Fr. Scalia’s Sermon at Justice Scalia’s Mass, Death, and Your Funeral Plans

frscalia-jesusofnazarethToday I watched the broadcast of the funeral Mass for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  It was held at the National Shrine in Washington DC.

A couple points.

First, Justice Scalia’s son, Fr. Paul Scalia of the Diocese of Arlington, was celebrant for the Mass and he preached.   His sermon was masterful.  It was a model of decorum, admirably shaped for that congregation and for broadcast to a wide and diverse audience.   It was replete with excellent teaching about the reason for the Mass (prayer for the deceased).  He called on all of us to consider our own death.  He continually brought the focus back to Christ and our need for His saving merits.  Well done.

The video of the sermon.

The video of the funeral is HERE.  For the sermon go to about 1:05:00

Second, how important it is that all of you think about your own death and that you write down your wishes for your funeral. Make sure that someone knows about where that paper is and that it is to be sought before plans are made. Make sure that what you plan is in keeping with the Church’s rubrics and with good taste and common sense. Please do this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Elizabeth D says:

    I was deeply moved by what a fitting, truthful, evangelical, well crafted and well delivered homily it was. What a credit this priest is to his father. I could practically hear Justice Scalia cheering from purgatory, heaven or wherever he was during his son saying he was not perfect and needs to be purified before he can enter heaven so let admiration for him not deprive him of our prayers. The whole Mass was so edifying and beautiful.

  2. paterscotus says:

    It was as beautiful a Mass as is possible in the Ordinary Form. Fr Scalia’s homily was masterful in its decorum and teaching (explicit or implicit) about the true faith, the Four Last Things, and the one thing that ultimately matters – the Lord and our relationship to him.

  3. acardnal says:

    I watched the entire funeral. I know that Justice Scalia loved classical sacred music which is what was sung at his funeral. No “On Eagle Wings” for him!

    Fr. Scalia is the Vicar of Clergy for the Arlington diocese where I lived for more than 24 years. He went to the NAC and attended both the Gregorian and the Angelicum in Rome. He also celebrates the TLM/EF regularly at his parish. (I noticed he kept his thumb and forefinger together after the consecration.) He also omitted the congregational Sign of Peace which was smart. He could well be a bishop some day. Pray for him.

  4. acardnal says:

    Well, after further review of the video, maybe not on the thumb/forefinger rubric.

    I found the video posted above to have technical difficulties. I found another very good copy at CSPAN’s site.

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    Fortunately Abp Vigano was there to also notice as we did that that man could be made a bishop right now and be a way above average bishop.

  6. Father G says:

    The audio is way out of sync from the video. I hope it gets corrected soon.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    An example of the way the Ordinary Form can–and was meant–to be.

    [As it was meant to be would mean ad orientem, mostly in Latin, etc.]

  8. gracie says:

    The audio begins at 45 minutes, on my computer, when the video is running the processional into church.

  9. WmHesch says:

    I’m sure a lot of Trads were expecting a Requiem Mass the likes of which DC hasn’t seen since JFK’s.

    Doesn’t it seem bizarre that Justice Scalia wasn’t buried according to the Rite he preferred and so often attended?

    Any thoughts on why it was Novus Ordo- however dignified and restrained?

  10. Mike says:

    I was at the Mass. Deeply moving; a devout crowd too, very prayerful. I will never forget seeing Chief Justice Roberts processing out, his face a portrait of noble grief. Fr Saclia was superb, as he always is. Perhaps we could all pray that he be named the new bishop of Arlington–he’ll forgive us in a few years! ;)

  11. Giuseppe says:

    Beautiful mass. Excellent homily. Who was the priest who proclaimed the gospel and read the petitions? He has an excellent speaking voice. Choir was very good too.

  12. billy15 says:

    I’ve actually taken your advice Fr. Z. When I had my attorney make up my will after my son was born, I also provided provisions for my funeral Mass. Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and no eulogies unless it takes place outside of the Mass.

