Prudence Dailey’s Commentary
Reflections on the State Funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
I was astonished and deeply honoured when I received a telephone call from the Cabinet Office inviting me to attend the State Funeral of Her Majesty The Queen, as one of a group of 200 ‘ordinary people’ who were given honours this year.
Despite the best endeavours of Great Western Railways to prevent me from getting there at all (with damage to overhead cables just short of Paddington), it was a magnificent and unforgettable experience. I was required to arrive two hours before the start of the service, and took my seat in the nave, along with other recent honourees. In addition to the Order of Service, I was provided with a separate ceremonial booklet listing exactly who would be arriving when in the numerous processions, from domestic faith leaders to foreign Heads of State and Heads of Government.
The layout of the Abbey meant that (in common with most of those present) what I saw was very limited; but some of the taller public figures—such as the Prince and Princess of Wales—were easy to spot. Then came Her Late Majesty’s coffin, lifted high with the the Orb, Sceptre and Crown sparkling magnificently atop—a poignant reminder of the familiar Coronation Photograph of Queen Elizabeth bearing these emblems of office which now bookended her reign. The service itself was, of course, splendid, with lovely music and well-chosen hymns (rendered with gusto by the congregation, I was pleased to note). I found my voice cracking as I sang the two lines of ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’: ‘Til we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love, and praise’.
The Order of Service was said to have been put together by—or at least with the assistance of—Her Late Majesty herself. Whilst it could not be described as a ‘by the book’ Prayer Book service, as expected it nevertheless drew heavily on the Book of Common Prayer. The Sentences, as well as the collect beginning ‘O MERCIFUL God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life….’ came directly from the Prayer Book’s service for the Burial of the Dead (although in the BCP that particular collect comes at the end), as did the lesson from 1 Corinthians 15. The prayer beginning ‘Almighty God, Father of all mercies and giver of all comfort…’ came from the Series One (1928) burial order, whilst other BCP prayers included Collect for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, and a slightly adapted version of the Prayer for the Royal Family in Morning and Evening Prayer. (Regrettably the use of the ‘old-fashioned’ language of the Prayer Book and the Authorised Version of the Bible has been criticised by some Christians on the grounds that the general public would have difficulty in understanding it; although it is notable that no such complaint has come from the unchurched population.)
The Archbishop of Canterbury was on top form with his sermon, whose clear focus was not on the earthly life of our Late Sovereign Lady, but on the promise of the life to come. A eulogy for The Queen would surely have been simultaneously insufficient and redundant (since so much has been said and written already)—and yet the foremost emphasis of every Christian funeral service is traditionally on our hope in Christ (even if it also proves an opportunity to reflect on the life of the deceased).
Assuredly, our faithful Queen would have understood all this very well. Her funeral befitted the moment when, at last, she could cast down her earthly crown at the feet of the King of Kings.