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Catholics offer prayers for the president, Justice Ginsburg at annual Red Mass

Each year, on the Sunday before the Supreme Court opens its new term, Catholic legal professionals gather at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest D.C. to mark the new term and “invoke God’s blessing on those responsible for the administration of justice.” The celebration – known as a Red Mass – was atypical this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this reporter joined a community of nearly 1,000 viewers on the Washington Archdiocese’s livestream, unable to crane her neck and look for notable attendees. The few flashes of the audience show attendees spaced several pews apart and wearing masks. Before the mass begins, the usual reminder to silence electronic devices is replaced with social-distancing reminders, instructions on when to lower one’s mask to receive communion and an encouragement for congregants to sing silently.

In past years, several Supreme Court justices have often attended the Red Mass and, by tradition, have exited the church together. This year, it is not clear if any justices are in attendance.

“I welcome all of our guests here present and those joining us on livestream to pray this day for our nation, and for those involved in the administration of justice, and all public officials,” a clergy member says at the start of the mass. “I greet most cordially members of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice of the United States.”

It is also unclear if President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amy Coney Barrett made an appearance. Barrett is a devout Catholic, and her faith was a focal point in her confirmation hearing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

In another sign of the times, prayers are offered “for those suffering from the coronavirus, and their healing, including the president and the first lady” and “for all those who have died, especially Justice Ginsburg.”

The homilist for the mass, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, focuses his sermon on how Catholic principles should inform the administration of justice. Burbidge asks for the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel and strength to be instilled in civil servants to “defend every human life, from conception to natural death, to rid of racism, discrimination, and violence on our streets, to bring justice to the poor … the immigrant … to promote religious freedom and liberty … and to care for God’s creation, our common home.”

Religious freedom – and its interaction with non-discrimination laws – is poised to be a hot topic in the Supreme Court’s 2020-21 term. In November, the justices will hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and decide whether it violates the First Amendment to exclude Catholic Social Services for foster-placement referrals when that agency refuses to certify same-sex foster parents. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief arguing that “it cannot be that an activity, traditionally undertaken by religious groups for religious reasons, loses all religious liberty protections as soon as government encompasses it within a regulatory framework.”

The term begins virtually on Monday at 10 a.m. EDT, with oral argument in Carney v. Adams, a case that asks whether a provision in the Delaware constitution that seeks to ensure bipartisanship in the state’s courts violates the U.S. Constitution. The audio of the argument will be livestreamed on C-SPAN.

Recommended Citation: Katie Bart, Catholics offer prayers for the president, Justice Ginsburg at annual Red Mass, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 4, 2020, 9:57 PM),