Scalia funeral set for largest Catholic church in North America Saturday

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception located on The Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception located on The Catholic University of America campus in Washington, D.C.

Photo courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid, via Wikimedia Commons

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

(RNS) The funeral Mass for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will take place Saturday (Feb. 20) in the largest and one of the grandest Catholic churches in North America — the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The day before the funeral, Scalia’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court, where, following tradition, his chair and bench at the court have been draped in black wool crepe.

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will pay their respects Friday at the Supreme Court, but will not attend Saturday’s funeral. Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, will attend the funeral, said a White House spokesman.

NPR first reported the funeral site for Scalia, 79, who was found dead at a Texas ranch Saturday, ending a nearly 30-year career on the Supreme Court. He had gone to the ranch to hunt with friends.

Though details of the funeral have yet to be released, the justice, who regularly attended a Virginia church because he preferred its Latin Mass, is likely to have a very traditional Catholic funeral at the Romanesque-Byzantine basilica, which sits next to the campus of the Catholic University of America.

Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the basilica during his visit to the U.S. in September.

Typically in Catholic funerals, the casket is greeted at the door, and a white pall — a sheet of fabric about 6 by 10 feet long — is put over the casket, symbolizing the deceased’s baptismal garment, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. The casket is then carried to the foot of the sanctuary, and the Mass proceeds as usual, though special prayers are said over the body.

“The preacher is supposed to preach a homily based on the Scripture readings,” and eulogies come after the Mass, Reese said.

It is also possible that Scalia’s son Paul Scalia, a Roman Catholic priest, could be the celebrant.

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


Click here to post a comment

  • It is very possible that the casket will be dressed in black, as Scalia frequently attended the Tridentine Mass (the Latin Mass). His son, Fr. Paul Scalia, regularly celebrates that rite. The difference in color used at new mass funerals (white) vs. Tridentine Requiems (black) can be summarized as such: the former “celebrates the life of” the deceased, whereas the latter symbolizes the necessity for prayer in assisting the soul of the deceased. We will see which rite the family chooses!

  • one should not confuse the “Latin Mass” with the “Tridentine Mass”. The “Latin Mass” is the same Mass that is celebrated according to the current Roman Missal in many different languages: Latin, English, Spanish etc. etc. etc. etc.. The Tridentine Mass is an extraordinary form celebrated according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical reform. I highly doubt that the Mass for Scalia will be celebrated with the Tridentine rite. It might be in Latin, but according to the newer rite.

  • Why do you highly doubt it? If his preference was the EF, why would that preference not be honored, particularly if he had specified that desire in his will or funeral directives?

  • Between Scalia and Fr Reese, you couldn’t get two more polar opposite Catholics. Why is Fr Reese so often the go to person for the media?

  • He attended St. Catherine of Siena parish often in Great Falls VA, which offers the Novus Ordo in Latin, not the Tridentine Mass. So I also doubt it would be in the Extraordinary Form.

  • Most times I attended the Traditional Latin Mass (EF/Tridentine Mass) on Sunday at St. John the Beloved in McLean, I spotted him there.

  • You’re correct that both are appropriate liturgical colors for a funeral Mass; but the white pall calls to mind our baptismal garments.

  • “The preacher is supposed to preach a homily based on the Scripture readings,” and eulogies come after the Mass, Reese said.

    I hope Father Reese did not actually refer to “eulogies,” because there is NO place for any eulogies in a Catholic funeral Mass. There is an option for a remembrance, but if you read the directives, it says this is not to be a “eulogy”–i.e., a talk in praise of the deceased. I would hope Father Reese would know that; maybe the writer of the article got it confused.

  • A scandal to have the Extraordinary Form of Mass says one writer. Forgive me, but were you born ignorant or is that by choice? It is the form attended and said by the vast majority of the saints and popes for ages.

  • When a member of the Catholic faithful dies, the liturgical celebration, along with the various legitimate options, are often discussed with the family. One of the legitimate options is the celebration of the funeral Mass according the ordinary or extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. Why would you consider the legitimate option of the extraordinary form a scandal? Are you saying that legitimate options in the liturgy are only valid when you happen to agree with the chosen options?

  • Why was my earlier comment deleted, or am I missing it somewhere?

    All I did was mention I saw Justice Scalia at the Traditional Latin Mass most of the times I attended at one parish in Virginia.

    How does that information not fit in appropriately with this conversation, RNS?

  • You mean he wasn’t an abortion nazi like yourself who relishes killing unborn children. Do you have any children that got to live despite your sicking love of death?

  • Er……can’t wait until the dead is put to rest before you start ripping him. Class. real class….. The Witch is Dead? Wow. Are you always this mean spirited, or just having a bad day?

  • To be religious is OK any religion TO BE KIND and act kindly toward other humans less fortunate than him is a different issue.

  • Hogwash!
    The Latin Mass is the Tridentine Mass from the 1962 Missal, not the Novus Ordo in Latin. This Mass is completely licit and celebrated all over the world by diocesan priests. Three is absolutely no scandal!

  • The real problem here is that the author is utilizing National Catholic Reporter as an authoritative source and referring to Biden as Catholic, both are fallacies!

