Thursday, April 18, 2013
Mrs T and the Fannon
One of my parishioners was up at St Paul's with the great and the good at Lady Thatchers funeral, I can't help but be a little amused by the thought of "Mrs T" preferring a privatised funeral put out to tender, but let's leave that wicked thought there.
Looking at the footage there were quite a few politicians and public figures who are not known for their Christian faith. I sympathise with the authorities at St Paul's, there is strange mixture of Church and State coming together to provide a piece of national pageantry. Now, as a nation we no longer follow the rhythms of the Christian calendar, there is a need for public celebrations of public grief and joy, and Royal weddings or funerals, or funerals like yesterday's fulfil a need.
The problem for the Cathedral authorities is how to avoid, on the one hand, merely supplying a space for a national event and on the other hand presenting something which is beyond the comprehension of those present and those viewing on the television. The answer the cathedral authorities came up with was a blend of stately ceremonial, using such signs and symbols as black vestments, unbleached candles, together music and texts that spoke of Christian hope. I know the hymns were the Baronesses choice, and presumably the use of the King James Bible, but I suspect much else was provided by the clergy in consultation with her children. As a 'bespoke' liturgy it worked well, it spoke of a Christian sense of the tragedy of Christian death and of Christian triumph over death. For all its splendour it had a simple message. For a different congregation such as group of ardent believers a more complex message might have been given.
I had a conversation with a priest friend recently and we were trying to understand the difference between Benedict and Francis and came up with the idea that Pope Benedict could speak to those who understood the significance of the pontifical dalmatic or the fannon whereas Pope Francis is speaking to people who barely understand that Christians are supposed to be good and trust in God. Hence so many journalists seemed incapable of comprehending anything Pope Benedict said but seem to latch on the Francis' baby kissing or condemnation of grumbling or tarot cards.
I am not sure how Archbishop Nichols, or more likely his successor will deal with the semi-state funeral of Tony Blair - now we have a precedent it is bound to lead to that. As Catholics we do not have the facility to strip down our liturgy (or our theology) at Requiem Mass to the kind of service St Paul's put on yesterday. The tragedy of Christian death and of Christian triumph over death, is certainly there in a Requiem Mass but actually for a modern mixed congregation without careful explanation half of what happens - the liturgy of Eucharist - most are lost and have no idea of what is happening at the altar, and even more so at the altar rail.
So many of the people we celebrate funeral's for, both the corpse and its relatives, are very far from being Catholics in good standing, they are often like Mrs T herself in irregular marriages, with their own theology and with a morality that is far from that of the Church.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake