The funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, celebrated yesterday at Windsor Castle, was in many ways a typically English occasion with its combination of military splendour and the liturgy of the Church of England. The Order of Service, at the time of writing this post, can be found on the Royal Family website here.
It is impossible to escape the profoundly religious character of the funeral service itself - which presents a wonderful public witness of religious faith on the part of the Duke of Edinburgh to a country that increasingly prefers to leave religious faith aside from the mainstream of life.
It is impossible to escape the profoundly Christian character of the service - which indicates to the country a strong testimony of the Christian faith of the Duke of Edinburgh at a time when the confidence of Christians in mainstream churches, and their role in public life, is weakening.
And by determining that there should be no eulogy or sermon (and with the absence from the Order of Service of any photgraphs), the Duke of Edinburgh averted the possibility that his funeral become a "celebration of the life of ...". The Bidding that opened the funeral service captured its spirit:
We are here today in St George's Chapel to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. With grateful hearts, we remember the many ways in which his long life has been a blessing to us. We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the Nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith. Our lives have been enriched through the challenges that he has given us, his kindness, humour and humanity. We therefore pray that God will give us grace to follow his example, and that, with our brother Philip, at the last, we shall know the joys of life eternal.
Every text used in the service was a Christian text, drawn from Scripture or a prayer explicitly Christian in its nature. And, celebrated during the liturgical season of Easter, the service communicated a witness to eternal life. In the words of the Collect:
O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, in whomsoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally...We meekly beseech thee, O Father that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that, at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight...
The dignity retained by this service, focussed on its Christian meaning in relation to eternal life, might be a useful lesson to many in the Catholic Church, who allow funerals instead to become "celebrations of the life of ...".