The art of leading prayer for those who have died

The news of the day is the exemplary funeral Mass for Justice Antonin Scalia, held this morning at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (beginning at the 53 minute mark below).

From the stunning music to the ceremonial to the ars celebrandi to the outstanding presidential chanting to the beautiful homily, the Mass set an example of how a Roman Catholic funeral in the novus ordo can be a true “sacrifice of praise,” in the words of St. Paul echoed in the closing hymn.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, worship is a matter of justice, of giving God what is owed to Him. At a funeral, the worship we offer to God is also owed, in charity, to the deceased. The prayers of the living have a real effect in the economy of the communion of saints, and one of the main jobs of those responsible is to continually lead the people to pray for the deceased with ever more piety and an ever more resolute intention.

A Mass this well celebrated is not an accident, not a “one-off.” The virtue of liturgical leadership, like all the moral virtues, arises from repeated action. Fr. Paul Scalia’s Masses are consistently reverent, and pastoral in the highest sense, intended to lead the people in prayer to God. His homilies are consistently well-crafted and theologically strong. The ceremonies at the National Shrine are consistently beautiful and unhurried, the music consistently exquisite.
These are the things that matter, in the daily and Sunday Masses, at weddings and funerals held in every parish church, modest as well as grand. Let the focus be on God and on the salvation He gives, at such a cost, and let the liturgical arts be used in the best possible way: for prayer.

11 Replies to “The art of leading prayer for those who have died”

  1. Very moving and impressive. One question. Why white vestments, not purple or black? I thought the cantatrice was
    overbearing, the congregation could not be heard at all.

  2. As for the TV audio: The Shrine is a recording engineer's nightmare. There is no subtle, inoffensive way to mike the congregation beyond what's picked up ambiently by the pulpit and choir microphones. Having said that, I would agree that the arm-raising pulpitized cantor is an anachronism whose time is passed. One day, even there…

  3. I still haven't been able to justify a cantor in a mic when there is a choir who could lead the congregation's singing just as effectively. To me, it's relegating the choir to being the "backup group" for the "featured chanteuse", although the choir did plenty of their own singing, and beautifully.

  4. In my experience, the sound in the Basilica itself is balanced, in a way it is not on TV. Richard's comment helps to see why: the congregation is not amplified.

    Regarding vestments, this seems to me to be the best approach when there are too many concelebrants to all wear the colors of the day. The other often-used method is for the concelebrants to wear a stole but no chasuble, which seems inadequate to me. Using a different color allows all of the concelebrating priests to vest completely.

  5. Where can I find the text of the glorious 3rd verse to the hymn "O God Beyond All Praising" as sung at the closing of this magnificent Mass?

  6. I was at this funeral Mass, sitting way in the back, 3 rows from the main entrance. From there, I thought the congregation sang quite well–both hymns and Mass parts, especially considering there must have been a lot of non Catholics in attendance.

    Kathy, I agree wholeheartedly with your post. By the way, Fr Scalia was posted at my parish around 2004-08. Excellent priest! One other thing worth noting about the Mass– ROMAN CANON !

  7. The last verse is a clever combination of the three verses of the hymn, O God, Almighty Father, a translation of the anonymous German hymn, Gott Vater sei gepriesen, translated by Edward Currie, probably for the New St. Basil Hymnal. It is usually sung to a chorale tune, with an accompaniment.

  8. The Cantrice should be canned. It's all about her. But that's what you get with the Novus Ordo: Talk show priest, single star acts, like the Cantrice, and choirs up front drowning the congregation out.

    Father Scalia is to be commended for showing his elder priests how a Funeral Mass should be conducted.

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