Saturday, February 20, 2016

Requiem Aeternam Dona Ei, Domine II

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Roger B. Taney, died on October 12, 1864.  Taney had been appointed to the Court by President Andrew Jackson in 1836 and had sworn into office seven Presidents.  He was the first Catholic to be appointed to the Supreme Court.  Taney, a Marylander, was pro-slavery and had authored the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision which ruled that Blacks are not citizens of the United States and have no standing in law to sue.  Needless to day, the Justice and President Lincoln did not see eye to eye on the matters of the day.  Taney’s death provided Lincoln with the opportunity to name a new Chief Justice and he chose Salmon P. Chase.  The Republican Senate confirmed Chase the same day he was nominated.  (Curiously enough the Presidential Election of November 8th 1864 had intervened between Taney’s death and Chase’s nomination.)
Taney’s funeral was on the morning of Saturday, October 15, 1864.  Shortly before 6 AM, the presidential carriage rolled up to the North Door of the White House and President Lincoln, attended by Secretary of State Seward and Postmaster General William Dennison entered the carriage for the short ride across Lafayette Square to the Taney Residence.  There, in the parlor by Taney’s coffin, the President stood respectfully while a priest from Saint Patrick’s parish recited the traditional Latin prayers for the faithfully departed.  Lincoln stayed until Taney’s coffin was closed and carried from the house and placed in the horse-drawn hearse and then the President returned to the White House for his day’s work.  The Civil War was still his chief preoccupation. 
After leaving the President standing in the road, holding his hat in his hands, Taney’s coffin was conveyed to the old Baltimore and Potomac Railroad station near the site of what is today the National Gallery of Art.  A train was provided to take the funeral party to Frederick, Maryland where a Requiem Mass was sung in Saint John the Evangelist Church, Taney’s home parish, and where he was interred in the family plot in the churchyard.  No representatives of the Administration attended the Mass or internment. 
I was somewhat surprised that today’s funeral for Justice Antonin Scalia followed the current liturgical rites. Given the Justice’s own predilection for the pre-conciliar rites as well as his son’s own fondness for the Extraordinary Form I would have expected the Mass to have been a Requiem Mass with Black vestments and at the old “high altar” versus apsidem.  In fact it was a good example of how the Novus Ordo can be celebrated on a formal occasion in a cathedral setting. I did notice, however, that the sign of peace was omitted.  And as for the homily—it was extraordinary; I don’t recall hearing a better one for such an occasion, or for that matter, on any occasion.  It had theological depth and personal touch.  It shows that Father Scalia, like his father, is a man of intellectual probity as well as being superbly articulate.   

Finally, the word going around the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington is that the Scalia family and Father Paul Scalia in particular, asked President Obama not to attend the Funeral Mass.  There was some apprehension that the scene at Senator Kennedy’s Funeral with Cardinal O’Malley’s effusive greeting of the President, would be repeated with Cardinal Wuerl.  Vice-President Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, for their part maintained a very discreet presence at the funeral.   The Scalias, like many conservative Catholics, find the President to be a symbol of secularism in modern American Public Life.  Father Scalia made the point in his homily—and a point that I agree with—that not only must we not banish faith from the public square, but we as Christians must bring our faith into that public square.  If it is true that the Scalia family expressed their preference that the President not attend the funeral, they should take responsibility for it rather than let the President be the scapegoat for those have criticized him for not being present.  However, again, history shows us that there is no precedent requiring a President to be at the funeral service of a Supreme Court Justice.


  1. Great post...I agree, if every NO Mass was like this, you'd find those like myself who have never attended a TLM but believe it holds a special mystical quality alot more quiet about it. Loved the Basilica -- how come it isn't the seat of the Arch. of Washington, St. Matthews is ? Much bigger and grander, though St. Matthews isn't bad. Sure wish Mahony and his architechs had visited EITHER of them before they blew $250 million on that monstrosity that my 4-year old nephew could have designed.

    The entire Scalia family are like a Justice League of America of superheroes. Justice Scalia and his wife Maureen....9 kids...the son lawyers, the priest, the mothers who lead parish outreach committees...36 (!!!) grandkids -- it's like the Kennedy family without the scandals and liberalism (sorry, I couldn't resist).

    One thing on Taney: I believe when he was appointed that Catholics were 1% of the U.S. population. Anti-Catholicism was rampant (most people don't know that the KKK was largely anti-Catholic, not anti-black, for years after the Civil War). Taney thought by being the lead author of DRED SCOT that he would win support for Catholics, showing that American Catholics were "independent" of Rome by supporting slavery in opposition to the Pope/Vatican and taking a position that would endear them to (Southern) political elites.

    Somehow, somewhere, that rings a bell in recent political discussions, no ?

  2. Saint Matthew's was built as a parish church but its founding pastor, Father Lee, always had it in mind that it would be the cathedral should Washington be elevated to a diocese. The Shrine does not belong to the Archdiocese of Washington but to the USCCB and any bishop presiding at the Liturgy there is entitled to use the cathedra as his presidential chair. The Archdiocese does use it as a sort of alternative cathedral for events for which Saint Matthew's is not large enough: Rite of Election, consecration of auxiliary bishops etc
    as for the Scalia Kennedy compare and contrast, remember that we did not know about the sins of the Kennedys till years later. we can only pray that the Scalias won't disappoint too. history teaches us that there are few heroes without feet of clay and fewer yet whose children and grandchildren don't bring shame on a great family
    And yes the original KKK was anti Catholic, or more precisely anti immigrant, however you are wrong to soften the anti-Black element Using fear to confine Blacks to subservience and deprive them of social, political, and economic rights was the first and foremost goal of the post-civil War KKK. The revived KKK of the post WWI era was even stronger on its anti-Catholicism than the original, but there too the primary agenda was anti-Black

  3. Very true, Consol...I didn't mean to diminish the racial aspect of the KKK. But when I have mentioned to many of my peers -- let alone young people today -- that many KKK locals concentrated more on Catholics than blacks, they look at me like I am from Mars. They are aware of the Christian nature of the KKK so I think the fact that they were so vehemently anti-Catholic a century ago throws them for a loop.

    Right also on the anti-immigrant nativism of the KKK. They peaked politically in 1924 when they kept Al Smith off the ballot. But the Immigration Act of 1924 bears their fingerprints. Did you know it cut legal immigration by 50%...and that of Italians and other (darker) groups by 90% or more ?

    Kind of puts things in perspective today when we are merely debating illegal immigration, huh ?