The coverage of the late Lady Thatcher’s passing is now wall to wall on all media, and it is rather too much, to my mind. So, I apologise for adding to it. But I really do not want to talk about the Lady herself, but rather to ask – what is a funeral for?
The usual answer given is that a funeral is a ceremony (and this can cover non-religious funerals too) for the dignified disposal of the body of the deceased. It goes further: a funeral is an occasion to mark the end of a life, allowing for reflection and thought. After all, death is a major event in all our lives, or ought to be. For a Christian, a funeral would be a moment for prayer, and for a Catholic, a moment of prayer for the repose of the deceased’s soul.
What bewilders me about modern funerals is the concept of “paying one’s respects”. I know what this means, but I simply do not understand it. Allied to this is the idea of making a funeral into “the celebration of the life of X”. Again, I am at a loss to understand this. When I die, as die I must, I do not want my life celebrated, and I want no eulogies; I just want prayer, and more prayer. Neither do I want people to pay their respects – at least not to me; I would like them to show respect for God, however, by behaving properly in church.
In fact a funeral should be, horrid phrase, God-centred, just like any other act of worship. A non-religious funeral can hardly be that, but if it is to be existentially meaningful it should, to my mind, involve a deep long look into the abyss of nothingness that is death: it should honestly face up to the reality of personal extinction, if that is what the non-religious believe. It should not resemble an episode of ‘This is Your Life”.
Lady Thatcher’s funeral seems to be going down the wrong route to me. I may well watch it on television, and be proved wrong, but it seems so far planned to be a celebration of her life. If that is what one wants to do, why not have a jamboree with balloons at the Albert Hall? Why have a religious in form only, military and ceremonial funeral in Saint Paul’s? How will this ceremony be religious? How will the military part be religious? Is there really cause for triumphalism of this sort when we mark the passing of a soul to God?