    Also, Fr. Scalia seems really awesome. I love how in his homily he explained WHY this Mass was happening. While he never spoke the word “purgatory” he spent a good amount of time on the subject, explaining why our prayers benefit the deceased. I’m glad this was nationally televised. And now that I know who this great priest is, it looks like he has some great articles and essays floating around the web. I too hope that he becomes a bishop.

  13. Charles E Flynn says:

    The sermon was most impressive. I was pleased to hear the expression “holy and venerable hands” twice during the Consecration.

  14. APX says:


    Just as an FYI, you probably should have your funeral wishes put somewhere other than your will. The will isn’t read until after the funeral. You should probably make up a living will and have your funeral wishes kept on file at your parish. This is what our previous pastor suggested.

    Planning for your funeral when you’re younger is a bit awkward, given how much death in our culture is one of those things we don’t like to talk or think about and is something that happens to you when you’re much older and only other people die young.

  15. Spade says:

    I’ve never heard it without Holy and Venerable Hands in Arlington.

    I recently turned down a job offer in Tampa. Part of the reason was I don’t want to leave this Diocese.

  16. majuscule says:

    My comment is about thinking about your own funeral wishes. (I haven’t had a chance to watch the video of the funeral and I do not have TV if parts of it were on the news.)

    The Archdiocese of San Francisco has been presenting seminars around the area about planning for one’s death.

    We learned about end of life health care directives and the Catholic teachings on them. The director of cemeteries spoke about funerals, burials and pre-planning. (I bought my plot last year.) A Sister of Mercy who is an attorney talked about wills and trusts.

    People were encouraged to ask questions.

    I have been dealing with my mom’s recent death and thinking about these issues so this seminar was very timely for me. Thank you Archbishop Cordileone. I hope these things will be discussed in other dioceses, too!

  17. IoannesPetrus says:

    When he started “we are gathered here because of one man…” I was all “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” like a Pentecostal, but in my mind. I was that excited (and already so!) by the first funeral homily I’ve heard in a long while – if not, sadly, ever – that emphasised the Son of God and actually praying to him for the deceased.

  18. IoannesPetrus says:

    WmHesch says: Any thoughts on why it was Novus Ordo- however dignified and restrained?

    Because it would have been like dropping a bomb on most of those present, clergy included, to use the Vetus Ordo.

    Bearing also in mind – in my mind, at least – Father’s expectable state of emotion and nerves, it was appropriate and “evangelical” (to expand on Elizabeth D’s word) the way it turned out.

  19. benedetta says:

    I thought the funeral very beautiful, and the homily of Fr. Scalia inspiring and motivated all hearers to consider the opportunity and opportunities (large and commonplace and smaller) we each have as Catholics to live a life of holiness within our communion. A life led according to the practice of the Faith has effect, impact, and power, the power of Christ who lives in us.

    I noticed that one of the charitable causes the family suggested as appropriate for donation to honor the life of Justice Scalia was the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

    This Justice championed the most foundational of all civil rights, the right to life itself. To me, it is imperative that we pray, through Masses offered for his soul, so that our nation has the benefit of his continued participation in that communion going forward.

  20. donato2 says:

    Father Scalia knocked it out of the park. A powerful and beautiful homily.

  21. Ralph says:

    Fr. Scalia hit it out of the park, in my opinion. I was moved, yet also condemned at the same time. Fr.’s homily laid bare my sinful imperfection – how I need Christ’s perfection in my life! Thank God for the gift of the sacraments.

    What a blessing it would be were one of my son’s able to celebrate my funeral mass. I pray that one of them has a vocation to the priesthood!

  22. Father K says:

    I had the wonderful privilege of celebrating my mother’s funeral Mass [in the EF], solemn form, coram episcopo. That was on top of years earlier, baptizing my mother, confirming her, giving her first Holy Communion and many years later anointing her as she was literally dying. Also enrolled her in the brown scapular. This post just reminds me I am not often enough grateful God for all the good things he has done for me. Please pray for me!

