From the Rector…
There are moments in our lifetime in which we know that we are being steeped in history. These past few days have been one of those moments as the world observed the passing of Queen Elizabeth and the end of an era. However you might feel about her, the end of her life marked more than seventy years on the throne. A tenure that saw the rise and fall of an imperial age in history, countless presidents and political leaders from around the world, the popularity of the Beatles, and a modernizing of the monarchy as well as the world. Of all the historical significance of this moment in time and the pomp of a state funeral, it is the liturgical setting in which a family, a nation and commonwealth, and the world have marked this passing that has been the most touching for me.
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is derived from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer that Cranmer wrote back in the day of Henry VIII. Though it has gone through subsequent renditions, our current prayer book continues to exercise liturgy in the same basic manner—including the burial liturgy. I have often heard through my life that the burial liturgy in the BCP is meant to bury princes and paupers. That is just what it does though we might include queens in our list as well.
The liturgy of burial, commendation, and committal in the state funeral of Elizabeth II, and even in the memorial services preceding, are derivatives of the burial service we pray whenever someone is buried from Ascension including our pauper burials. There are certain customaries we adhere to that reflect our Episcopal identity. We bury from the church as an Easter celebration that reminds us that death is not the end—only a passing from this life into our eternal one. We use particular readings prescribed by the prayer book as well as hymns from an approved hymnal. There is an option for Communion, though rarely do we incorporate that. An ordained person, preferably Episcopal clergy, offers the homily—in large part because the service, though it marks the death of a particular person, is about God.
The homily at a burial service is not a eulogy to talk about the person who has died, it is an opportunity to remind us of the witness a person has demonstrated to the power and vitality of God through their faith. A homily is not necessary, though sometimes it is warranted simply to help bring closure in times of loss especially if that loss was unexpected or traumatic. It is also a beautiful way of glorifying God as a reminder of God’s people and how a particular life has been dedicated to God. Clergy are the appropriate persons to offer such a homily in part because that is what they are trained to do and also because they are called by the people to steward the church and its liturgies. That stewardship includes the message from the pulpit. It is the customary at Ascension, that clergy offer the homily. If a family member or friend wishes to speak, they can do so before or after the service in Ascension Hall or at the gravesite. There are some exceptions to this custom, but they are very rare. The Queen has been surrounded by people who love her and know her and are gifted orators, and yet in keeping with the custom of the church, it was the Archbishop of Canterbury who offered the homily at her state funeral—a homily that defined the Queen as a Christian and testified to her witness of God throughout her life.
The accolades and remembrances of a person do not truly boil down to what they have accomplished or how productive they have been in this life. When we reach the heavenly realm, the accounting we will make is not how much we achieved; it will be an accounting of our spiritual life and all that we have offered in the service of our Lord. That is why I find the liturgy to be the most poignant reminder of the historical significance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. She will be remembered for much, but her faith and her life built upon that faith helps us to remember God.
May her soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace. God save the King.
Light and Life,