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At Scalia's Funeral Mass, Son Leads The Ceremony


Sounds from the funeral rites for Justice Antonin Scalia today. The mass for Antonin Scalia continues at this hour at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The basilica is the largest Catholic church in North America. It sits just a few miles from the Supreme Court building where Scalia served for nearly 30 years. Justice Scalia died a week ago in Texas at the age of 79. Joining us to talk more about it is NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.


WERTHEIMER: So today's ceremony is, of course, a traditional Catholic funeral mass. And in keeping with that, there is a homily from Father Paul Scalia, who is the celebrant today and is, of course, one of Justice Scalia's sons. What else will we hear?

ELVING: Well, it's fundamentally a church service, it's a religious rite. So it isn't the kind of funeral we see more typically here in Washington often at the National Cathedral on the other side of town, which is a different church entirely, where friends and family and the famous salute the deceased in a long series of speeches. Think, for example, of the funerals in recent years for President Reagan in 2004, President Ford in 2007. We're not going to see that kind of a lengthy series. This is a religious service. It's a church rite.

WERTHEIMER: Let's hear a little of the service.


PAUL SCALIA: (Singing) Let us pray. Oh, God, whose nature is always to forgive and to show mercy, we humbly implore you for your servant Antonin, whom you have called to journey to you. And since he hoped and believed in you, grant that he may be led to our true homeland to delight in its everlasting joys.

WERTHEIMER: That's the celebrant, Paul Scalia. Like his father, he has a very nice voice. I also see a number of other notables from government. We're watching it on TV from here. President Obama, the first lady, went to the Supreme Court yesterday to see Justice Scalia lying in repose and to pay their respects. They are not at the service today.

ELVING: That's right. Vice President Biden, who is himself a Catholic, an ardent Catholic and was a personal friend of the late Justice Scalia, is representing the White House at the ceremony today.

WERTHEIMER: Ron, apparently, they have asked family, friends and colleagues of Justice Scalia to read from the Bible. I saw Justice Clarence Thomas go up to the front to read. And, you know, I was immediately thinking he's sort of famous for never speaking from the bench. I think this must have been one of the longest periods in which he has talked in public in a long time.

ELVING: Justice Thomas is often referred to as the silent justice. He does not ask questions in open court hearings, in oral arguments. He does not frequently give speeches. He does not read from his opinions very often, although it has been known to happen. In this case, however, it is, of course, a double honor for him, not only as a longtime, longtime colleague of Justice Scalia on the court but also as a fellow Catholic.

WERTHEIMER: Who else is there?

ELVING: Well, of course. we have the very large family of Antonin Scalia, starting with his wife of 55 years, Maureen Scalia, their nine children - five sons, four daughters - most of the grandchildren and a lot of extended family as well. There are about a hundred former law clerks, as I understand it, who had clerked for Antonin Scalia and, of course, the other justices of the court - the personnel of the court, as they're called - and many, many other who have worked with him over the years, a long list of luminaries from Washington law and politics - senators, members of Congress and, you know, also hundreds of area Catholics who looked to Justice Scalia as a secular but seminal figure in the life of the church.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Ron Elving. Thank you, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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