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The Dean of St Paul’s is right: it is not ‘appropriate’ to protest at Mrs Thatcher’s funeral. A funeral is about respecting another person’s humanity

Those who have protested against her are in any case mostly those from whom she rescued us

By on Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Baroness Thatcher's coffin lies in the Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath the Houses of Parliament (Leon Neal/PA Wire)

Baroness Thatcher's coffin lies in the Crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft beneath the Houses of Parliament (Leon Neal/PA Wire)

By the time you read this, Margaret Thatcher’s funeral will either be under way or will already have taken place. Reading through the order of service I was taken vividly back to my days as an Anglican clergyman, for I have in my time conducted many funerals using precisely the words used today to lay Mrs Thatcher to rest. The language of the Book of Common Prayer (from which the service is taken) is the only thing I miss about the Church of England. I have never had one second’s regret about becoming a Catholic: it is a daily joy, which never fades or falters. But I do miss the language (which is not, in English, the Church’s strongest suit). At the moment of death, the BCP is at its most powerful:

… like as a father pitieth his own children : even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him.

For he knoweth whereof we are made : he remembereth that we are but dust.

The days of man are but as grass : for he flourisheth as a flower of the field.

For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone : and the place thereof shall know it no more.

But the merciful goodness of the Lord endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him : and his righteousness upon children’s children…

Mrs Thatcher’s funeral, the important part (forget the soldiers) is just like anyone else’s: in death, we are all equal before God. That is why the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison, who is conducting today’s service, told the Telegraph last night that would-be demonstrators should “ask themselves searching questions” about whether it was “appropriate” to protest at another person’s funeral. He said that, even though they might have disagreed deeply with the policies of Lady Thatcher’s government, a funeral was “about respecting somebody else’s humanity”. He acknowledged, however that the event would be seen as “divisive”.

The question is why? Because she was divisive? The fact is that the divisions in our political life during her term of office were caused as much or more by those who opposed her: she was divisive only because she realised that the political realities she correctly perceived allowed of no compromise. The big question when she became Prime Minister was quite simple, and because of her almost inconceivable today: would the unions allow her to govern? The Callaghan government (and its predecessors) had persistently tried to placate the unions: the result had been disaster. She was determined to free the country from the domination of the union bosses. That she succeeded triumphantly is one of the things for which we all (except for a few extreme left-wingers), if we are honest, must be profoundly grateful: and Labour has not and will not attempt to reverse what she did.

The list of those who have delivered post-mortem attacks on Margaret Thatcher is almost entirely drawn from those to whom, a generation ago, she either denied power, or stripped away such power (sometimes considerable) as they already possessed: chief among the latter was Arthur Scargill, who I note has declined to say anything at all in the wake of his great enemy’s death: the explanation for this is probably that he is well aware that there is probably to this day no public figure in England more unpopular than he is.

A few former miners’ leaders have joined in the attacks, of course; but nobody has paid any attention to them. Everyone knows, not only that the NUM had to be beaten because it was trying to bring down a democratically elected government, but also, that under any government, of right or left, most of the pits would long ago have been closed, and that sadly but inevitably, mining communities would in any case have lost what it was that gave them cohesion and meaning.

A few of those younger politicians who followed in the wake of those she fought and defeated, of course, also attacked her, politicians who were not there at the time, like Diane Abbott, who delivered a measured and mostly reasonably dignified condemnation in the Commons debate last week (shortly before Glenda Jackson’s utterly disgusting performance). But mostly, the condemnations have come from those to whom she not only denied power, but who have shown by their recent behaviour how utterly unfit for power they always were.

Nobody, surely, has shown this more shamefully than Neil Kinnock, who has found an excuse not to be present in St Paul’s today. His attack: “She was a person who couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see the unfairness and disadvantaging consequences of the application of what she thought to be a renewing ideology. Thatcherism was a personality presented through a particular vocabulary and set of attitudes which generally took a pride in insularity” (they don’t think that in Eastern Europe), “being domineering and a short-termism in its approach to management and the conduct of political affairs….”, and on and on and on) brought back vividly to my memory his triumphalist behaviour at a Labour party rally in Sheffield, shortly before the 1992 election, when Labour was comfortably ahead in the polls: he was already celebrating victory, clearly really believing that he was on his way to number 10 Downing street.