  23. TheDude05 says:

    When I first read about the controversy surrounding the President’s non attendance the first thing that popped into my head was: Well the devil hates Latin. Then I thought that with Biden and Ginsberg in attendance it was a good thing not to add more scandal to the Mass. That lead to a question for Father Z: would it be appropriate for a person to request in their will that Holy Communion not be distributed at their funeral Mass knowing that some unrepentant Catholics would be in attendance and desire to receive Holy Communion? I mean it would be for their souls and an attempt to defend our Lord from blasphemy.

  24. Father K says:

    I’m not whom you are addressing but I am a canon lawyer and the answer is absolutely not!

  25. Pcito says:

    Masterful is a great word to describe his homily. Father Scalia made his dad proud, his family proud, his Church proud, his nation proud, and his seminary classmates proud (like me). One thing he illustrated beautifully, and something I have long held: Eulogies at funerals have all sorts of problems, and it is proper to avoid them, but ***that does not mean you do not talk about the deceased and their life***. What a good homilist can do is, as I like to tell families, “wrap the person’s life in the life of Christ.” Life, Passion, Death, Resurrection – show how their life, with its joys and sorrows, is configured to Christ’s. Father Scalia did that magnificently. It brought back poignant memories as my classmates and I have buried out fathers over the years (I was ordained early because of my father’s cancer, and his was one of the first funerals I celebrated).

    I imagine that Father Scalia’s homily said more and did more for the Catholic faith in the US than anything a certain famous Catholic has said from the back of an airplane. (Ducking and running now…)

  26. Someone asked above why the Mass wasn’t in the Extraordinary Form. Elsewhere, I’ve seen questions asking, why not Latin, why not ad orientem, why not black vestments, etc.

    I can readily imagine:

    – There was uncertainty about rearranging the sanctuary of the basilica, as might be necessary for either EF or ad orientem (I don’t know if the main altar is so arranged that Mass can be offered on either side.

    – Father Scalia may or may not have been entirely comfortable with doing so in a church unfamiliar to him. He had a lot of pressure on him at a difficult time. I’ve been there; you don’t necessarily want to try to “juggle” any more balls than you have to at such times, if you understand the expression. Especially if they aimed for a sung or solemn high Mass in the EF.

    – There were, as all saw, a great company of concelebrants. They may not have been prepared to assist at the EF.

    – There may have been directives from the rector of the basilica and/or the archbishop.

    – There likely weren’t enough black vestments to go around, or perhaps even purple.

    And, finally:

    – Who knows what Mrs. Scalia requested? How does a son refuse his mother something reasonable, such as, “let’s have the OF”?

  27. Pcito says:

    Fr. Fox, as seminarians (early 90’s), we attended and assisted at many many very beautiful liturgies at the Basilica, so I know that Fr. Scalia is intimately familiar with it.

    Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Fr. Scalia is perfectly comfortable celebrating the Ordinary Form and was happy to do so, knowing that done well (say the black, do the red), it could be very beautiful (as we all saw it was). The only thing I have heard was that Justice Scalia wanted no eulogy. I doubt much thought was given to the EF.

    I was very attentive to Fr. Scalia’s use of the “blue book” – the funeral book. As you know, it is old style obsolete ICEL, most of the prayers are poor, and some of it is just plain gawdawful. But Fr. Scalia was obviously intimately familiar with it, as he chose the best parts and adapted to its limitations perfectly. I was very pleased to see how it did it all, because that’s how we were trained and what we’ve been doing for 20+ years now. Lord help us, though, we could really use an update to the funeral book (perhaps a FrZ treatment of it?).

  28. Imrahil says:

    A not critical, just informative note:

    By an OF rubric, if there are not enough chasubles of the appropriate color for all the celebrants, then the main celebrant is to wear the appropriate color and the concelebrants can either wear white, or alb with stole (stole then in the appropriate color again).

    White at a funeral (for the main celebrant, now) does look not just non-ideal, but actually wrong to me, but then it’s not allowed where I live. (Thank God.)

