Justice Scalia, conservative leader, remembered in Mass service for his devotion to faith, family

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Thousands of people paid their final respects on Saturday to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in a funeral Mass in Washington that celebrated the conservative leader’s devotion to his faith and family.

“God bless dad for his faith,” said the Rev. Paul Scalia, one of Justice Scalia's nine children, who led the service at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. “The deeper he went in his faith, the better public servant he was. God bless dad for his love of his family.”

The roughly two-hour-long service was attended by such leaders in government and law as Vice President Joe Biden, former GOP Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 95-year-old retired Justice John Paul Stevens and the remaining eight high court justices.

Among them were Justice Clarence Thomas who read from the New Testament.

There was no eulogy in a service free of bipartisan politics.

However, the Rev. Scalia, a Catholic priest serving the diocese of Arlington, Va., shared some personal moments from his father’s life.

Scalia said his father once unknowingly stood in his line to confess sins, a Roman Catholic sacrament.

“ ‘Like heck I’m confessing to you,’ ” Scalia recalled his father later saying. “The feeling was mutual.”

Scalia, 79, died unexpectedly last weekend at a remote Texas ranch. He had spent nearly three decades on the high court.

The service, which began on an overcast day, concluded with the funeral procession headed to a private burial amid sunlight breaking through a grey sky.

Scalia’s flag-draped casket was brought to the church Saturday morning, in a short trip from the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill.

Scalia's other sons and his sons-in-law served as pallbearers, carrying the casket into and out of the basilica, the country’s largest Roman Catholic church.

In additon to Scalia's wife of 55 years and their nine children and dozens of grandchildren, other dignitaries at the service included members of Congress and several federal judges who are considered possible replacements for Scalia. Among them were Judges Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Millett and Chief Judge Merrick Garland, all of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

President Obama did not attend, despite criticism from some Republicans.

However, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were among the more than 6,000 people who paid tribute to Scalia at the Supreme Court building on Friday. His casket rested on a funeral bier that first held President Abraham Lincoln's casket after his assassination.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama's decision about the Mass was a "respectful arrangement" that took into account his large security detail.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, who also participated in the service, acknowledged the Scalia family’s desire for a “simple, parish-family mass,” as much as possible.

Scalia’s unexpected death has touched off a sharp debate in Washington and across the country about whether Obama should nominate a replacement in his final roughly 10 months of office and whether he would attempt to make “recess appointment” -- appoint somebody to the high court while Congress is in recess over the extended President’s Day weekend or during future recesses.

Republicans and others say the next president, who takes office in January 2017, should submit the nomination to the Congress.

GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz interrupted his campaign ahead of Saturday's South Carolina primary to attend the Mass.

The Texas senator has been among those urging the Senate not to consider replacing Scalia until after the November election.

The GOP-led Senate is not expected to approve any appointment by Obama, who said after Scalia’s death he would make a consideration in “time due.”

Obama said Tuesday that he would not make a recess appointment “full stop.” But he said he would nominate somebody who would be “indisputably” qualified and whom “any fair-minded person -- even somebody who disagreed with my politics -- would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court.”

Never before had a funeral for a Supreme Court justice been held at the basilica. Three popes have visited the basilica: Pope John Paul II in 1979, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.