Well, Mrs Thatcher was gone by then: but the contrast between them could not have been clearer: it was the contrast between her real political substance and the undignified ranting pigmy who thought himself worthy to stand in her shoes. The nation shuddered at the prospect; and to the astonishment of the chattering classes the electorate decided it preferred Mrs Thatcher’s choice as her successor, the modest and decent John Major (who among other things went on to preside over an economic revival—for which Gordon Brown took the credit—and who kept us out of the Euro). Kinnock, of course, spent the next 10 years lucratively making a career as a leading Eurocrat; had he been Prime Minister, he would have taken us straight into the euro, and by now we would be bankrupt rather than merely struggling.

But enough of all that. Margaret Thatcher’s actions in this life are completed, for good or for ill. And what we think of her now is as nothing, compared with the vast realities of life and death her funeral service evokes for her, as it has for so many over the centuries, realities which we also, every one of us, must one day face ourselves:

“Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live…. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased.…

“Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, shut not up thy merciful eyes to our prayers: but spare us Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour for any pains of death to fall from thee.”

There is only one thing missing in the service: nowhere, except by implication, is there any direct prayer for the soul of the departed. That is a work of God that falls to Catholics; and whatever we thought of Margaret Thatcher during her life we must surely all pray now: Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

  • Acleron

    I could agree with you if this truly was a celebration of her humanity but the government has chosen to make it a political circus. Therefore it is entirely right that people can protest.

  • William Oddie

    No: the funeral arrangements were decided by the Labour government

  • MGK

    Yes we should pray for the repose of Margaret Thatcher’s soul, but this should be in conjunction with prayer for those who suffered and died as a result of her policies.

  • whytheworldisending

    “…demonstrators should “ask themselves searching questions” about whether it was “appropriate” to protest at another person’s funeral.” That’s the whole point
    – the protesters do not regard this as a funeral, and there is a reason for that.

    “A funeral is about respecting another person’s humanity,” but the public parade of pomp is about paying homage to Mammon, who demands that we sacrifice humanity at the altar of wealth and privilege. Are the 40,000 London families being socially cleansed by way of extortionate uncapped rents supposed to feel privileged that the so-called funeral is only costing an amount equal to £1,000 per family?

    “In death, we are all equal before God,” but to what extent does the London Rally reflect that Mrs Thatcher was just another human being who seized the reigns of worldly power for a time? In North Korea, the State apparatus has the power to declare that subjects worship whoever happens to be leader as a God. Surround anybody with enough like-minded megalomaniacs and we can pretend they really are more equal than the rest of us. The protesters just beg (some quite literally) to differ, and I don’t think there would be a single protest if this was just a funeral.

    “There is only one thing missing in the service: nowhere, except by implication, is there any direct prayer for the soul of the departed.” There’s a reason for that.

  • Acleron

    Which ever government, does it matter? It is still a political occasion.

  • Robin

    It is hard to imagine anything more posturing and pretentious than the words of this apostate priest. The Church of England as the catholic ( that’s right, no captital “c”) Church of the Land is Oddie’s perpetual bête noire, his endless protest voice (and raison d’etre) for the “uber-Catholic” status of the Italian Mission. Roman Catholics–for that is where he is now in the wide domain of eastern and western catholicism–should perhaps think twice about praying for the soul of an ex-Methodist in case they endanger their own “immortal” souls. Why not just leave that thankless task to the Church of England–embracing, accepting, and, ah yes . . . wholly catholic by the creeds of the primitive church of the apostles.

  • william oddie

    It was an all-party, therefore a national, ocasion. The crpwds along the way demonstrated that by their constant applause. The only noticeable protest was a contemptible attack on the horses drawing her gun-carriage: a perfect demonstration of the protesters’ inability to convince the vast majority of the population that Margaret Thatcher was anything but a towering national figure. They couldn’t convince anyone: so they tried to panic the horses. Pathetic.

  • william oddie

    Come on: you can hardly claim that this post was an attack on the C of E: if anything it was precisely the reverse. It’s hardly an attack to say that the C of E doesn’t pray for the departed. Some individual Anglicans do, unofficially (as, actually the Bp of London did at the end of his sermon): but it’s not officially a recognised practice. This comment is itself “posturing and pretentious” drivel.

  • Saepius Officio

    this is incorrect now actually. The Church of England’s authorized worship materials now include prayers for the dead. The 1928 Prayer Book reintroduced the pravtise, and though it was rejected by the Commons, the Church adoptrd it anyway. Of the three funeral services the Church authorizes, only 1662 does not have prayers for the dead in the official liturgy.

  • paulpriest

    I’m not even sure if it’s a real person commenting.