  29. My guesses as to why the funeral was not a TLM?
    1. Likely not identified as a written desire by Judge Scalia
    2. Mrs. Scalia prefers the N.O. , I have heard
    3. Cardinal Wuerl

    The Tridentine Latin Mass is certainly possible there, remember the Tridentine Pontifical Mass there a few years ago televised by EWTN, with Fr. Z as moderator?

    Anyway, for what it was, the funeral was about as good as you can get. My non-TLM facebook friends are crowing about how wonderful the Mass and sermon were. For many people, in the ‘desert’ of the ruins of the Church suffering unfettered shenanigans, this was a model of how the N.O. funeral should be conducted that they pine their own clergy would observe.

  30. Right, don’t only put your funeral and death needs in the Will, which is read after the funeral. oh duh, good point.
    Years ago, I took my mother to Joe Sobran’s Tridentine funeral. Said by Fr. Scalia and solemnly, magnificently chanted, darkly reverent, I was then able to articulate what I wanted for my funeral. I saved that program and let it be known that THIS is what I wanted for myself. Eventually, that reverent memory also helped me to organize my mother’s funeral. And now my family knows the details of what I also would want. I have a full program that I created for mother that can be used as a basis.
    My mother’s Tridentine Solemn chanted Requiem was a capella, a 9 or 10 man schola led by Richard Rice, in a large echo-ey church, no instruments, all black, incense, big candles, no homily, said reverently and carefully by a priest we know, assisted by a practiced MC, and many altar boys.
    I got the plain but beautiful wooden casket from the Trappists – so easy and quick to order, and oh, way cheaper – which was entirely appropriate, since the Trappists brought her back to the Church, their casket accompanied her body to her grave.

    My mother’s will did identify the TLM as her preference, fortunately I knew beforehand what she wanted – we even discussed the details as she continued to decline, and the plans were a comfort to her. Oh also, mother did demand the 30 Gregorian Masses in the will.

    So, for any of you desiring a decent funeral, these are ideas – get a program and store it, let it be known to those who will organize the funeral what you want, write notes, research and identify the details needed for your funeral, such as music, casket, charity / flowers / or Masses, etc etc and put the request in a safe but accessible place.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Vatican II pictured Masses in the vernacular being used only for big public Masses, as a special favor to the faithful. Scalia’s funeral was a big Mass, so….

  32. rodin says:

    Thank you, God, for letting us have him however briefly.

  33. jlmorrell says:

    First, let me say that I thought Fr. Scalia’s sermon was indeed excellent, even masterful as Fr. Z put it.

    I’ve heard in several places that Justice Scalia’s Funeral Mass was traditional and, in effect, that if the NO were celebrated regularly in this fashion all would be well liturgically. While I have high praise for the sermon, the Mass itself not so much.

    Aside from being disappointed that Justice Scalia was not provided a public Requiem Mass in the Ancient Roman Rite, the notion that the Funeral Mass offered at the National Basilica was traditional is absurd.

    Let’s count the ways in which the Mass would have been foreign to our forefathers and was certainly not traditional.

    1) Versus Populum
    2) Vernacular
    3) Concelebration
    4) White Vestments
    5) Lay Lectors
    6) Communion in the Hand while Standing
    7) Welcome speech by Cardinal Wuerl

  34. hwriggles4 says:

    Like most of you reading this, I turned on EWTN (I saw part of Life on the Rock Friday night, which advertised that Justice Scalia’s funeral be televised, otherwise I wouldn’t have known) Saturday morning and witnessed the funeral. I paid close attention to Fr. Scalia’s homily. I don’t personally know Fr. Scalia, but I have friends in the NOVA and Washington, D.C. area that know him, and can attest that he is an excellent, solid priest – he and I are from the same generation too.

    Fr. Scalia’s homily was well done – he even mentioned in his homily about the importance of “reverent” Masses, and when Fr. Scalia discusses his vocation, he mentions that his parents would often drive a ways to attend a more reverent Mass. Many Catholics today (like myself) are used to driving past the closest parish from our homes to attend a place where we feel more comfortable, or get a more reverent Mass. Personally, I am a man who drives 26 miles to a parish close to where I used to live, because the three priests there (one is a former Episcopalian – and the majority of those who came in under the Pastoral Provision that I have met give rock solid, no nonsense homilies where I learn something) give more of the “meat and potatoes” homilies, and not the “status quo” – growing up in the 70s and 80s, our generation heard too much of the “life is all peaches and cream” and the “feel good pop psychology.”

    I have been to several Masses in the Ordinary Form that were done reverently)

  35. hwriggles4 says:

    Honestly, the last few months, I have been wanting to write a letter to the Papal Nuncio, recommending four names for consideration as the new ordinary for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. Bishop Loverde turned 75 not long ago, and the four names I would like to submit are:

    1. Father James Gould
    2. Father Paul Scalia
    3. Father Terry Staples
    4. Father Daniel Mode (CDR, CHC, USNR)

    Has anyone ever written to the Papal Nuncio? I know I need to keep the letter to one page.

  36. Fr. Mark Pilon wrote an excellent article about this for The Catholic Thing.

    What struck me is that this problem of canonizing the deceased apparently had started before Vatican II had finished and even before the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium– and that apparently even the 1962 Missal could be abused. But at least we finally got what Fr. Pilon calls “the corrective.” I am hoping that this Mass will set a positive tone the way that JFK’s funeral set a negative tone. As for it not being extraordinary form– rejoice in what is good about it. The tide is turning, but hopefully not too late.

  37. TheDude05 says:

    Father K
    While knowing that ultimately it would be up to the celebrant to decide what to do, would it not be helpful in giving him a heads up that the Sacrament might be profaned by unworthy public reception? Just thinking of some stories I have read where the priest has had to refuse Communion to individuals at funeral Masses and that distribution to the lay faithful is optional, would it not be more prudent and less of a media bomb to just forego the distribution?

  38. wolfeken says:

    Fr Martin Fox wrote: “There was uncertainty about rearranging the sanctuary of the basilica, as might be necessary for either EF or ad orientem (I don’t know if the main altar is so arranged that Mass can be offered on either side. ”

    Was there?

    1) The table-altar is not fixed, and is often moved for concerts in the sanctuary (as well as the 2010 pontifical High Mass).

    2) The real altar is 360:

  39. Wolfeken:

    Actually, if you re-read my comment, you will see I was speculating about possible explanations for the choices made. I do not know the reasons for those choices; and my point was, those who are criticizing or lamenting those choices don’t know the reasons, either.

    I think it would be better to focus on what was positive and outstanding, as our genial host did in his original post.

  40. Tina: ”Anyway, for what it was, the funeral was about as good as you can get.”

    If “for what it was” you mean entirely vernacular and versus populum in white vestments, it admittedly was careful and reverent, even beautiful “in its own way”, and inoffensive (apart from the grating welcoming remarks that the Scalia family surely did not have an opportunity to approve). However, even though a hardcore TLM requiem might not have been fully appropriate for such a public “state occasion”—nor as wholesomely instructive for both Catholic and non-Catholic viewers—it could still have resembled more some of the Novus Ordo funeral Masses I’ve attended recently: ad orientem at the high altar, Latin canon with Gregorian chant ordinary, black vestments, with the flexibility of the ordinary form allowing for enough vernacular to draw in all those attending and watching.

  41. Father K says:

    While knowing that ultimately it would be up to the celebrant to decide what to do. Actually, no. There are extremely limited situations where a priest can publically refuse to give HC to someone. Furthermore lay people have a right to receive HC.

  42. Yes, dear Mr. Edwards. I agree with your assessment. There are many aspects that could have been better and in line with modern directives and rubrics.

    As I hinted above, I’m not sure how much control the family had over all the details anyway. Maybe that is what Father Scalia was hinting at as he mentioned humorously the desire for a small parish funeral.

    For instance, while not a fan of concelebration, when it happens, why doesn’t each priest have his own chalice and host? The way concelebration is done now, you can’t tell which priest actually has consecrated the species on the altar -As the consecration occurs with the completion of the words. But by which priest is the consecration effected, as they are all focused on the same chalice and host?

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