Saturday, February 20, 2016

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.
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