    Reminded of the Eno Phillips joke:

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the
    edge, about to jump off.

    So I ran over and said “Stop! don’t do it!”
    “Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
    I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
    He said, “Like what?”

    I said, “Well…are you religious or atheist?”
    He said, “Religious.”

    I said, “Me too!

    Are you christian or buddhist?”

    He said, “Christian.”

    I said, “Me too!

    Are you catholic or protestant?”

    He said, “Protestant.”

    I said, “Me too!

    Are you episcopalian or baptist?”

    He said, “Baptist!”

    I said,”Wow! Me too!

    Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?”

    He said, “Baptist church of god!”

    I said, “Me too!

    Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?”

    He said,”Reformed Baptist church of god!”

    I said, “Me too!

    Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of
    1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?”

    He said, “Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!”

    I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.

    But – re ‘praying for the dead’ – As a student I lived with a trainee Methodist Minster [whom ironically went off to become a Quaker instead] but one of the major bones of contention we had was his violent aversion to the concept of praying for the dead – something utterly anathema to him and on the level of selling relics or indulgences..[the only time I'd seen him more irate was when one Anglican parish was using a rite of service that had a licence which had expired - and I still don't know what that means?!]

    ..and my Father’s Primitive Methodist family would have been scandalised at the very notion of such ‘superstitious papolatry’ [to the extent of going ballistic when i knelt praying and attempted to light a candle at my deceased grandmother's bedside - I'm just glad they didn't see my rosary or there might have been a few more funerals].
    I remember back in Aylesbury in 1990 the near-fist-fight at the local oecumenical Justice & Peace meeting because the Catholic & Evangelical position on life beginning at conception was ‘offending’ the Methodists who supported ‘pre-personhood abortion’ [???!] but still wanted to be called ‘Pro-Life’

    And the east midlands village that had two methodist churches whose congregations wouldn’t speak to each other because one had dared to have a church raffle generations previously!

    ..but my Grandfather was one of those Primitive Methodist Radical Liberals who helped formulate, actuate and administrate virtually the entire network of local government and affiliated charities, water buffaloes, rotarians, working men’s institutions, WI’s etc

    [ironically one of the 'badges' of his Methodist beliefs was a sworn aversion to buying one's own house and stealing a future generation's rentable accommodation]

    Was Baroness Thatcher of that incongruously weird but occasionally wonderful Methodist strain?
    We know of her politics and its religious allegiances but what about the things awkwardly Methodist?

    …I mean if it could produce a Friedmanite Hayek-adoring Lady T & a CND & undeserving poor-loving Lord Soper it must be something unusual?

    Baroness Thatcher didn’t mind a Scotch & Soda so she wasn’t THAT type of Methodist..

    ..and we know she wasn’t averse to stockmarket speculation so she wasn’t THAT type of Methodist..

    ..and we know she tried to introduce Sunday trading so she wasn’t THAT type of Methodist.

    But was she residually Methodist in any way?

    Did she pray for the fallen dead at the Cenotaph on Armistice day?

    Would Grocer Roberts have been in paroxysms that Archbishop Kelly gave his daughter a full-on Catholic blessing?

    I am seriously not trying to be offensive in any way – but there are religious sensibilities and sensitivities to consider here and I was wondering if Lady T was just one of those generic-types who ‘meandered about the middle’ when it came to high and low anglicanism and its methodist erm. affiliation?

    Was Lady T just a mainstream pseudo-Anglican who was quite easy-going providing it didn’t get into high-church frippery? Where religion could comfort and challenge in modest proportions in an appropriate manner?
    I’m not suggesting she wasn’t religious but was it more ineffably nondescript in form if ardently observed in content?

  • Acleron

    Of course it was national, in fact from the foreign coverage, it was international. And it was still a circus.

    That the protesters, in the main stayed away, is probably reflected in the lack of attendance by the public.

  • Tridentinus

    I sympathise with you, Mr Oddie, when you say you miss the language of the Book of Common Prayer. I would like to add that the sombre, dignity of the service impressed me too; the traditional black copes, the music and the reverence. I know that the majority of Anglican funerals are usually as banal as modern Catholic ones with their contemporary language, ‘Age of Aquarius’ vestments, pop-music and surfeit of mawkish sentimentally.

    The traditional rite of the Missal of St Pius V supplied what Mr Oddie laments is lacking: explicit prayers for the soul of the deceased. Cranmer’s beautiful service conveyed the message of ‘sure and certain hope of resurrection’ not just of the deceased but also of those in the pews which suggested that all that was necessary for Salvation was Faith: Sola Fides.

