The Vatican announced Wednesday that the funeral Mass of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who died Dec. 20, will be held Thursday.
As is customary for cardinals who most recently resided in Rome, the Mass will be held at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, and will be presided over by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, alongside other cardinals and bishops.
After the Eucharistic celebration, Pope Francis will preside over the rite of Last Commendation and the Valediction, as is usual. Law will be buried in a tomb at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major, which is customary for the priests who have served there.
Cardinal Law died in Rome at the age of 86, after a brief hospitalization due to a congenital heart failure. Two weeks ago, he experienced a decline in health and was admitted to a clinic in Rome to monitor the problem. He had been unresponsive for several days before his death.
Pope Francis sent a telegram Dec. 20 for the cardinal’s death, expressing his condolences to the College of Cardinals and offering his prayers for the repose of his soul, “that the Lord God who is rich in mercy, may welcome him in His eternal peace.”
He also sent his apostolic blessing to anyone who might be mourning Law’s death, entrusting them to the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary, under her title of ‘Salus Populi Romani.’
Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vt., who served as Law’s spokesman during the period before the cardinal’s resignation from Boston, said in a statement on his death that like each of us, Law’s days had their fair share of “light and shadows.”
“While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and a good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church,” he said.
“May Cardinal Law rest in peace. And in these days when, as Christians, we celebrate the Child who restored God’s goodness to our broken humanity, may we all recommit ourselves to making Christ’s Church a worthy, welcoming home for all, especially those most vulnerable and in need," Coyne added.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Law’s immediate successor, published a statement Dec. 20, offering his sincere apologies to anyone who has experienced the trauma of sexual abuse by clergy.
“As Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law served at a time when the Church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people,” particularly children, he stated, noting his own work and the work of other priests and religious sisters of the Archdiocese to help bring healing to those most affected and the wider Catholic community.
The fact that Cardinal Law’s life and ministry, for many people, is identified with the crisis of sexual abuse by priests is a “sad reality,” he said, because his “pastoral legacy has many other dimensions.”
These include his involvement in the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the early part of his priesthood, as well as his leadership in the ecumenical and interfaith movement following the Second Vatican Council.
He was also well-known for his ministry to the sick, dying and bereaved, O’Malley recounted.
“In the Catholic tradition, the Mass of Christian Burial is the moment in which we all recognize our mortality, when we acknowledge that we all strive for holiness in a journey which can be marked by failures large and small,” he concluded.
“Cardinal Law will be buried in Rome where he completed his last assignment. I offer prayers for him and his loved ones as well as for all the people of the Archdiocese.”
A Dec. 20 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, echoed O’Malley’s statement of condolence and prayers.
Expressing his closeness to survivors of sexual abuse, especially at this time, DiNardo prayed that they might find peace and strength.
He also commended their brave witness, which led to “a comprehensive response from the Church in the United States to protect and heal the deep wounds of abuse.”
Law was appointed Archbishop of Boston in 1984, and resigned from the position on Dec. 13, 2002, after reports revealed that he did not disclose multiple allegations of clerical sexual abuse to the police or to the public, or intervene to remove priests accused of sexual abuse from priestly ministry.
After his resignation, Law moved to Rome. He was assigned as the Archpriest of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in 2004 by Pope John Paul II, a largely ceremonial position from which he retired in 2011, at the age of 80.