That may sound an arrogant thing to say but it would seem that the Church of England by Law Established has abandoned all notion of the transcendent let alone God Almighty.
Yesterday I was preparing dinner and listening to Radio5 Live’s Drive programme. You can hear the whole thing http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b044j44w"> HERE.
Somewhere between 6 and 7 there were a series of reports from Lichfield Cathedral about a vigil for the unfortunate young man http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-stoke-staffordshire-27631655
Now, don’t get me wrong I am not criticising Stephen Sutton who seems to have done a great deal of good with the time he had left on this earth when given a terminal diagnosis. God rest his soul.
But the whole carnival surrounding death seems to be precisely that: a carnival. The crowds, some of the creepily voyeuristic from the interviews on the radio, were decked in yellow. It was all about celebration. The Dean of Lichfield Cathedral came on and continued the narrative “…blah, blah blah…positivity…blah blah blah…celebration…blah blah blah… colourful…blah blah blah…social media”. The was not one single mention of God, death, facing one’s Maker. The awesome terror of facing the possibility of extinction is just treated as a kind of ‘Meh’ moment. The Catholic blogosphere will occasionally mention the very unCatholic practice of eulogising the dead or worse - orations over the catafalque where vices are praised as virtues. But for a churchman to leave out all mention of death, judgement, heaven, hell, facing the Almighty and the redeeming power of the Resurrection of Christ seems a terrible sin of omission.
The Church of England is blessed with a wonderful service and words of commendation of the dead:
“MAN, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O LORD, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O LORD GOD most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, LORD, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, LORD most holy, O GOD most mighty, O holy and merciful SAVIOUR; thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.
¶ Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the body by some standing by, the Minister shall say,
FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God, in his wise providence, to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our LORD JESUS CHRIST; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
This is recognisably a Christian prayer and one I wouldn’t mind at my own funeral, but for the fact that I am Latin Rite Christian. I hope it was used for Stephen Sutton.
There is a steady cultural shift, curious in this Culture of Death, of not mentioning death at all (have you noticed how much the media have taken of late to using the phrases ‘passing on’ or ‘passing away’ or just ‘passing’?)
The whole thing of secular funerals is bewildering to me. Does these people not mourn their dead? No sadness, just a celebration? Don’t their hearts ache seeing their loved ones in the ground? Of course as Christians we have a joyful hope of the Resurrection, but we should mourn as Martha and Mary mourned Lazarus and as Our Lady mourned the slain Lamb of God.
Celebrations? Bright colours? Eulogising? No thanks – give me a Christian death and a Christian funeral. If the attendees are uncomfortable with an explicit commending of me to my Maker, too bad. It will be my last act of witness to Christ.