    The former Catholic Rite reminded the mourners in no uncertain terms of their own mortality and proclivity to evil. The magnificent Sequence of Thomas of Celano, the ‘Dies iræ …’ spelled out starkly the consequences of sin. The Offertory of the Mass, ‘Domine, Jesu Christe …’ and the Responsory, ‘Libera me, Domine …’ during the Absolution continued this theme but at the end of each of them was the impassioned plea and also the fervent hope for God’s mercy upon the deceased. The Catholic Church, alas, has all but abandoned this both in its practical Liturgy and perceived Doctrine.

    The Anglican ceremonial of this Funeral taken as a whole, however doctrinally deficient, was stately, august and inspiring. Would that the Catholic Church would realise this and return to the Liturgy and Doctrine which has sustained it throughout the ages.

  • Tridentinus

    I must say, ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’. I appreciate that you do not intend to be contentious but can we not now leave this lady to the mercy of God and not speculate upon that which is solely in the possession of her conscience.

  • paulpriest

    It is not a judgment-call to question what Lady T believed and whether she was one of those people who would state they were guided by their religious principles but never driven or ruled by them. their rule of thumb being that the Sabbath was made for man..not etc…questioning in what sort of Methodism did she believe is not lighting the faggots beneath her memory – or was Nostra Aetate never written?

  • Tridentinus

    I enjoyed your post especially the Eno Phillips joke. Your experiences with your Primitive Methodist father remind me of my own early experiences with my evangelical in-laws which I can smile about now but not then. The near punch-up at the Justice and Peace meeting is priceless as was the tale of the two non-speaking Methodist congregations.
    Your musings about Lady T’s commitment to Methodism and later Anglicanism, although intriguing, just seemed to me to be unanswerable now as she is dead and any judgement would be speculative. Re-reading your post I see that you were not judging but maybe simply thinking out loud.

  • $46579571

    If William Oddie regrets that people attack Mrs Thatcher, he and those who think like him shouldn’t go out of their way to provoke such attacks by their intemperate praise of Mrs Thatcher, which disgusts many in the UK as much as Glenda Jackson’s speech disgusts him.
    On a small point of mere truth – the British people never voted in Mrs Thatcher; she never won anywhere near 50% of the vote and her occupation of Downing Street was based upon the severe division of the opposition to her. Many of those who did vote for her did so from dislike for her opponents (not from the swooning admiration for her that still afflicts William Oddie) and I doubt whether even the most fervent of her supporters really wanted her to take Britain into the turbo-capitalist nightmare that was the outcome of her policies; she was, after all, to some extent merely the puppet of the financil interests that backed and bankrolled her.
    Her economic policy was neo-liberal; and as William Oddie well knows, neo-liberalism (i.e. laissez faire, sink-or-swim, devil-take-the-hindmost economics) has always been fiercely condemned by the Church. Not that such a consideration will for one moment rein in his enthusiasm for Thatcherism.

  • Tridentinus

    The Anglican Prayer Books of 1552 and 1662 contained no prayers for the dead. The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone promulgated by Luther and Calvin got rid of Purgatory as the soul went either to heaven or hell and in either case was beyond the need of prayer. Taken to its logical conclusion as Calvin did, once one believed one was saved and this salvation being solely an unmerited gift of God could never be lost.

    Cranmer was uneasy about this as he felt it implied that anyone who simply believed was saved regardless of their subequent behaviour and would lead to an increase of ‘naughtiness’ due to the fact that their Faith alone would save them in spite of their continuance in sin. The Archbishop, in the end, chose to water down this doctrine that this Justification could be foreited by a subsequent loss of Faith. This loss of Faith would be the reason for the ‘naughtiness’ of their behaviourThe prayers for the dead did not, therefore, appear in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. They were not restored in the 1662 Book.

    There is little evidence that praying for the dead ever fell out of favour in the consciences of Protestant England. Its Liturgy and its theologians may have excluded it for hundreds of years but the use of the subjunctive in the invocation ‘Requiescat in pace’ defines it as a plea and this invocation, ‘may he/she/rest in peace is and has been and still is on most peoples’ lips whenever they hear of a death.

    Praying for the dead slowly crept back in to Anglican Liturgy via the non-jurors, the Tractarians and Anglo-Catholicism, however, it is still merely optional as Anglicans can choose to be protestant or catholic or anywhere in between.