HOMILY: Red Mass, St Mary's Cathedral

The annual Red Mass to mark the beginning of the new legal year in Scotland took place yesterday at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Members of the legal fraternity took part in the traditional procession before Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Leo Cushley. His homily is published below. (Pics: @jamiejkerr).


My dear friends,

A renewed word of welcome to the senators and sheriffs and all those of the Scots legal profession who have joined us for worship today, praying for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as the legal year begins in these days.

Today, we also welcome from the United States justices, judges, attorneys, solicitors and legal academics, from places including the Carolinas, Delaware and Minnesota, who are visiting Scotland, not just for the golf and the fishing, although there may be some of that too; but their main purpose is to connect with colleagues in a sister legal system during visits to our Parliament House here in Edinburgh, the Advocates’ Library and other places at the heart of Scots legal institutions.

You are all very welcome, and I hope you have a very happy stay with us.

As some of you may know, three days ago, I celebrated my tenth anniversary as your archbishop.

I happened to do it on the same day as a private audience with the Holy Father, a pure coincidence, but a happy one.

As most of you know, I left working for Pope Francis to come here as bishop after a total of sixteen years, on and off, spent in Rome.

As a city, it’s a place I know almost better than anywhere else, even Edinburgh, and as you might expect, it’s one of my favourite cities.

But there’s another city just a couple of hours north of it, that is also a great favourite of mine, called Siena.

It is a beautiful place, and I highly recommend it to you for a visit.

It’s a city almost arrested in time, because in 1348, plague struck Siena when it was at the height of its civic and commercial success, and a long twilight of the city began, as it fell gradually under the shadow of its big neighbour Florence, which gradually emerged as the greater city.

That means the centre of Siena today is much as it was in the 14th century.

But while 14th century Edinburgh was probably not a very easy place to be, Siena was at the height of its power, wealthy, beautiful, prosperous.

Its town centre, called the Campo, is still an enormous, handsome space even by today’s standards.  S

haped like a capital D, the famous horse races of the Palio still take place there in the summer, a wonderful spectacle and a centre of civic pride and colour.

And in the Campo there is still the palazzo pubblico, the city hall from that period, a magnificent civic building and tower that dominate the city and its skyline.

For the times, they had a fairly enlightened participative government.

The people of Siena took their politics seriously, they took their laws seriously and they took their Christian faith seriously, and the combination of these three threads made a stout cord that wound the people together in a consensus about what was good and what was bad.

This can be seen in the decoration of the main debating chamber of the palazzo pubblico.

It is covered from floor to ceiling in beautiful affreschi, but what they chose to depict is what interests us here.

There you will find the Allegory of Good and Bad Government, a wonderful set of paintings from 1339 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

The figure of Bad Government is depicted as a man, a tyrant, rather like the devil, with the figures of Avarice, Pride and Vainglory to guide him.

Beside him on a bench sit figures like Cruelty, while the figure of Justice is bound and gagged at his feet.

On the opposite wall, meantime, Good Government is shown as a man clothed in black and white, the colours of the city of Siena.

Over his head fly Faith, Hope and Charity - not Avarice, Pride and Vainglory.

Beside Siena sits the figure of Peace at one end of the bench, and Justice at the other; and flanking the city are Magnanimity, Temperance, Prudence, and Fortitude.

We see the citizens of Siena walking with the figure of Concorde, in harmony, obviously, and they live in a well-built city, with sound walls protecting everyone, fields ready for harvest, commerce taking place peacefully, and happy children playing safely.

Over all this sits the figure of Wisdom on high, with her balance, meeting out justice and mercy.

When I was studying the law, I recall how justice (iustitia) was compared to law (lex), as if justice was something we humans could never quite attain.

Justice belonged to an ideal, it was like an eternal truth; all we humans could hope to do was to come up with an ever-shifting approximation of it, in laws (leges, lex), things that were written down, like the Romans’ Twelve Tables.

Humans were to do their utmost to approach the eternal ideal, but such laws were always in need of vigilance, fair application, and occasional review and reform, so that they might remain as close to Justice’s ideal as possible.

The peoples of the ancient world knew and understood this well.

The people of the Christian world knew and understood this too.

And so too it is in the Siena fresco. As I said, the figure representing the city of Siena has watching over him Faith, Hope and Charity.

These are what are usually called the Christian virtues, and beside him sit the “natural” virtues of temperance and prudence and fortitude.

When these things become laws, and when they are accepted by the people and regularly maintained by the state, the peace and the prosperity of the land follow.

But if Pride and Avarice and Vanity sit in their place, and become guides to our citizens and our politicians, then we must all beware, because all will suffer.

Our first reading today is one of those occasions when the reading of the day speaks very eloquently to our occasion here.

This passage Isaiah 55 says directly to all of us, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.  Let the wicked man abandon his way, the evil man his thoughts”.

This is a plea to turn back to the Lord, who will hear us and who will help us to repair what we have broken or lost in our pride and our vanity.

It is also a call to look to the betterment of laws, so that they do not remain merely leges, lex, law, but strive better to approach the true, eternal justice that they aim to imitate.

Isaiah then says, “Let [the evil man] turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him, to our God who is rich in forgiving; for my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways”.

The Lord is willing to take us back, but we must approach this subject, so often out of our reach, with with great care and humility.  As if to make us “put back” the blithe spirits of faith, hope and charity over our polity, the Lord then says through Isaiah, “Yes, the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts”.

So today, my friends, we remind ourselves of the great and important work of the distinguished people we see here before us.

We remind ourselves how they serve our society by the just application of the laws of the land.

We pray for them and for the legislators who create the laws to be applied; and above all we pray that, in order to have a society truly blessed by justice and peace, and magnanimity and prudence and temperance and fortitude, the members of the judiciary, here present, will be guided by the greatest wisdom of all, the sophia of the Holy Spirit in their work of behalf of all the whole people.

May the Holy Spirit guide you and keep you all in the coming year.  Thank you for listening, and God bless you!