March 2, 2016
Theological College seminarians Colin Davis, of the Diocese of Arlington, and Deacon Mark Kowalski, of the Diocese of Richmond, were among eight seminarians who served the funeral Mass for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last month.
Deacon Davis read the Gospel, while Deacon Kowalski distributed Communion and carried the cross in the procession and recession. Their reflections on the experience are captured in the Q&A that follows.
What was the most moving part of the Mass for you?
Deacon Davis: What I remember best surprised me. Sure, the homily was unforgettable, but at the very end, when the Mass came to the conclusion, when the casket was being processed out of the church, Father Paul Scalia (the celebrant and Justice Scalia's son), Frank Vivacqua (another deacon), and myself waited in the giant, arched doorway. Soft light was streaming in, and Father stepped forward to receive his father's body. In my mind, it evoked an image of Jesus Christ greeting Justice Scalia as he came to the judgment seat of the Father. Then, the casket was brought down the great stairs outside the Basilica and the priests sang "Salve Regina," a haunting hymn to Mary, Our Mother. Their chasubles were streaming in the breeze and light broke through an overcast sky. It was beautiful.
Deacon Kowalski: Certainly taking part in the procession and recession were very moving for me personally. However, I have always found the final commendation at the end of a funeral to be very moving, and certainly so in this case. The priest incenses the casket, and then with a very beautiful prayer, commends the deceased a final time into God's mercy. It's very moving to see a son, the priest, do this for his father.
What impact did the Gospel reading - Matthew 11:25-30 - have on your experience?
Deacon Davis: It was striking for three reasons. First, Jesus begins by praising his Father, for hiding his mysteries from the learned and revealing them to children. I was struck by the idea that, in spite of Justice Scalia's learning, if the mysteries of the kingdom were revealed to him, that is, if he had faith in what Jesus teaches, it was due to his being childlike and maintaining a simple faith. That seems like a good example for us, to keep a childlike heart in spite of all our sophistication and learning. Second, Jesus expresses a deep love for his dad in the passage. What I found most poignant about Father Scalia's phenomenal homily was that he essentially said, "We love Dad because he was Dad, not because he was a highfalutin' justice." Third, the passage is perfect for the whole focus of the funeral Mass: Come to Jesus, find rest in him, not in any pomp and circumstance or achievement in the world.
What impact did carrying the cross and helping with Communion have on your experience?
Deacon Kowalski: Being able to carry the cross was powerful indeed. The crucifix used for the procession at the Basilica is so beautiful (and heavy!) and certainly a focal point in the procession in a Catholic liturgy and I was blessed with helping to lead Father Scalia and Justice Scalia's casket into and out of the Basilica. It's a beautiful image of the priest and the ministers leading the deceased toward the altar at the beginning and outside of the Church at the end - helping to lead that person to God, just as Justice Scalia was commended into God's hands.
How has your situation in Washington, D.C., and at Theological College given you this kind of opportunity and enhanced your education?
Deacon Davis: Between this, serving at Pope Francis's Mass in September, and getting to spend time with some friends in the nation's capital - with all its politics, business, and art - it definitely seems to me I have had unique opportunities to be in the hub of activities that reflect the faith and the politics of the people whom I believe I am called to serve. I will serve in the Arlington diocese, which is a place charged with the political, busy atmosphere of D.C. so it seems appropriate.
What is your biggest takeaway from this experience?
Deacon Davis: Father Scalia's example of a man who was acting as a priest - chosen from among men, from among his family members (Heb 5:1), representing the Church, speaking to the world and before the world of the beauty, consolation, and strength that comes from the faith; acting as one who stands and serves when the great and dramatic mysteries of human existence are before us.
Deacon Kowalski: Simply being able to take part in this Mass, really just the honor of being asked to serve. Also, it was a great witness to our nation of our Catholic faith, the faith and witness of Justice Scalia, his son and family, and the American [Catholic] Church. It was a powerful moment to bear witness to Jesus Christ through the person of Justice Scalia and the faith he loved so much.