This afternoon, at 2:00, the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York, for Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, in the great space of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
In addition to the Dulles family, his Jesuit brothers, religious and clergy from around the country, representatives from colleges and universities, members of religious communities from New York, and his friends; in attendance were Cardinals Sean O’Malley, Theodore McCarrick, Francis George, William Keeler; as well as Archbishop Celestino Migliore (the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN) and Archbishop Pietro Sambi (Vatican nuncio to the United States. Joseph McShane, SJ, president of Fordham; Joseph O’Hare, SJ, emeritus president; as well as former Jesuit provincials, and Fathers Richard John Neuhaus and Benedict Groeschel, were also part of the immense crowd of priest-celebrants. Accompanying the Dulles family was Anne-Marie Kirmse, OP, Cardinal Dulles’s longtime assistant, who also read the first reading.
Before the Mass, a selection from Mozart’s "Requiem" and the hymn "Abide with Me," floated over the crowd, one speaking of his Latin Catholic faith the other of his Protestant roots. Hundreds of priests, a score of bishops, Jesuit scholastics and brothers, and seminarians from St. Joseph’s, the archdiocesan seminary, processed in with the casket to the strains of "For All the Saints."
Cardinal Egan’s warm homily took as its central image an ancient crucifix he had seen some 50 years ago in Umbria; from one side the face of Christ appeared contorted in pain; from the other illumined by joy. This image, suggested Egan, could be said to characterize Avery’s life, one of triumph and, towards the end, of pain. Of the triumph: "In the life of our lamented cardinal, there was triumph of the most authentic sense," he said. "You have the example of a triumphant life story, never matched, to my knowledge, by any other American Catholic."
As a young man in the Navy, Avery contracted polio, and was told that, because of the paralysis is his arm, he would never write again. "He proved them monumentally wrong," said Egan, referring to the over 800 articles and 23 books written by the Jesuit cardinal.
Cardinal Egan remembered visiting Avery on his 90th birthday at Fordham--when Avery was bedridden, crippled by the recurrence of his polio--for a Mass in his honor. The cardinal wheeled Avery’s bed up the aisle of the Fordham chapel, but only with difficulty, as a result of Egan’s childhood polio. "I’m afraid it’s a case of the lame pushing the lame," said Egan to Dulles.
With that Avery broke into broad smile, and Egan was put in mind of that crucifix.
Fr. David Ciancimino, SJ, the head of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, thanked the cardinal for his gracious words and, especially, the personal attention and friendship that he showed Cardinal Dulles. And he thanked the Dulles family for the gift of Avery to the Society of Jesus and to the Church. The Provincial reminded his listeners that Avery was a model Jesuit--pitching in to celebrate Masses in the Jesuit community, decorating the Christmas trees in the community, doing his own laundry, making his own breakfast, like any Jesuit. While he was a world-famous theologian and a "priest’s priest," said Ciancimino, ""To us Jesuits, he was also Avery, our brother—our older, wiser brother."
And, indeed, after Communion, the traditional Jesuit song "Take, Lord, Receive," taken from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, was sung by the congregation, with the Jesuit priests and brothers, as tradition holds, standing.
For the recessional, a familiar tune: "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," the old Navy hymn, set to lyrics expressing Christian hope: "O Lord, You Died That All May Life." Drew Christiansen, SJ, editor of America, recalled that this was one of the old Navy hand’s favorites.
Out on Fifth Avenue, at the height of the Christmas season, traffic stopped and the shoppers paused, as the massive procession of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, provincials, abbots, priests, brothers, sisters, friends, family and the faithful poured onto the street. The great bronze doors of St. Patrick’s were opened wide, the doors on whose front are the American saints and blesseds. Borne aloft, the dark wooden casket slowly emerged under the bas-relief of Jesus Christ, his arms outstretched in blessing.
As Avery Dulles’s body was carried out of the church and into the public square, the crowd erupted in applause.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
James Martin, SJ
Photo: Jesuits file past Cardinal Dulles’s casket (CNS)