WASHINGTON – Four justices joined members of President George W. Bush's Cabinet, foreign ambassadors and the capital's legal community for the worship service traditionally held the Sunday before the Supreme Court's new term.
Four of the five Roman Catholics on the high court — Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — attended the annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
Justice Samuel Alito, who gave Catholics a majority for the first time when he joined the nine-member court in January, did not attend the service.
Washington's archbishop, Donald W. Wuerl, spoke of religion's connection to many aspects of life, including public policy and the law.
"Morality and ethical considerations cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents," Wuerl said in his homily. "What we do and how we act, our morals and ethics, follow on what we believe. The religious convictions of a people sustain their moral decisions."
In his first Red Mass in Washington since being appointed in May, Wuerl spoke of how religious faith "has long been a cornerstone in the American experience."
The service has been held at the cathedral since 1953 by the John Carroll Society, a group of Washington professionals who are Catholic.
Cabinet members attending the service Sunday included Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.
Celebration of the Red Mass dates to the 13th century and is conducted to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance for those who seek justice. The Mass takes its name from the red vestments, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, worn by the celebrants.
St. Matthew's is one of the better known Red Masses in America and is traditionally held on the Sunday before the first Monday in October, when the Supreme Court convenes for the start of its term.
The court is dealing with familiar issues this year such as abortion and race. Bush's two conservative appointees, Roberts and Alito, give opponents of abortion and affirmative action reason to hope the high court will move in their direction.