The late Justice Antonin Scalia was given a “simple parish funeral Mass,” as two priests described his services Saturday before some 3,300 people – including a sitting and former U.S. vice president, active and retired members of the Supreme Court, and other dignitaries at the largest Roman Catholic church in the nation.
But there was truth in the observations by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, and the Rev. Paul D. Scalia, a son of the late Justice and the celebrant at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Wuerl said the Mass program itself was “in keeping with” the wishes of Maureen Scalia, the late Justice’s wife, and other family members. Justice Scalia died February 13 while staying at a ranch resort in west Texas.
Wuerl offered a welcome “to the many, many people who are here in this magnificent Basilica simply to show their respect to this extraordinary man, Justice Antonin Scalia.”
There were no eulogies, save for a few remembrances by Father Paul during his homily. And the funeral celebration, though not the traditional Latin Mass that Justice Scalia often preferred for his weekly services, was a beautiful modern Mass with a choir singing hymns in Latin.
Father Paul said his dad once had occasion to write about why he didn’t like eulogies for the dead.
“He wrote: ‘Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed, especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for, and giving thanks for, God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner,’” Father Paul said.
“Now, he would not have exempted himself from that,” the priest said. “Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers.”
Father Paul, who carried himself with great poise and dignity at the prayers at the U.S. Supreme Court building on Friday and at Saturday’s funeral Mass, said the family was thankful “that Jesus bestowed upon him 55 years of marriage to the woman he loved. A woman who could match him at every step, and could even hold him accountable.”
And “God blessed Dad with a love for his family,” Father Paul said. “Sure he forgot our names at times, or mixed them up. But there are nine of us. He loved us, and sought to show that love. And sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured.”
Father Paul is one of five Scalia brothers and four sisters. There are thirty-six grandchildren, and one can imagine the late Justice mixing their names up now and then.
Father Paul seemed to appreciate that a Mass for his father required at least some humor.
“I hope it is some consolation if there are any lawyers present, that the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticisms,” Father Paul said. The priest recalled being scolded by his dad one Saturday because Justice Scalia had briefly and quite accidentally ended up in his son’s confessional line at church.
“And he quickly departed it,” Father Paul said. “As he put it later, ‘Like heck I’m confessing to you.’ The feeling was mutual.”
Father Paul veered toward a matter of political and legal debate when he said that Justice Scalia saw in the nation’s founding, “as did the Founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square, or when we refuse to bring it there.”
“So he understood there is no conflict between love of God and loving one’s country. Between one’s faith, and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became.”
The Basilica was crowded with public servants. Besides all eight current members of the Supreme Court, retired Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter, who were not present at Friday’s ceremony at the Court, were on hand for the funeral.
Justice Clarence Thomas delivered one of the scriptural readings, from Romans 5-5-11.
“Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” Thomas read. (Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, delivered the other reading.)
Vice President Joe Biden led the Obama administration’s representation at the funeral, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston, and Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. seated nearby.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was in attendance, as were Republican senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and John Cornyn of Texas.
As the church filled up, side doors near where the press was seated opened up and Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah entered with their wives.
Cruz, taking time away from the presidential campaign trail, was spotted chatting with former U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Luttig, for whom he once clerked and whom he said he would have nominated to the Court instead of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., had he been in President George W. Bush’s shoes in 2005.
Also present were former U.S. solicitors general under Republican presidents, including Kenneth W. Starr, Theodore B. Olson, Paul D. Clement, and Gregory G. Garre.
Though it is unlikely they outnumbered the lawyers in the vast audience, scores of priests served as co-celebrants of the Mass. Most where in white vestments, except for Archbishop Wuerl and one or two other senior clerics, including the Most Rev. Carlo Maria Vagano, the papal nuncio to the United States.
But as the Mass came to a conclusion, it was Father Paul, the son of a Supreme Court Justice and the episcopal vicar for clergy in the nearby suburban Diocese of Arlington, Va., who had the final prayers.
“With faith in Jesus Christ, we must reverently bury the body of our brother,” Father Paul said. “Let us pray with confidence to God, in whose sight all creation lives, that He will raise up in holiness and power the mortal body of our brother and command his soul to be among the blessed.
“May God grant him a merciful judgment, deliverance from death, and pardon of sin,” he continued. “May Christ the Good Shepherd carry him home to be at peace with the Father. May he rejoice forever in the presence of the eternal king, and in the company of all the saints.”
Justice Scalia’s family was planning a private burial.