In April of 1534, Sir Thomas More refused to take the oath of supremacy, as required by the Act of Succession, which was passed by Parliament a month earlier. The Act of Succession followed King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Queen Anne Boleyn. The act essentially disinherited Henry’s daughter by Catherine (later Queen Mary I) and named his daughter with Queen Anne (later Elizabeth I) as his heir apparent. The act also required all subjects to swear an oath recognizing the king as the supreme head of the Church of England. King Henry decreed this in 1531 after Pope Clement VII refused to annul his marriage to Catherine.
Thomas More, being before the commission assembled by the crown to take the oath of supremacy, was willing to accept Parliament’s ability to legitimize Queen Anne’s crown as a matter of state. However, More refused to accept that the king was supreme in relation to the pope, or that the marriage between the king and Queen Anne was “spiritually valid” in a broader sense. Of course, Thomas More would pay for the steadfastness of his religious convictions and spiritual principles with his head in July of 1535, after a long imprisonment.
In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, long before the stately matters that would cost him his life, Thomas More had studied the law and was “called to the bar,” becoming a lawyer in his own right in 1502. St. Thomas More is regarded among the patron saints of the legal profession. (Yes, we lawyers have more than one patron saint; we need all the prayers we can get!) More is also credited with having written the following prayer for lawyers, which hangs in my office in downtown Hartford:
“Lord, grant that I may be able in argument, accurate in analysis, strict in study, candid with clients and honest with adversaries. Stand beside me in court, so that today I shall not, in order to win a point, lose my soul.”
While written for lawyers, this prayer is equally applicable to many other professions. As professionals in the community of business, and as Catholics, this prayer reminds us of what we should aspire to. It asks God to guide us in being conscientious, upright and holy. We need to live each day as Catholics first, with all that it entails, and professionals second. It reminds us that, whatever the trials and tribulations of the day in court or at the office, we need to remain focused on the bigger picture.
I’m also hopeful that this prayer is hanging in the offices of other lawyers around the city, state and country. I hope that the lawyers that I have the privilege and honor of working with each day also aspire to these ideals as well and ask God for this kind of intercession in their daily practice.
In my time writing for Catholic Transcript magazine, I’ve been humbled by the number of lawyers who have mentioned reading my column. Together, we have created a Catholic Lawyers’ Guild for the Archdiocese of Hartford, which will be celebrating a Red Mass. The special intention of this Mass is that the Holy Spirit will intercede for all those who seek justice, including those in the legal profession. Archbishop Leonard P. Blair will celebrate the Mass at noon on Oct. 10 at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford. Please feel free to join us as we pray for the intercession of the Holy Spirit for those in the legal profession and all those in pursuit of justice.
Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.