The funeral of HRH Prince Philip, late Duke of Edinburgh, was celebrated with superb dignity in the sunshine at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. The Prince was a man of deep Christian faith. Of Lutheran antecedents, he was baptised Greek Orthodox on Corfu, becoming Anglican on his marriage. He helped found St George’s House, a religious study centre, at Windsor in 1966. He also helped found the Redundant Churches Fund in 1969. In later life he spent much time on Mount Athos. He carefully choreographed his funeral service. The band music before the service consisted mainly of the tunes of various well-loved Anglican hymns such as “I Vow to Thee, My Country” and “Jerusalem”. One happy inclusion was that for “O Valiant Hearts”, much loathed by modern vicars for stirring lines such as: “Tranquil you lie, your knightly virtue proved, your memory hallowed in the land you loved”.
Thirty mourners formed the congregation in the chapel; the only practising Catholic among them was was Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden, great nephew to the deceased. The service itself started with the singing of the Sentences from the Book of Common Prayer (“I am the Resurrection and the Life”, etc). The small choir sang individually, and suitably, the naval hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”. The service proceeded with well-chosen lessons and psalms and then a fairly Catholic version of the Lesser Litany. The real oddity of the service was however the sight of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, praying in the following words for the soul of the deceased: “To him, with all the faithful departed, grant thy peace; let light perpetual shine upon them” – i.e. the Catholic prayer for the dead, implying a belief in the doctrine of purgatory (“a fond thing vainly invented”, according to the 39 Articles); this was certainly unexpected for an Evangelical “graduate” of Holy Trinity Brompton, praying for something in which he presumably does not believe. It is all far from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer.
Then followed the beautiful sung Russian Orthodox “Kontakion of the Departed”, which again implies that praying for the dead is beneficial. The service ended with the splendid figure of Thomas Woodcock, Garter King of Arms (a collateral but Protestant relation of the Blessed John Woodcock, a Franciscan martyred at Lancaster in 1646), arrayed in tabard, proclaiming the styles and titles of the deceased. “Thus it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this transitory life unto his divine mercy the late most Illustrious and most Exalted Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich…” – all very suitable and unimpeachably Anglican.
This article appears in the May issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe now.