I wrote in April 2021 about the significance of some of the contents of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral service. For those who didn’t see it at the time, it can still be found here:
All funeral services reveal something of their designer’s hand, and we know that Her late Majesty the Queen was involved in every detail of her own service. It was, as perhaps was inevitable, rather more traditional than Prince Philip’s. No slightly modified reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus for the Supreme Governor of the Church of England was possible; in fact the two readings she chose were probably two of those most commonly selected for funeral services, and both were from the King James version of the Bible. This version has been almost totally removed from Church of England churches and in some cases, with good reason. But that doesn’t alter the fact that those of my age carry this version around in our heads, and in places its poetry makes up for the fact that it is sometimes muddled in its translation (see what Chris Sparkes says in his brilliant Preface to his Keys of the Kingdom Holy Bible, for example).
So there were probably fewer places in yesterday’s two services at Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, that presented mysteries than in Prince Philip’s short service at Windsor in April 2021. But I was absolutely struck by the fact that the Queen chose prayers that were all in the language of the Book of Common Prayer (even if they didn’t originate in that book). And she reminded me of the fact that the BCP, dating from 1662, is achingly beautiful in places.
This is a good example:
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done; then Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Who could fail to be touched by those words?
I’ve not been, I’m afraid, a great fan of our current Archbishop of Canterbury, but I must admit that the tone he took in his sermon in Westminster Abbey, in which presumably Her late Majesty took no hand, was very appropriate and chimed perfectly with the most telling verses in two of her chosen hymns. Firstly from ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’, this:
So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,
like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever,
till all thy creatures own thy sway.
And even more appropriately, from ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’, from later in the Westminster Abbey service:
changed from glory into glory
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee
lost in wonder, love, and praise!
The final reflection I wish to make is that I have in my possession a yellowed slip of paper that was torn from the bottom of the Order of my Confirmation Service, held on Saturday, November 27th, 1965, in Malvern College Chapel. My Uncle and Godfather, John McCann handed it to me after the service and told me that I would not go wrong if I followed the advice in this blessing.
It’s been a firm favourite ever since, and actually I believe it perfectly sums up Christian teaching, so I was thrilled that Her Late Majesty chose it for the end of the service in St George’s Chapel:
Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no man evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honour all men; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen
Thank you, your Majesty, for reminding us of our priceless legacy in these words. And thank you for being such an inspiration to us all, in death as in life. Amen
For those who could not catch the televised broadcasts, the Orders of Service can be found online at these addresses: