This fascinating flasbhack recounts how the clergy at Vatican II first learned of the assassination—and it tells what happened in the days after—from the blog This Week at Vatican II:
On Saturday, November 23, Cardinal Cushing of Boston was already in the U.S. Somewhat a “maverick” among his brother Bishops, Cushing found the sessions of the Council tedious (except for the discussion of his well-beloved “missions”) and generally absented himself from the proceedings.
He had officiated at the marriage of John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953 – and he baptized their two children, Caroline and John, Jr. In August 1963, just three months prior to the assassination, the Cardinal had celebrated a Mass for a third child, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, who died two days after his birth. When JFK was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961, Cardinal Cushing offered the invocation.
Now, Cardinal Cushing made plans to offer the Funeral Mass for the President in Washington, DC.
While two Catholic priests were being admitted into the White House Saturday morning, to kneel in prayer at either side of the mahogany coffin — Pope Paul VI offered Mass in his private chapel for the repose of the President’s soul.
Then Paul allowed television cameras into the Apostolic Palace so that his words might be transmitted to the American people:
We are deeply shocked by the sad and tragic news of the killing of the President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the serious wounding of Governor Connally.
We are profoundly saddened by this crime, by the mourning which inflicts a great and civilized country, by the suffering which strikes Mrs. Kennedy, their children, and their family.
With all our heart, we deplore what has happened. We express the ardent wish that the death of this great statesman may not damage the cause of the American people, but rather reinforce its moral and civic sentiments and strengthen its feelings of nobility and concord.
He was the first Catholic President of the United States. We recall our pleasure in receiving his visit and having discerned in him great wisdom and high resolution for the good of humanity.
Tomorrow, we shall offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that God may grant him eternal rest, that He may console all of those who weep for him in his death, and in order that Christian love shall reign among all mankind.
In a private telegram to Jacqueline Kennedy, the Pope wrote:
We hasten to send you, beloved daughter … upon you and your children, the consolation of divine grace, and our affectionate apostolic blessing.
The Pope also sent a private message to the late President’s parents. Mrs. Rose Kennedy had already attended two early Saturday morning Masses at St. Francis Xavier, the family’s parish church in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. One of the Masses was celebrated at an altar donated by the Kennedys in memory of their eldest son, Joseph, Jr., who was killed as a Navy flier in World War II.
There’s much more. It’s truly a remarkable accounting of what transpired 50 years ago in Rome and in Washington. Read it all.
Also worth reading (and watching): Archbishop Hannan’s eulogy at the funeral, a 10-minute oration that was comprised largely of quotes from scripture and from Kennedy’s own speeches. Check it out.