Montreal’s Red Mass is celebrated Sept. 7, the first organized by the Société Saint-Yves de Montréal. Anna Farrow

Red Mass resurrected

  • September 13, 2023

A group of 60 jurists, notaries and law students gathered at the Sacred Heart Chapel in Montreal’s historic Notre-Dame Basilica on Sept. 7 to attend the first Red Mass organized by the newly formed Société Saint-Yves de Montréal.

The society was established in May when Montreal lawyer Jacques Darche learned that the Bar of Montreal had unexpectedly decided to cancel the Red Mass — a tradition that marks the annual opening of the law courts which dates to 1245 when the first Red Mass was held in Paris.

“When I saw the press release, I went nuts,” said Darche. “I contacted members of the committee and said, ‘How dare you cancel the Red Mass?’ ”

It was then that Darche learned the Bar “never, never, never consulted the independent committee.”

So Darche sprang into action.

“I said, the Red Mass will not be cancelled on my watch. I have no problem that the Bar doesn’t want to organize it, maybe it should never have organized it, but why don’t we do the same thing as they do in a number of jurisdictions. We won’t create a Thomas More Society, but rather a Saint Yves Society.”

And so the Société Saint-Yves de Montréal was established on May 19, a short two weeks after the Bar’s announcement and, providentially, the feast day of St. Yves, the patron saint of legal professionals. The Red Mass was re-instituted with Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine the celebrant for the first Red Mass sponsored by the society. Darche was the master of ceremonies.

The Red Mass dates back to 1944 in Montreal. When it was first celebrated, the Catholic Church and the Quebec government were closely entwined, and it would have seemed entirely natural for the Bar to organize a Mass.

Darche recalls that when he started going to the Red Mass, “in the front row was the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice of the Superior Court and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Quebec.” This changed in 1994 when Pierre Michaud became Chief Justice of Quebec.

“Michaud ordered his judges to stop coming to the Mass,” said Darche.

It’s not the first time the Red Mass has come under fire in Montreal. In 1997, as the result of objections by some members of non-Christian faiths that the Bar of Montreal was publicly involved in organizing a Catholic Mass, an independent committee was formed to take over the organizational role. For the last 25 years, the only remaining connection between the Red Mass and the Bar was that the event was publicized in the informational mailings sent to Montreal jurists about the opening of the courts, always the first Thursday after Labour Day.

In most North American and European cities, the Red Mass is organized by local, independent societies of Catholic lawyers. In both Toronto and Ottawa, the Red Mass is sponsored by the Thomas More Lawyer’s Guild.

The Red Mass will be celebrated in Toronto on Sept. 21 at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, presided by Archbishop Francis Leo.

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