The Catholic Mass in the Color of Your Choice

The Church has the Blue Mass for law enforcement professionals, the Red Mass for those involved in the legal profession — and now the Gold Mass, for Catholic scientists.

This spectacular image of the Orion Nebula star-formation region was obtained from multiple exposures using the HAWK-I infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
This spectacular image of the Orion Nebula star-formation region was obtained from multiple exposures using the HAWK-I infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. (photo: ESO/H. Drass et al., CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science of idolatry and false absolutes.” —Pope St. John Paul II

Colors have always been important in the Church's liturgies. How often do we come to church are surprised to find the celebrant dressed in red to mark the feast of a major martyr who we momentarily forgot?

But many people may not be familiar with the Catholic tradition of celebrating the accomplishments of specific professions with a Mass and naming that celebration after an associated color.

The Blue Mass is meant to honor and bless law enforcement professionals and other people involved in the public safety including police officers, firefighters, correctional officers, 911 operators and EMS Personnel. The Mass is an opportunity for the community to show gratitude to first responders and their families.

Fr. Thomas Dade celebrated the first Blue Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC on September 29, 1934, as part of his duties as chaplain of the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society. The first Mass was held and has grown to a nationwide celebration.

The date was chosen because it's Michaelmas―the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of police officers.

The Red Mass is a Mass for people in law professions including judges, attorneys, law school professors, students, and government officials. The color refers to the color of the robes lawyers and judges wore in Medieval times. 

The first Red Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral of Paris in 1245. Originally, it was celebrated on May 19th, the feast day of St. Ives of Kermartin―the Patron Saint of Lawyers.

The first Red Mass in the US was held in 1877 at Saints Peter and Paul Church Detroit, Michigan at Detroit College―the previous name of the University of Detroit Mercy.

The White Mass was promulgated by the National Catholic Medical Association in the early 1930s. The color refers to the gowns used by medical professionals and usually celebrated on October 18―the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, the Patron Saint of Physicians.

The Rose Mass, which also celebrates and sanctifies those involved in healthcare, was initiated in 1992. The John Carroll Society sponsored it in the Archdiocese of Washington. In addition, the Lansing Guild of the Catholic Medical Association hosts a Rose Mass in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Mass is celebrated on Laetare Sunday, the Third Sunday of Lent, which is represented by the pink candle on the Advent Wreath and the color of the celebrant's pink vestments used on that feast.

The Church of the Assumption and the Chapel of St. Paul, both on Staten Island, New York, have instituted a St. Florian Day Mass which is celebrated on May 8―the saint's feast day―for all firefighters and EMT workers. St. Florian is the Patron Saint of Firefighters. Though no color is associated with the Mass, it's still offered for a community of Catholic professionals.

Recently, two priests, Fr. Daniel P. Moloney, PhD. And Fr. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., Ph.D., S.T.D have proposed a new Mass―a golden one―for Catholic scientists at MIT. 

Despite the undereducated hue and cry of unlearned and reactionary fundamentalist atheists everywhere, the Catholic Church has always been very pro-science. In fact, one can't name a single major scientific paradigm currently in use that wasn't invented by a devout Catholic and, more likely, a Catholic priest, bishop, abbot, cardinal or, in several cases, a Catholic saint.

For instance, Darwin offered nothing truly innovative in his Theory of Evolution other than what devout Catholic Jean-Baptiste Lamarck come up with nearly 60 years earlier. Fr. Nicholas Copernicus had determined that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around as many non-Catholics, such as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, neither of whom were scientists, had insisted upon. Bl. Raymond Llull created the first analog computer.

In addition, the Big Bang Theory wasn't created by atheist Albert Einstein, but in fact, by Fr. Georges Lemaître. The science of genetics by Fr. Abbot Gregor Mendel. The science of geology and of stratigraphy by St. (and Archbishop) Nicolas Steno.  Fr. Roger Bacon was the first person to systematize the modern scientific method. Fr. Marin Mersenne created the science of acoustics. Fr. Angelo Secchi created the science of spectroscopy. St. Francesco Faà di Bruno created the Faà di Bruno Formula. Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine researched the principles of mechanics. Fr. Ignazio Danti came up with the fix for the increasingly inaccurate pagan Julian calendar. Fr. Julius Nieuwland, was the chemist responsible for neoprene. Fr. Theodoric of Freiberg offered the current paradigm of the rainbow and prisms. Fr. Andrew Pinsent was one of the CERN discoverers of the Higgs-Boson particle. And 500 years before Einstein was born, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa developed the concepts of the infinitesimal and of relative motion without which, Albert Einstein would only had been known as the world's most obscure patent clerk.

And, my favorite indisputable, ineluctable Catholic scientific fact: More than 35 of the Moon's craters are named after Jesuit scientists/priests.

How do you like 'dem scientific Catholic apples?

It seems that atheists will need to double-time it if they hope to catch up with the Catholic Church. If they concentrated upon studying logic and history, they'd be doing themselves a favor.

