Dean of the SU School of Law, Annette Clark, filled us in. "The Red Mass originated in Europe in the 13th Century. From the time of Edward I, the Mass was offered at Westminster Abbey at the opening of the Michaelmas term in late September. It takes its name from the fact that the priest-celebrant was vested in red and the Lord High justices were robed in brilliant scarlet." The rite, it seems, was the invocation of a blessing for judges, lawyers and the legal community and their work in fostering justice and peace.
Having already lent us their common law, the British followed up by sending over this tradition with the first Red Mass being celebrated in the U.S. in 1928. Since then, each term of the U.S. Supreme Court is heralded by a Red Mass on the Sunday before the Court's term begins in October.
The afternoon when I arrived on campus was autumn perfect. The air was crisp and cool as members of the law faculty in their full academic regalia, judges in their black robes and I gathered in the lobby of Sullivan Hall. Lest I feel underdressed, the school had arranged to suit me up with: (1) a robe; (2) the colorful hood from my law school alma mater, the University of Montana: and (3) a floppy hat (yes!). The hat was probably not unlike the ones worn when the first Red Mass was celebrated at Westminster Abbey.
Once assembled, we made our way across campus to the handsome Chapel of St. Ignatius with solemn pageantry in what must have appeared to students looking out of their dorm windows like a procession plucked from the Middle Ages. Glorious music that would set the tone of the event greeted us as we approached the chapel.
The president of Seattle University, the Rev. Stephen Sundborg, presided at the Mass and offered an inspired homily based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. His theme was inspired because - unknown to me - the story from Luke features a lawyer. And as lawyers are wont to do, he deposes none other than Jesus about what it takes to achieve eternal life.
Jesus is reported to have advised the lawyer to "love your neighbor as yourself" and then he told the story of the Good Samaritan to point out that our "neighbor" is not always the kindly old lady next door. Sometimes our neighbor is the guy who has been stripped, beaten and left half dead in a ditch.
Father Sundborg asked, "Who today plays the role of the man left half dead on the side of the road?" His answer: "That's for us to realize: the gay person, the prisoner, the parolee, the undocumented, the children of migrants, the homeless, the sexually abused, the victim of domestic violence, the unattended and uneducated child, the enemy abroad or within our borders, the racially profiled and targeted, the poor, anyone really unlike us."
Dealing with that list of potential "neighbors" could be overwhelming. But we were reminded of Martin Luther King's admonition in 1968 that the question cannot be, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" Instead the question must be, "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
At the end of the Mass, everyone in attendance was invited to greet those around them by shaking hands and saying "Peace be with you." With a lot to think about, I responded, "Peace be with you."
In this month of December, we try to chase away the darkness with colorful lights, festive gatherings, too much eggnog and well-worn sentiments. But perhaps there will also be time to reach out a hand to a neighbor, no matter who they are or what their status is.
With that, I wish you and yours peace and all the best for the new year.
KCBA President Steve Rovig is a principal with Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson P.S. where his practice emphasizes commercial real estate. Rovig can be reached at email@example.com or 206-470-7620.