A Commonplace Funeral for an Extraordinary Queen   

Not one media commentator pointed out the absolute normality of the Queen’s Funeral Service.

Apart from the two thousand worshippers inside Westminster Abbey, I suppose that a billion were in the global television congregation – virtually inside the Abbey. For many it would have seemed exotic. But most of it was commonplace, and we can know that any Anglican anywhere could have the same core event for his or her funeral – word for word. To me the most remarkable thing about the State Service was that it was in essence a parish, commonplace service applied to this distinctive setting. The actual Service lasted barely one hour.

Many viewers of the funeral commentators in the media and absorbers of social media would not know that what was said and done was absolutely ordinary, normal business for the Church of England, and Anglican parishes globally.  Well, it was absolutely normal until modern re-inventors of liturgy got rid of The Book of Common Prayer, replaced the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible and in places made even the simplest of clerical dress “optional” or abandoned it altogether.

Much of the modern Anglican world worships at the shrine of St Casual, frowns at written, set prayers (Collects) and would have found the service strange, rather than ordinary. This liturgy, to appropriate Les Murray’s 1969 poem, was “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow”.

Anyone in Australia  seeking to arrange an Anglican funeral could get 99 per cent of what was offered at core in the Abbey, except perhaps for the “cloth of gold” outward effect and the grand processions of State. All who once attended funerals in the local parish would have heard as much. Ordinary parish hymns and psalms were sung. Any parish choir could have sustained the special choral additions.

The readings and prayers were absolutely standard as was the Lord’s Prayer, maligned by those who wish it removed from the beginning of Parliament. One noticed that the whole assembly in the Abbey said it aloud. The Funeral Service repeated centrally what every person can or should be able to find at the perimeter in any parish. It was centre and the perimeter as one.

Except. We were spared all lengthy eulogies that double the length of some parish services.  And at the end,  the Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the departed Queen with a direct finality in the words “Go forth Christian soul”. That pre-Reformation trait is apt, though not a uniform Anglican practice in Australia. For some, death slams the door shut on the dead, and addressing the departing soul in this way is forbidden.

As I looked at the aging congregation in the Abbey, I was reminded of Fr Arlotto in the sixteenth century who built an elaborate tomb in the centre of his parish and inscribed it with these words. “Arlotto has built this tomb for himself and anyone who would care to join him”.  The Queen was ever Evangelist to the end and gave us the global Parish-Service.

Ivan Head reviews poetry for Quadrant and contributes his own poems from time to time. He was Warden of St Paul’s College in the University of Sydney for 23 years

8 thoughts on “A Commonplace Funeral for an Extraordinary Queen   

  • NarelleG says:

    I particularly noticed it was an ordinary parish service.
    Even shorter than funerals we have with lengthy eulogies.

    I worked for 5 years in an Anglican Parish church and prepared the service sheet for Sunday services as part of my tasks as office admin.

    “Go forth Christian soul”.

    The peoples Queen.

  • David Palmer says:

    I agree with the comment about eulogies taking over funeral services, or as they are now more likely to be described as memorial services. Since when did every member of the family need to get up and speak, a lot of it personal family stuff they could have kept to themselves? Sitting through an hour or two of this is plain tedious

  • Biggles says:

    Well put, David P. I was at some time organist at an Anglican Church. I must have played ‘The day thou gavest Lord is ended…’ at Evensong umpteen times, but the relevance of the hymn during the funeral service hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course, the day of ER II is over; but God willing, may we look forward better days to come.

  • Daffy says:

    One of the wonders of the BCP, and some modern versions, and probably the prayer books of other liturgical branches of the church of Christ is that even the most humble parish can deliver a service with the grace, gravity and timelessness that we (all 4.1 billion of us, according to my daughter’s phone) witnessed last evening. Not only that, but Cranmer’s wonderful foundation is available to all, from the monarch to the man in the meadow. Far better than the trivial services I’ve attended where the high point is a recording of Sinatra doing it his way….ironically; his way just ends in a casket, and no one affirms ‘go forth Christian soul’.

  • Andrew Campbell says:

    I am sure that Our Queen chose ‘The day Thou gavest Lord is ended’ for a reason. And a good one. She presided over the dying days of the British Empire, the Empire upon which the sun never set. As an intelligent and informed Christian, she couldn’t have missed the irony in the hymn that as the dawn rose, on every continent and island the voice of prayer and praise was never silent. What lasts forever, was not her throne and the proud British Empire but the Kingdom of her King, Jesus.

  • Stephen Due says:

    The Lord’s Prayer we said in church in Melbourne when I was a child. The hymns we also sang there. The BCP was used throughout the English-speaking world. One could enter an Anglican church in Sydney or Washington or Calcutta and feel completely at home.
    The BCP supplied the framework of what was indeed, for many millions of Christians, their spiritual home. Furthermore it was not just any home, but a place where beauty and peace – and, where necessary, forgiveness – were to be found. A home where even a monarch, who ruled over vast populations and territories, was just another member of the family.

  • padmmdpat says:

    Most funerals today are ‘a celebration of the deceased person’s life ‘ often with no thought to praying for the repose of their soul, let alone praying for the forgiveness of their sins. It’s amazing how the unfaithful living automatically become the faithful departed. As for eulogies – what did Voltaire say? ‘If you want to bore people, tell them everything.’

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    In Lincoln Cathedral in Britain this May I heard a sung Evensong, just as in my youth I had heard it so many times, with the liturgy of the BCP. A reflective hour at my age. Christenings, marriages, deaths, the BCP, as noted, a document of comfort linking us to our culture and its past. I have very little background in religion but am so grateful that I was introduced to it early on with the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer at a time when using these great writings was simply what the Church of England did, in Australia or England, no matter.

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