  • A Mass of Christian Burial does not “celebrate the life of” anyone. Mass is always celebrated to ask for the Mercy of God and pray for the happy repose of the soul of the deceased. White vestments are a sign of our sure and certain hope of eternal life – and our joy, even in sorrow, the the soul has returned to God.

    The Tridentine Mass is not “the Latin Mass”. Mass, no matter which missal is used, can always be celebrated in Latin. Watch the Holy Father.

    I am fascinated by many of the comments. They are so, how does one say, Christian.

  • Summorum Pontificum is the law of the Church. It explicitly directs pastors to permit Tridentine Masses for funerals and other special occasions. It is blatant defiance of the wishes of the deceased and of the Holy See that would be a scandal.

  • In the traditional Latin Rite, white was only used at the funerals of Baptized children who died before the age of reason.
    Very few of us die in the state of our Baptismal innocence. Hence the use of black as a reminder of the finality of death and judgment. By giving every adult Catholic a white Baptismal garment has, in effect, turned modern Catholic funerals into a canonization of the deceased. I hope this does not happen with Justice Scalia’s funeral.
    He needs our prayers. He was a father, a husband, he was financially prosperous and he held a public office as a Supreme Court Justice. He was given much and he will have to answer for much at the Judgment Seat..

  • I don’t think you really know much about the history and tradition, let alone the meaning of what’s being discussed here, Kevin. The comment about black indicating that the soul needs prayer because very few die in their baptismal innocence, is the essence of why white is very inappropriate in the Novus Ordo Rite or in any Rite. Yes, the N.O. Rite homily almost always states that, Joe or Suzy is “now enjoying the fullness of eternal life.” Really? What happened to Purgatory, I wonder?

  • Saying a noun, a verb, and abortion over and over again does not make you a real Christian. Biden has been more of a real Christian than any of you right wing lunatics.

  • You mean Fr. Reese from the same national cafeteria reporter that recently had an article saying Catholics no longer need the Sacrament of Confession? Uh…you better see Francis, Pope about that. lol

  • Nice piece, Ms. Markoe but you never said in which city or state the funeral will be. You described the basilica and referenced it was near a university, but for those of us who aren’t Catholic, it would be convenient for you to tell the city and state. Thank you

  • Jay, you must be overlooking it. It was not deleted; I see it posted as a response to Ted B. posted February 17 at 9:00 AM.

  • Sorry, but abortion is truly evil, as it is the deliberate taking of an innocent human life to satisfy one’s personal desires or needs. People, at any and all stages of development within the human life cycle – i.e., from conception to death – are both alive and human. Recognizing this requires only the most rudimentary understanding of biology, and is non-ideological.

  • What a thoughtful comment. If Internet threads were more permeated with comments such as this, I could better stomach them.

  • John:

    Since Latin is a dead langauge and not spoken anywhere, the Novus Ordo could be offered in Latin but is not the Latin Mass that Justice Scalia attended on Sundays in McLean. He attended the Mass in the Extraordinary Form which is only offered in Latin. Pietro is correct

  • This country has become badly divided by hate-filled people like Ms. Griswald. She is apparently following the lead of our petulant, childish president who cannot be bothered to attend the funeral of someone who has had constitutional disagreements with him.

  • Thank you, Pietro, for giving an accurate account of the liturgical preferences of Justice Scalia. Just as he saw beauty and majesty in the Constitution, he also saw the beauty and majesty of the Tridentine Mass. I also would much rather have people pray for my soul than to just celebrate my life.
    Requiescat in pace.

  • Why would it be a “scandal”? This is the Mass which formed saints for century upon century. I’ve requested that my own funeral be Tridentine, black vestments and all. This won’t be my canonization, but a call for God’s mercy on my soul.

  • Because he is a Jesuit who fits into the liberal media’s point of view and
    usually agrees with it- besides that, I don’t believe he has much else to do…

  • Pietro wrote: “the former (white pall) ‘celebrates the life of’ the deceased.”

    Not so. The White pall is a reminder of the white garment in which we were clothed at Baptism. It’s placed on the casket after the priest has sprinkled holy water on the casketed body (another reminder of Baptism). Liturgically, white is used during the Christmas and Easter seasons, and for many other feasts and solemnities. It’s also the color for a Nuptial Mass, for Baptism, and for Confirmation.

  • Pietro,

    The Novus Ordo liturgy permits three vestment colors for Requiem Masses: black, violet, or white. Although white vestments are permitted, they should not be used, but the most traditional option, black, ought to be used (as Vatican II intended). Do not confuse the actual Novus Ordo rite with common abuses in it; that is a common mistake made by traditionalists-gone-overboard (e.g. SSPX supporters or sedevacantists). Even though the Novus Ordo is being celebrated for this funeral, they still should’ve used black. Also, your term “new mass” is incorrect as the Novus Ordo is the same Sacrifice of Calvary, the same Mass. There is no new Mass.

  • Scalia was a very bad man who aggressively opposed women’s rights and opposed women having control over their own bodies. He really mainly excelled at hobnobbing with and getting favors and appointments from his powerful cronies. I remember thinking on hearing of Scalia’s passing, of the words from the Wizard of Oz song, “Ding Dong! The Witch is dead!”.

    Glad he’s gone from the Supreme Court. Now I hope Obama can follow through with appointing someone far less religious to replace him -the less religious, the better.