WASHINGTON, february 20, 2016– — Forever combative about the law, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday as a man whose deeply held religious faith brought him peace
Rather than a star-studded funeral service featuring judges and politicians, Scalia’s sendoff at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — the largest Roman Catholic church in North America — was a traditional Mass of Christian Burial befitting a true believer.
Scalia’s casket, covered by a white-and-gold pall, led a procession to the altar with his family during the opening hymn of “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”
His son, the Rev. Paul Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy of the Diocese of Arlington, Va., celebrated the Mass, along with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States and Pope Francis’ personal representative, and dozens of other bishops and priests.
“In keeping with your desire to have a simple parish family Mass,” Wuerl said in opening remarks at a funeral service filled with all the pageantry of a traditional Catholic high Mass, “I will confine my remarks to these few words of greeting and welcome to the many, many people who are here in this magnificent basilica simply to express their respect for this extraordinary man, Justice Scalia.”
“Thank you also for allowing us to have this parish funeral Mass at this basilica dedicated to Our Lady,” Rev. Scalia responded in his homily. The church, dedicated to Mary, is a pilgrimage site where Pope Francis celebrated the canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra last year — the first-ever such Mass on American soil.
In his homily, Rev. Scalia subtly acknowledged his father’s controversial legacy on the Supreme Court.
“We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known by man for great controversy, and for great compassion,” Rev. Scalia said. “That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
Catholic funeral Masses do not allow for eulogies by laypeople, and no such tributes were on the program. Instead, Rev. Scalia used his sermon to speak of his father’s legacy — as a man of faith and family, if not the law — and also of his uncompromising temperament that became an essential part of his public image.
“God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation,” Rev. Scalia said.
One of those sacraments is confession, and Rev. Scalia told the story of the time his father somehow found himself in his priest son’s confessional one Saturday and quickly left. “As he put it later, ‘The heck if I’m confessing to you!” Rev. Scalia said.
“The feeling was mutual,” he added, noting that “the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia’s closest ally on the bench, and Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, recited scripture readings.
After the Mass, family pallbearers carried his casket along a cordon of priests and saluting Supreme Court police officers, back to a hearse for a private burial. A separate, more secular memorial service for family and friends will be held March 1 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the Scalia family said Saturday.
Thousands of Scalia’s devoted fans -— his expansive family, current and former Supreme Court justices, nearly 100 former law clerks and guests, including Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill — filled the medieval-style church for the funeral Mass on a cloudy, breezy, warm winter day. All the current Supreme Court justices attended, along with former justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter, sitting on folding chairs in front of the first pew.
Among the many judges in attendance was Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, perhaps the leading candidate among many President Obama may nominate for Scalia’s seat. Also seen entering the Basilica: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered as a man whose deeply held religious faith brought him peace in a eulogy delivered by his son Rev. Paul Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington. USA TODAY
On Friday, more than 6,000 people paid their respects as Scalia’s body lay in repose at the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. The building remained open to allow everyone in line to get in.