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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thoughts on the Funeral Service for Baroness Thatcher


Did anyone notice the black vestments and six unbleached candles? I don't think many people would comment on them: they were just the right and obvious thing.

Quite rightly our primary focus as Catholics is to pray for the repose of the soul of Margaret Thatcher and I assure you, prescinding from any political comment, that I have done so and will do so.

As I was travelling today, I didn't get to watch the service itself but did enjoy seeing part of the procession with the gun carriage, the display of some difficult drill at 70 paces per minute, the shouted orders, half-muffled bell and all that.

People I follow on Twitter seemed quite positive about the address given by Bishop Chartres. Having now read it, I agree that he rose to the occasion and was glad to see that he ended with the prayer "Eternal rest..." (or, as he put it "Rest eternal...") The music was all deemed superb as we are privileged to expect from one of the top Cathedral choirs in a world class field. I am currently catching up with that via the YouTube video.

Looking at the Order of Service, I confess to being confused - not that it wasn't most dignified and reverent but I couldn't work out how the order was put together. There were some parts that coincide with what I find in the Book of Common Prayer that I have on my shelves but that is only the order for the burial of the dead so I suppose there is another Order of Service for traditionally worded funerals. Some things puzzled me - not in a bad way, I hope, though I confess to wondering whether the Prime Minister becomes a sort of honorary Deacon for these occasions so that he can read the Gospel.

Leaving that flippant and unworthy thought aside, it struck me that Fauré's version of the In paradisum was sung; again a note of praying for the dead. Then later the Bishop of London read a short version of the Commendation of the Dying, listed in the service booklet simply as "The Commendation." Again quite appropriate but it surprised me.

More important than any of these observations, I think, is that the whole service was solemn, dignified and reverent, used "Thee's and Thou's", did not pander to instant accessibility, and was, as an act of religious worship, watched by millions around the world, the bulk of whom will simply be impressed by how well the British do these things. Not a bad idea to bear this in mind when we arrange Catholic funerals: and indeed, why not use black vestments and unbleached candles?

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine et lux perpetua luceat ei.
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