296-1226348580VH2IIrish funerals are big. And soon—rarely later than the third day. On the two or three evenings before, there are prayers over the coffin in the house, even a Protestant house. Not something I was used to in Chesterfield, but I found the pocket-book of Pastoral Offices bought in a Catholic shop does the trick. The place is full, with tea, sangwiches and Uisce beatha. A real good do, people drifting in and out to see the guest of honour laid out in Sunday best.

Just before the church funeral, we gather in the funeral parlour for more prayers round the coffin. Lots of people again. Church is packed, and there’s a crowd outside. The full liturgy, an hour by no means unusual, is relayed over the loudspeaker.

Then comes the wake. The whole day is soon gone. There are so many people involved in even one funeral, I wonder when they get any work done.

Funerals in England are small, late, and brief. People have had a week or two to chat and grieve. Since most are not regular churchgoers, and wouldn’t think of involving clergy in these early stages, undertakers do what in Ireland the clergy still do. I’ve learnt what’s expected of me in England, and that to exceed those expectations is neither necessary nor usually welcome. The Vicar is ‘hired’ for the ritual magic stuff, and the family isn’t bothered about which Vicar.

Church of Ireland clerics rarely bury people they don’t know. Church of England clerics rarely bury people they do. I averaged four a year when I was a C of I Rector. So far here, I’ve done three a month;  some colleagues do that many a week. Late and brief they may be, but I do them as well as I can, antennae sensitive to atmosphere, sounds, and sights. Only 25 minutes maybe, but 25 minutes in which dignity and professionalism are paramount.

Irish colleagues were incredulous at English ways. I can live with both.

3 thoughts on “Funerals

  1. Well said Fr Stanley.

    I think it’s a combination of both ancient cultural tradition and that Irish sense of community – esp. in rural Irish areas. When my late Irish father-in-law died, I found it (at first, as a Brit) astonishing that we hordes of folk could all take tea and have a pleasant chat over cake & the very same bedroom his open coffin lay.

    But it also struck home to me just how natural this sense of parting and acceptance of death was to them all! NOTHING disrespectful intended at all.

    Vital to it all was a large & venerable tea urn, frequently liberated for this type of duty from the local RC church hall.

    By contrast, some English funerals are as you describe: the worst almost akin to disposing of the leftovers. Secular, with a bit of ‘ligion.” (and a lot of Whitney Houston’s “I will always (bleedin’ well) love you” thrown in on some CD player) … shades of a cultural denial of death.

    I know which country I prefer.

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