State officials pause to call on Holy Spirit during Red Mass


“Come, Holy Spirit.”

Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki kept repeating those words while visiting the place where Jesus’ mother and followers received the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“That Spirit came through and it changed them. And that Spirit changes us!” he told about 70 people gathered in St. Peter Church near the State Capitol in January for this year’s Red Mass.

The Mass, organized by the newly formed Mid-Missouri Catholic Lawyers Guild, marked the beginning of the current state legislative and judicial sessions.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presided at the Mass, with Msgr. Kurwicki, vicar general for the diocese, chaplain to the Missouri House of Representatives and pastor of St. Michael parish in Russellville, concelebrating and preaching the homily.

Assisting them were Deacon Tyler McClay, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency of the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses; and Deacon Ric Telthorst, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association.

Among those present were Catholics and other Christians representing all three branches of state government, as well as staff members and family members.

Bishop McKnight used the prayers for the Votive Mass for the Holy Spirit, which he offers each time he administers the sacrament of confirmation.

The bishop noted that he, the priest and deacons were wearing red vestments because it is the color of the legal profession and also the color worn when celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit.

He called to mind St. Thomas Aquinas’s definition of law as “an ordinance of reason that serves the common good.”

“At this Red Mass, we beg for the gift of the Holy Spirit on those responsible in our government and in the legal profession for the laws that we have in this land and this state, so that those who are responsible would enact those laws that truly serve the common good,” he said.

“Come, Holy Spirit”

In his homily, Msgr. Kurwicki invited everyone present to join him in calling upon the Holy Spirit every day, for courage, wisdom and inspiration.

“Because in the days and weeks and months ahead, of which we do not know what lies before us, particularly those who serve in government and the law, we will certainly need the help of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

The priest pointed out that after Jesus rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven, ending His physical presence on earth so that people could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“He said, ‘It is better for you that I leave, because if I do not leave, you will not receive the Spirit,’” Msgr. Kurwicki noted.

Catholic Christians receive the Holy Spirit — which St. Thomas Aquinas called the greatest gift of the Father — in baptism and confirmation.

Msgr. Kurwicki said the Holy Spirit gives the faithful what they need in order to serve justice, to find inspiration and to love the truth.

“Every day, each one of us, no matter what our vocation, no matter what our profession, we have to act justly and walk with our God,” he stated.

That’s actually much harder than it sounds, because life can get very complicated.

“And that’s why we pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit! Come, Holy Spirit, help me to serve justice.’ — and then act,” he said.

The Holy Spirit gives inspiration, especially when people have something important to say but cannot find the right words to express it.

“That’s when we say, ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ — and the Holy Spirit helps us to find the inspiration that we need to communicate perfectly,” the priest stated.

The Holy Spirit also helps people to love the truth.

“Today, we live in the world where people try to present so many versions of the truth, God’s truth is eternal,” said Msgr. Kurwicki.

“When the fog is heavy and we’re hearing conflicting things, we need to pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit. Renew the face of the earth ... here and now!’” he said.

The vine and three branches

Ben Slawson, senior counsel for the Missouri Department of Revenue, served as lector for the Mass.

Louis DeFeo, founder of Samaritan Center Legal Care in Jefferson City, and previous longtime as executive director and chief legal counsel for the MCC; and Rita Linhart, senior staff associate for the MCC, presented the gifts at the offertory.

Together, the people offered prayers:

  • for the Missouri General Assembly to pass laws that promote the common good;
  • for the state Supreme Court to judge wisely while pursuing justice;
  • for the governor and all members of his cabinet to execute the laws for the wellbeing of all citizens; and
  • for all state and government workers, attorneys, judges and those involved in the legal profession to be blessed by God in their work in service of others.

The Red Mass is an annual Catholic tradition dating from the 13th century in Europe. The first known Red Mass in the United States was celebrated in 1928 in New York.

This year’s Red Mass in Jefferson City marked the beginning of the 100th Missouri General Assembly and of the Missouri Supreme Court’s January session.

The Mid-Missouri Catholic Lawyers Guild is a recently formed group of local Catholic attorneys who gather for fellowship and to encourage one another in the practice of law.

Deacon McClay, the organization’s founding president, said events such the Red Mass help affirm Catholic attorneys, lawmakers and state employees in the work they do and pray with them for God’s blessing.

For more information about the guild, contact Richard Byrd at