Thousands of mourners, including much of Washington’s legal establishment, gathered Saturday at the nation’s largest Roman Catholic church for what Cardinal Donald Wuerl wryly described as a “simple parish family Mass” to honor and remember the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
The cardinal was referring to the Scalia family’s wish to have a traditional Christian burial Mass without eulogies that would describe the large life he had led.
The Rev. Paul Scalia, the justice’s son, led the Mass, and he focused his remarks of the importance of faith in his father’s life.
“God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church’s teachings,” he said. “He understood that there is no conflict with loving 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.”
He said his father was “not perfect” and demonstrated it by sometimes forgetting the names of his nine children.
The Rev. Scalia also showed his father’s knack for drawing in his audience.
“We are gathered here today because of one man,” he began. “A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion.
“That man, course, is Jesus of Nazareth.”
The eight remaining justices attended the Mass, along with retired Justices John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter. Sandra Day O’Connor, who lives in Arizona and has been in poor health, was unable to be there.
Only Justice Clarence Thomas took part in the Mass, by reading a Bible passage.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama paid their respects Friday at the Supreme Court, where Scalia’s body lay in repose. Vice President Joseph Biden attended Saturday’s funeral.
Also in the crowd were presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who aspires to pick Scalia’s successor, and several U.S. appeals court judges, including Sri Srinivasan, Merrick Garland and Patricia Millett, who have been mentioned among possible candidates to fill the vacancy.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the funeral took place, sits on the campus of Catholic University, a few miles north of the Capitol and the Supreme Court building.
Scalia was to be buried Saturday in a private ceremony attended only by family and close friends.
On Twitter: @DavidGSavage