Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor didn’t want his funeral to be a celebration of his life, but rather an expression of his faith. He would have been pleased by today’s Mass at Westminster Cathedral, which brought together Catholics of all kinds: bishops arrayed in their stubby white mitres, papal knights in dark green tails, black-veiled nuns, boyish MPs, Cathedral parishioners and crying babies. There were Archbishops of Canterbury past and present, as well as luxuriantly bearded Orthodox clergy.
The sun slanted through the south windows as the cardinal’s plain coffin was carried to its final resting place: a chapel beside the giant square Tenth Station of the Cross, designed by Eric Gill. The cardinal wanted to be buried there so that people – on their way to Confession, perhaps, or to the Lady Chapel – would remember to pray for him.
The funeral was less of a national media spectacle than that of Cardinal Cormac’s predecessor. Cardinal Basil Hume’s obsequies in 1999 were broadcast live on television and mourners included the Prime Minister, the not-yet-Catholic Tony Blair. This felt like a more strictly ecclesial event: the first funeral of a retired Archbishop of Westminster.
Despite the massive congregation it also managed to be a family occasion. The Murphy-O’Connor clan – all 95 of them – were at the heart of the Mass, with the cardinal’s nephew, Patrick, recalling Uncle Cormac’s transparent faith, eloquence and lack of golfing prowess in an address before the liturgy began.
Patrick spoke of how, when people thought of Cardinal Cormac, they would invariably smile. As the mourners inched out of the Cathedral, into a downpour, there were so many happy faces. In death, as in life, the cardinal had the ability to cheer people up.