Massachusetts - Family members of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy gathered on Thursday for a private Mass at the seaside home where the 77-year-old towering figure in Democratic politics died two days ago.

As Boston prepared for three more days of tributes to the patriarch of one of America's most famous political dynasties, state officials took up the question of how quickly they could replace the state's senior senator, who had brain cancer.

Governor Deval Patrick told the Boston Globe that he wanted to honor Kennedy's wish to change state laws to allow him to name an interim senator to hold the post during the approximately five-month period until an election can be held.

Patrick and fellow Democratic lawmakers including Massachusetts Senator John Kerry have said that filling Kennedy's seat quickly will be vitally important as Congress works on overhauling the U.S. healthcare system.

Throughout his 47 years in the Senate, Kennedy advocated healthcare reform, which has become a key initiative of U.S. President Barack Obama. Kennedy's death leaves the Democrats one vote shy of the 60-member super-majority they need to override any attempted Republic filibusters.


His son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, arrived at the compound in the early morning hours to join relatives who had sat vigil over the late senator's body on Wednesday.

Police blocked off roads leading to the Cape Cod compound where the Kennedys have time and again gathered to endure tragedies that included the assassinations of two brothers, President John Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, and the death of the late president's son in a plane crash a decade ago.

At midday, Kennedy's body will be driven to the presidential library of his late brother, after taking a winding route past Boston landmarks including Faneuil Hall and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, a park named after his mother.

Crowds of mourners began to form at the library early on Thursday morning, local media reported.

The body will remain at the library, whose centerpiece is a soaring glass atrium overlooking Boston Harbor, until Saturday, when his funeral will be held a Boston church. Obama, who got a major boost in his race for the White House when Kennedy endorsed him, is expected to speak.

The body then will be flown to Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, for burial near the graves of his brothers, John and Robert.

Born the last child of a family of nine and the youngest of four brothers, Kennedy joined the Senate in 1962, taking the seat previously held by his brother John.

While he was initially considered a lightweight elected largely because of his family's wealth and famous name, Kennedy recovered from a series of personal tragedies and scandals to become known as an expert dealmaker who read the rhythms of legislative life better than almost anyone else.

Senator Kennedy was the real deal -- an authentic, principled and giving public servant who pushed us to work for things yet to be, Boston mayor Thomas Menino said on Wednesday.

Boston has never had a greater champion. Massachusetts has never known a more relentless fighter for economic and social justice. America has never witnessed a more influential and productive legislator, Menino said.
(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; writing by Scott Malone in Boston; editing by Vicki Allen)