Sunday, February 21, 2016

Funeral for a Catholic traditionalist

Like many American Christians, I was surprised and shocked by the Feb. 13 announcement of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. We were traveling during the funeral, and so caught the rebroadcast on C-SPAN after we got home.

Some 3,000 attended the service at America’s largest Catholic church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In the funeral homily, the celebrant — his son Rev. Paul Scalia — described his father’s faith:
God blessed Dad with a deep Catholic faith: The conviction that Christ's presence and power continue in the world today through His body, the Church. He loved the clarity and coherence of the church's teachings. He treasured the church's ceremonies, especially the beauty of her ancient worship. He trusted the power of her sacraments as the means of salvation as Christ working within him for his salvation.
The homily included a mixture of theology and eulogy, consistent with a letter by Justice Scalia, as quoted by his son:
Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed, especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for, and giving thanks for, God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.
According to Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the services were in keeping with the wishes of his widow and his family.  The program was posted at several locations, including the Corpus Christi Watershed blog. The readings were Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 23, Romans 5:5-11, and Matthew 11: 25-30 with the texts (not surprisingly) taken from the New American Standard.

Not all the music was listed in the program. According to one of the Catholic musicians at the Church Music Association of America, the musical pieces were:
  • Hymn "O God Our Help in Ages Past"
  • Collect is sung by Father Scalia
  • Psalm 23:1-6: sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Verse: sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Offertory motet: Beati quorum via (Stanford)
  • Preface dialogue: chanted
  • Sanctus: XVIII (chanted, with organ)
  • Memorial Acclamation: When... (chanted, with organ)
  • Amen (chanted, with organ)
  • Our Father (chanted sonorously by all present)
  • Peace Dialogue (chanted)
  • Agnus Dei - Victoria, Missa Quarti Toni National Shrine choir
  • A treble schola chants the Communion verse "Lux Aeterna" according to the Graduale Romanum
  • Communion Hymn: Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All (Faber)
  • Communion motets: Franck's Panis Angelicus, Mozart's Ave Verum
  • Post-communion dialogue: chanted
  • In Paradisum: English, sung by the National Shrine choir
  • Recessional: O God Beyond All Praising (Holst)
I must say that I only recognized the processional hymn, the first communion motet and the Holst tune for the recessional (but not its 1982 text). However, the chant for the Lord’s Prayer seemed to share a common origin with the “very ancient” Anglican chant for this prayer (H40: 722).

Communion was administered in one kind. The bulletin quoted a 1996 USCCB policy that discouraged non-Catholics from coming to communion — except for a few specific denominations (including Orthodox Christians) who were allowed but “urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches.”

Scalia was (not surprisingly) a liturgical traditionalist, with a preference for the Latin mass. However, the plainchant in the first part of the service (what we Anglicans call the liturgy of the word) seem to be taken from the modernized 21st century American Catholic liturgy — with the introit and other chants typical of a modern American RCC parish.

I was not the only one struck with the modernity of the service. Catholic organist and blogger Jeff Ostrowski wrote:
It’s difficult to understand why the Mass was Ordinary Form since Justice Scalia was known to attend the Extraordinary Form exclusively. Moreover, while the musical selections were (generally speaking) fine, they were nothing compared to Requiem settings by Victoria, Guerrero, Morales, and so forth. Perhaps the problem is me. I just find the traditional Requiem so powerful & consoling, anything else can’t help but fall short.
While many of us liturgists and church musicians have our preferences for our personal church services, it’s important to put it in perspective: there’s nothing in the choice of the form that would make one iota of difference in the disposition of our eternal soul. If the service was consistent with the family’s wishes — perhaps to make it more approachable to the nation’s 70 million Catholics — then their liturgical choices must be respected and honored.

Antonin Gregory Scalia (1936-2016): Requiescat in pace.

No comments: