A friend and fellow Old St. Mary’s Parishioner has written an article below about his memories of his time attending the Traditional Latin Mass with Justice Scalia. May eternal light shine upon him!
Wall Street Journal: Scalia the Music Critic and Pew Policeman
Putting on a tie using his car’s mirror before attending Mass—the one in Latin, of course.
By Kenneth J. Wolfe
Feb. 18, 2016 7:01 p.m. ET
Antonin Scalia attended the traditional Latin Mass nearly every Sunday, at St. John the Beloved church near his home in McLean, Va., or at St. Mary Mother of God church in the Chinatown section of Washington, D.C. When he went to the latter location, it was usually followed by a day of reading in his nearby Supreme Court office, which he did for decades on certain Sundays during the court’s term.
In the 20 years I saw him at Mass, not once was he protected by Supreme Court police or by U.S. Marshals. The associate justice with his home number still listed in the telephone book was surprisingly down to earth, true to his New Jersey roots. It was not uncommon to see him park his BMW on G Street in the District before Mass and put on his necktie using the car’s mirror. He would walk into St. Mary’s with his pre-Vatican II handmissal, always sitting in the same general area, near Patrick Buchanan, about halfway up the aisle on the far left side of the nave.
Justice Scalia loved music, especially opera. So when I was the director of an amateur choir at St. Mary’s in the late 1990s (in a Verizon Center-less neighborhood far different from today), we were under increased pressure during the Sundays when he attended High Mass. Our choir was admittedly awful, and even though we rehearsed every Thursday night and Sunday morning, it didn’t seem to help much.
The church’s pastor at the time would hear from Justice Scalia about the choir’s underwhelming performances. In what would become a familiar ritual over a period of months, we would fail to sing basic, four-part sacred music in tune. Justice Scalia would register his disappointment with Father, and I would be urged to try to do better. I wasn’t surprised when one day I was called into the pastor’s office to be gently informed that my volunteer choir-director days were over.
As was so often the case during his career, Justice Scalia’s dissent was entirely justified and ultimately a blessing to the world. The mixed-voice choir was soon replaced by a group of men (including me) who would sing Gregorian chant at the Sunday 9 a.m. Latin Mass at St. Mary’s, with that schola continuing to chant to this day. The congregation seems to appreciate it, and as recently as a few months ago when we last saw Justice Scalia, there have been no complaints about the music.
He was a character at a church full of character. After the Sunday 9 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s, a coffee and doughnut hour is held in the basement, and Justice Scalia could often be found there. For years, the rear right corner was where the smokers gathered, doing a balancing act of cigarettes, pastries and hot beverages. Justice Scalia seemed to relish that time, smoking and talking, recounting his world travels and shaking his head over the liturgical and theological argle-bargle he found in some Catholic churches overseas.
One morning in the smoking corner, Justice Scalia pulled out a cigarette and looked around to see no one joining him with a lighter. He asked where his fellow tobacco traditionalists were, only to learn that a newly established traditional Latin Mass in rural, conservative Front Royal, Va., was apparently a more convenient option for the smoking crowd. Conversation carried on anyway, and by request he got the latest scoop on shenanigans at his alma mater, Georgetown University.
Like the rest of us, Justice Scalia was not perfect. He had no patience for unruly children and was the local sheriff of the rear left of the nave of St. Mary’s. But his willingness to talk with anyone—as long as it was not about a pending court case—was generous, and he certainly could have had better coffee and doughnuts at home instead of a church basement in Chinatown.
Despite his having attended the traditional Latin Mass for decades nearly every Sunday, the funeral for Justice Scalia will be a post-Vatican II, concelebrated service in English on Saturday morning at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Still, pre-Vatican II Latin Masses have already been offered this week for the repose of his soul, and fellow parishioners continue to beg God that the good and faithful servant attains salvation after years of prayer and labor. May there be a tuxedo-clad waiter in a dark Italian restaurant serving him white pizza and Chianti in heaven. And good music, we pray.