At a funeral Mass on Saturday, Catholics recalled the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a man of deep faith that informed his public service.
“He was God’s first,” his son Fr. Paul Scalia noted of his father, citing public servant St. Thomas More’s iconic quote: “I die the king’s good servant but God’s first.”
Justice Scalia died Feb. 13 at a resort ranch in West Texas at the age of 79. He was the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, having served since 1986.
A lifelong Catholic, Scalia attended the Jesuit-run Xavier High School in New York City and then Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for undergraduate studies. He was a parishioner at St. John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Va.
An estimated crowd of 3,300 attended Scalia’s funeral Mass Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in North America.
Among those in attendance were current Supreme Court justices, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and numerous members of Congress, as well as the president of The Catholic University of America John Garvey and his wife Jeanne.
Celebrating the Mass was one of Scalia’s nine children, Fr. Paul Scalia, who is Episcopal Vicar of Clergy for the Diocese of Arlington. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. concelebrated, along with the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Carlo Maria Vigano, and Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington. More than 90 diocesan and religious priests also concelebrated.
Cardinal Wuerl welcomed all present at the beginning of the Mass to pray “for the extraordinary man, Justice Antonin Scalia” and “that God will grant him eternal rest.”
In his homily, Fr. Scalia remarked “what a great privilege and consolation” it was to bring his father through the Holy Door of the basilica during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and for him gain the indulgence promised to those who enter in faith.
“We are gathered here because of one man,” Fr. Scalia began, “a man loved by many, scorned by others; a man known for great controversy and for great compassion.”
“That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth,” he added. “It is He Who we proclaim….It is because of Him” that “we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.”
Fr. Scalia gave thanks to God for the “atoning death and resurrection of Christ” and for the sacraments — his father’s baptism in the Catholic faith, the sacrament of the Eucharist that “nourished him,” the sacrament of Penance which “healed him,” and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Justice Scalia was married to his wife Maureen for 55 years.
Those who knew the late justice remarked about how his deep Catholic faith informed his love for his country.
Justice Scalia loved the “clarity” and “coherence” of Church teaching, Fr. Scalia noted.
“He loved us and sought to show us that love,” the priest added of his father, saying that he shared the “blessing of the faith that he treasured” with his family.
Members of the family saw a more lighthearted side of the justice as well, the priest noted.
Once Justice Scalia, realizing he was in the confession line for his son, deliberately sought another line. “Like heck if I’m confessing to you,” he told Fr. Scalia later. “The feeling was mutual,” Fr. Scalia remarked with a smile.
“God blessed dad with a love for our country,” he said, noting how his father saw the American founding as a “blessing” but one that could be lost if faith was driven from the public square. Antonin Scalia understood that the “deeper” one grew in faith, the “better citizen” he became.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum agreed that Justice Scalia was both a man of faith and a patriot.
It was “very clear” that Scalia’s Catholic faith was the “foundation of everything he was,” Santorum told CNA after the Mass. “We must be fully Catholic and fully American,” he said of the late justice’s legacy.
“He was a very strong Catholic and a man of great integrity whose faith strengthened his public service and his love for his country,” said Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., an instructor in Systematic Theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.
Fr. Legge recounted to CNA how Justice Scalia visited the Dominican House just weeks before his death for an event celebrating the 800th anniversary of the founding of the order. Scalia spoke of his “reverence for the law” and prayed with the Dominicans in their chapel, which was exemplary of his character, Fr. Legge said.
And of course, there was a little controversy — never lacking with Scalia. “His talk was a little provocative for Dominicans,” Fr. Legge said, noting that Scalia disagreed with St. Thomas Aquinas but did so in an “entirely appropriate” fashion. He loved a good debate.
Despite Antonin Scalia’s faith and character, Fr. Scalia implored those present to pray for his father’s soul. After all, although he believed, he did so “imperfectly,” Fr. Scalia said. “Christ was not yet perfected in him.”
“Let us not show him a false love” and allow admiration to replace prayer, he said.