And what do we do with this incredible scientific patrimony the Church has accrued?

We celebrate and sanctify it just like the Tech Catholic Community, the name of MIT's Catholic community and the Society of Catholic Scientists do. 

Fr. Daniel Patrick Moloney, Ph.D. is the Catholic Chaplain of Massachusetts Institute of Technology since June 2015, and priest chaplain at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He's the co-creator of that university's Gold Mass. He was kind enough to speak to the Register.

"Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a Dominican professor of biology at Providence College who got his PhD at MIT in 1996, contacted me last year with the idea for a Gold Mass for scientists," explained Fr. Moloney. "He suggested celebrating a Mass on the Feast of Albert the Great― November 15―the Dominican Doctor of the Church who is also the Patron Saint of Scientists."

"At the beginning of the school year, I invited him to come back and celebrate Mass again," explained Fr. Moloney. "He agreed, and told me about the new Society of Catholic Scientists that he was putting together. He wondered if we could make the Mass at MIT this year a broader affair, a Mass for Scientists in the area since Boston has a lot of universities with scientists, a lot of research hospitals, and a booming tech start-up culture right next to MIT's campus in Cambridge."

"And so, along the lines of the Red Mass for lawyers, the St. Luke's White Mass for doctors, and the post-9/11 Blue Mass for police and firemen, we thought we could do a Gold Mass."

Fr. Moloney explained the reason for "gilding" the Mass.

"Why gold? We were brainstorming, beginning with the liturgical colors, and I thought that gold was related to alchemy (the medieval research project of turning base metals into gold, a precursor to chemistry). Fr. Nicanor liked it because gold was the graduation color for scientists."

And, of course, gold is considered a "noble metal"―metals that are resistant to corrosion and oxidation in moist air―on the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Fr. Moloney studied computer science as an undergrad at Yale but turned his attention to philosophy. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from Notre Dame University (Go Irish!) where he specialized in political philosophy and natural theology. His dissertation was on the topic of mercy.

"When Cardinal O'Malley first assigned me here," said Fr. Moloney, referring to his position as MIT Catholic Chaplain, "I thought I'd see a lot of questions about science and religion. But MIT has a greater proportion of engineers than scientists, which means there are fewer people looking at the universe with wonder and more people working to manipulate it. It was surprising to me, therefore, that the biggest challenge these students tend to face is to maintain a sane balance between work and life, rather than intellectual questions about science: in engineering classes, they have something due in pretty much every class pretty much every week, and none of the assignments are easy. So they're working all the time, and on pretty worldly things (cool things, but worldly). Getting them to pull back from their work to remember that they have a soul with spiritual and social needs is one of the main pastoral tasks here."

Fr. Moloney explained that Catholic scientists including Abbot Gregor Mendel, the Father of Modern Genetics, had long understood that God added a rationally discernible order to the universe.

“Lots of people assume that if you are a religious believer, you’re either stupid or that you turn off your rationality when it comes to the questions to which religion is the response,” he said. “Very often scientists work in an environment today that is almost always indifferent but sometimes even hostile to their faith.”

"[When questioned, I] emphasize that faith and reason both come from God. Therefore, there cannot be a conflict between robust science and robust theology."

Even agnostic Carl Sagan in his The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark agreed. "The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both."

Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P., Ph.D., S.T.D.―the co-founder of the Gold Mass―is a Professor of Biology and of Theology at Providence College. He earned his doctorate in biology at MIT in the Guarente Lab where he studied genes involved in the aging process. He completed his S.T.D. in moral theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. The S.T.D. is the final theological degree in the pontifical university system of the Catholic Church.

Interestingly, Fr. Austriaco is currently researching the genetic mechanisms of yeast cells as model organisms to investigate how cells die."

"Faith and reason are both gifts from God. Science is just one expression of how the human person uses reason to interrogate reality,” said Fr Austriaco, who celebrated the inaugural Gold Mass on November 15. “A lot of young people think they have to choose between science and their faith, and we want to show them that it is not an either/or situation."

Despite the ramblings of many fundamentalist atheists such as non-scientist Patricia Churchland, science has yet to come up with a single moral principle let alone verify any the others by which Christians live. She and those who unthinkingly think that religion has no use should take a lesson from Albert Einstein, who greatly admired the Catholic Church for its valiant work in saving Jews from the Nazis, who reminded us, "You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.” 

Frs. Moloney, Austriaco and the Society of Catholic Scientists is promoting the Gold Mass throughout the country and in time, throughout the world.

Society of Catholic Scientists

The Society of Catholic Scientists hopes to foster fellowship among Catholic scientists, to witness to the harmony between the vocation of scientist and the life of faith and to be forum for reflection upon and discussion of questions concerning the relation of science and the Catholic faith.

The Society also provides opportunities for Catholic undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers in the natural sciences to get to know and interact with more senior colleagues. In this way the Society hopes to provide role models and mentors for young Catholics who are on the way to possible careers in science.

For more information regarding The Society of Catholic Scientists and the Gold Mass, visit the following site: