Red Mass in Green Time?

Okay, it’s called the “Red Mass” because of the colours the Judges wear, but should not the celebrants have been wearing green for Monday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary time?


UPDATE: Once again the educational benefit of running a blog has amply demonstrated itself, just as I have demonstrated my own ignorance concerning this tradition (a point of ignorance which, however, it appears that I was not alone in suffering!). Many readers, including Fr Richardson of the Sydney Liturgical Commission, have carried out an Act of Mercy by instructing the ignorant in the right paths. One reader wrote to me as follows:

The Red Mass has this name because it is the Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated in Red Vestments (not the colour of the judges’ robes!!!!!!) which has been celebrated to invoke the aid of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the Legal Year in Christian countries since the thirteenth century.

To quote Eccles: “Ahhooohh, I feel such a fool!”

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Red Mass in Green Time?

  1. SonofTrypho says:

    Not fond of the Southern Cross on the vestments. :(

  2. Fr Don Richardson says:

    Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit = red vestments

  3. Stephen K says:

    I’m sure there is a rubrical logic or allowance somewhere supporting the colour red for this occasion:- Fortescue says (p.34) that “The colours…vary according to the feast or occasion on which they are used”. That said, and notwithstanding that the use of colours is symbolic, not intrinsic, and therefore not something to die over, I personally think that the logic of making the Mass vestment colour red because judges wear red is poor and misplaced. Who cares what other professions/realms use for their symbols? The colour red within the Christian tradition symbolises fire and blood, and these are not connotations I would think modern judges should relate to. One of the good Vatican II reforms – in my view – was the elevation of the seasons and Sundays over the sanctoral cycle and the myriad commemorative options. In the light of this, I think the green of spiritual vitality and growth that pertains to Ordinary Time should have trumped the red that in this case appears to reflect only deference to the vanities of a secular elite.

  4. Bear says:

    Or perhaps they are commemorating the martyrs to the legal system. ;-)

  5. Marco says:

    David, I am extremely surprised that you asked the question – seems pretty obvious!

  6. Joshua says:

    Perhaps it has been forgotten, but we call the opening Mass of a synod or parliament or retreat or legal year a Red Mass BECAUSE it is a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit – often paired with the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus or the prayer Adsumus (see Handbook of Indulgences) – for the fairly obvious reason that we implore His inspiration and grace at the beginning (and in process and in the end) of all that we essay to do

    His colour is red, hence Red Mass!

    PS I dislike green vestments, and, everywhere and at all times between the invention of the colour sequence and the modern liturgical reforms, it was a far more rarely seen colour than today. In my opinion, it’s use is vastly and boringly overdone..

    • Stephen K says:

      Joshua, just to clarify: is it because it is overdone that you don’t like the green, or because you don’t like the colour, or more a case that you don’t mind the colour in itself but think the more variety of colours used the better?

      • Joshua says:


        I dislike the colour on several levels:
        (i) the vestments pictured are a drab shade as I see it*;
        (iii) green vestments, especially the plain, unornamented (or hideously ornamented) sort common nowadays, I find uninspiring;
        (iv) green vestments are used far too much, to the exclusion of other colours – indeed, the greater the variety, the better! (Hence I would certainly wish for and support the extension to the whole Church of the Spanish and German permissions to use blue vestments for Our Lady, and also for doing so in Advent.)

        [*My colour vision is slightly defective – I don’t suffer from full classical colour blindness, but from protanomaly, meaning that my red colour receptors don’t work well, so, while I see all three primary colours, and can distinguish red and green, to me some shades of both seem remarkably similar (my grandfather was totally red-green colourblind, and from him I inherited this condition, undiagnosed till I was in my thirties) – hence, for example, I find reading colour-coded maps difficult, as a child I found choosing the right coloured pencil hard (brown? red? which one?), and in low light a red jumper can appear black.]

        • Joshua says:

          Something went wrong with my numbering above… ;-)

        • Peregrinus says:

          “. . . . the vestments pictured are a drab shade as I see it”

          The vestments pictured are red, not green, which I suspect points to the fact that your distaste for green vestments is probably connected to your red/green colour-blindness. Many shades of green simply will not stimulate you visually, and you will find them aesthetically unappealing. Sea-green or other shades of blue/green would probably appeal to you as much richer tones and more suitable to liturgy, but I’m afraid they’d strike the rest of us as positively electric, and altogether too jarring for liturgical use.

          It’s unfortunate that your vision deficiency happens to be for the colour most often employed for liturgical purposes.

          Still, it could be worse. In Ireland green is the colour associated with all Irish saints (of whom there are, of course, hundreds). It made for a certain uniformity of colour in ecclesiastical art, before the contemporary taste for less decorated churches.

          • Alex Caughey says:

            Green is also a deeply relaxing colour calculated to settle the nerves, and encourage reflection on matters uppermost in our thoughts.

            Our walks in our local park, or woodland immerse us in an atmosphere of green foliage, encouraging our mind to wander from the predictability of our daily routine thereby relaxing us, even reinvigorating us to return home with re-charged batteries.

            Each colour vibrates at a different frequency, thus for exciting our taste buds, restaurants will often use red to tempt our appetite when using table cloths, or lighting fixtures festooned with red.

            Mauve, or purple is the colour which encourages deep contemplation, even spiritual awareness.

            Yellow stimulates our inspiration, and wakes us up from our night’s sleep, brightening our day with the colour of the sun, often used to decorate kitchens where we drink our early morning tea, or coffee to welcome our new day.

            Colour light therapy is used in Germany for the treatment of serious diseases, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can effectively be treated with blue light therapy to minimise its ill effects, during periods of depression that afflict many during the Winter months.

            There is much of great benefit for our good health, and well being to be said for the variety of colours used for vestments, when celebrating the liturgy.

    • John Nolan says:

      And never used in Papal Masses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *