Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Liturgical Questions re: Ford Funeral

This is for anyone knowledgeable about liturical norms in the Episcopal Church . . .

Watching the President's funeral now, and can't help noticing certain things that differ from a standard Catholic funeral:

* The family all preceded the casket into the church, rather than follow it in (maybe due to practical considerations);

* The color guard preceded the casket, and the national flag remained on the casket (in a Catholic funeral, the flag would come off at the doors, and a pall, recalling the baptismal garment, would be placed on the casket. The flag could be replaced on the casket when it returns to the doors at the conclusion of the liturgy). I don't know the exact rules about a color guard, although I can hardly imagine it; it seems to me it would remain behind at the doors as well.

* I didn't notice any sprinkling of the casket with baptismal water.

* I also noted the procession was silent, except for one of the clergy reciting some verses; would there ever be provision for that to be sung?

* The opening collect was also recited. No surprise, but disappointing -- the cleric couldn't sing that?

* Former President Bush just got up to offer comments...

* Four eulogies! That doesn't surprise me, that sort of thing happens at Catholic funerals, although it shouldn't. I am surprised at the sequence; if this were a Catholic, non-Eucharistic liturgy, they wouldn't come at this point.

* Now, the Gospel? Is this usual for an Episcopal, state funeral?

* The Rev. Dr. Robert Certain appears to be an officer in the military -- he has medals on his stole!

* Now the Our Father is sung by a soloist. Someone correct me, but this is something mainline Protestant churches often do, isn't it? A while back, I had someone ask about having the Our Father sung as a solo at a Mass, and I said no, we always pray it together. Can anyone tell me otherwise? Prior to the reform of the liturgy, would this have been done in a Catholic liturgy?

* Now the petitions of the people; is this sequence -- i.e., after the Lord's Prayer -- normal?

* A note on the location, the Episcopal National Cathedral. It's every bit as stunning as it seems on TV. But when I visited one time, a few years back, noting all the political stuff, I thought, "we don't have an established church in this country, but I wonder sometimes if the Episcopal Church got the memo?" Occasions like this certainly reinforce that impression.

(By the way, if you watched, and you are wondering where the altar is, I believe it is usually where the casket was placed, although there is a "high altar" back in the apse. I have no idea if that is ever used.)

* "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" -- anyone have an objection to this hymn? It isn't clear whether the congregation was invited or even helped in singing it (do they have the words or a hymn number in their programs?)

* It is a shame they didn't use incense.

* Where is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Kathryn Shiori? Has she not been installed yet? That wasn't she, holding the book for the cleric doing the commendation? And how come they didn't have servers to hold books for the clergy?

* Now, with the closing hymn -- "For All the Saints" -- everyone seems to be singing. Too bad they weren't given the opportunity previously.

I don't know if anyone reading this got a chance to see this funeral, but if you did, feel free to let me know what you think. And certainly, anyone familiar with the Episcopal Church -- I'm curious to know how this squares with norms in the Episcopal Church.

Update: Two commenters think I am being critical of the Episcopal Church, comparing its rites unfavorably to Catholic pratices.

I am sorry that anything I said gave that impression; however, I think if one attends closely to what I said, you will see that is not the case. Yes, I did offer some mild criticism: "disappointing" that the cleric didn't sing the opening prayer; a "shame" that they didn't use incense; and "too bad" folks weren't encouraged to do more congregational singing.

However, none of these represent Catholic v. Episcopal ways of doing things! I.e., it's not true that Catholics sing prayers more often, or use incense more. If anything, I wouldn't be surprised to find it the other way round.

Yes, I did contrast this funeral with the Catholic way of doing it; but the reason is, that's what I know. It would have been pretty foolish of me to try to compare this with Episcopal norms, as I might guess about them, but I have no idea what they really are. That's why, at the very opening of this post, I asked for those who are knowledgeable about such things to give me their comments.

Really, I think some folks are hyper-sensitive.


Anonymous said...

"Eternal Father, Strong to Save" -...(do they have the words or a hymn number in their programs?)

This is a traditional hymn sung in Naval Chapels etc. To the best of my memory it is ALWAYS the last hymn sung at the Naval Academy Chapel. Thought I went to the rival school in New York - we certainly sang that hymn at events and the glee club sang it at events - (don't remember it at the Catholic Chapel at Mass.)

So - if you had been in the military the odds are good that you would know the song. (I know it and was in the Army) My guess is that it would be in any hymnal where there are military oriented services.

I have only been to one Catholic Funeral of an active duty soldier - many years ago. I don't remember what they did about the flag BUT I know there was no color guard in the Church though there was at the cemetery - funeral detail, bugle, 7 (?) salute, etc. But the Mass, well, was the Mass. I think that Catholics (maybe Orthodox) have such a different understanding of worship and our worship service that the 'rules' we have are based on questions that aren't even asked in most Protestant services. Certainly not at national memorial service like this.

So - a question - if this were a Catholic president - they would have had a funeral Mass - maybe at the Basilica just down the street. Could/would they be able to do a memorial service at the National Cathedral with eulogies, etc - but it not be a funeral? Also - could the casket be there?

Fr Martin Fox said...


I know President Kennedy's funeral was a Mass, at St. Matthew Cathedral in D.C. St. Matthew is not that large; my guess is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception would be used, in preference to the Episcopal National Cathedral.

That said, if there were a desire to have a service for a Catholic president at the Episcopal National Cathedral, I think the only issue would be having a Catholic liturgy there. I.e., an ecumenical service wouldn't be a problem for anyone. It would be a shame were that chosen instead of a Catholic liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Father, go to this link and you can download the actual service booklet that you saw people using during the funeral: http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/pdfs/FordFuneral.pdf (You will have to copy-and-paste this link. I don't know how to make it an active hyperlink.)

I was an Episcopalian for 55 years before becoming Catholic nearly three years ago. I can tell you that most Episcopal funerals that I've been to were "funeral Masses," i.e., the liturgy included the Eucharist. They were very, very similar to Catholic funeral masses, including holy water and sometimes incense. (They were "high" Anglican services.)

They could have done so here, but the problem is that for the last 20 years or so, the Episcopal Church has had an "open Communion" (for all baptized believers), which would have created quite a lengthy service with logistical complications, given the size of the crowd. So they evidently opted for the simplicity of a non-Eucharistic funeral service.

Plus, as you observed, the free-standing altar that is normally used was moved for placement of the casket.

I have been to services at the National Cathedral, and they do use the High Altar sometimes for mid-week Eucharists, as I recall (with everyone, including the priest, facing East).

All in all, this was not the normal liturgical format for most Episcopal funerals. Certainly the fact that there was only one hymn sung by the congregation was atypical. Most Episcopal services have a good deal of congregatinal singing.

In closing, I will say that the one, and probably only, thing that I really, really miss about being Episcopalian is the hymnody. Most Catholic "songs" (I dare not call them hymns) that are typically sung during Masses are horrid. Anglicans, for all their heretical ways, DO know how to lift their voices in glorious, uplifing music! Oh, that Catholics would learn to do the same!

Anonymous said...

My link did fully display in my previous comment. I don't know why. I'll try again:


Anonymous said...

Now the Our Father is sung by a soloist. ... Prior to the reform of the liturgy, would this have been done in a Catholic liturgy?

In a word, no. At a high Mass, whether solemn with deacon and subdeacon or a simple sung Mass without, the priest sang the introduction, "Guided by saving precepts" [a literal translation of the Latin] followed by the entire Lord's Prayer up until the last phrase, "Sed libera nos a malo" [deliver us from evil], which would be sung by the choir. Then the priest concludes the prayer by saying, not singing, "Amen."

At a low Mass, the servers would say the last phrase.

John B. Chilton said...

The former Episcopal PB, Frank Griswold was in the procession. Not sure why - perhaps he and the Fords knew each other. They were active fundraising initiatives for the Episcopal Relief and Development.

On the standard funeral service, see,
"If there is not to be a Communion, the Lord's Prayer is said here, and the service continues with the following prayer of intercession, or with one or more suitable prayers"

Anonymous said...



I was thinking more about this type of service either before or after the Catholic funeral Mass. Do you think having the casket present would be an issue? Or would it be only if you did it after the Catholic Funeral Mass? (Maybe doing it afterwards implies that it is an equivalent or more important service rather than going straight to the cemetery?)

Anonymous said...


This is the 1979 BCP text for funerals. It does seem they did a lot of cut-and-pasting with it.

These days in TEC, pretty much everything is optional. Palls, incense, holy water all fall in that category. I've been to many TEC funerals, and never heard the liturgy sung, even in parishes where Sundays and feasts are sung.

The priest was not actually wearing a liturgical stole, but a tippet, which is the norm for non-Eucharistic services in Anglican churches. The medals on it were still strange, but not as offensive as if it had been a liturgical vestment.

PB Schori was installed in November. Technically, the cathedra at the NatCath is that of the bishop of Washington, not of the PB. To my knowledge, TEC is the only Anglican province where the primate does not have a metropolitan see.

Anonymous said...

I posted the Rite II funeral (contemporary language), but I just noticed from the program they were using Rite I, which is this:


frcathie said...

i am an episcopal priest, and can assure you that most of the things you mention are usually found in an episcopal funeral - asperges (sprinkling of holy water), reading from the gospel, a homily instead of a eulogy (or 4) , but state funerals are a different matter.

because of its historical role in washington ceremonies, despite the fact that the cathedral is episcopal, the state funeral procedures override the denominational practices (within limits, to be sure, but if this had not been a state funeral, you would have seen something much more familiar. except for the singing, which is standard in some churches and not in others, depending on history)

the rt. rev. katharine jefferts schori has indeed been installed, but frank griswald may have been there in her stead for scheduling reasons (she travels 70% of the time). i don't know exactly why, but that would not be entirely unusual. it is true that the headquarters of the national episcopal church is in new york city, but the seat of the presiding bishop is indeed in the national cathedral, although the PB does not have pastoral oversight for the diocese, as the bishop of washington does (and so also has a seat there).

petitions after the Lord's prayer are possible in a service without a Eucharist, and the tippet, which is a normal vestment for non-eucharistic services, is analogous to an academic hood, and is often decorated with symbols of the diocese or seminary where a priest serves or studied. also, we normally do not put anything on a casket except a pall, but again, in this case, the identity of the deceased took precedent over the usual standards of the liturgy.

Anonymous said...

I was so disappointed to see your comments about former pres. Ford's funeral services, Father. It seems sophomoric and tacky to critique someone's funeral, certainly not at all "Christian". Would Christ nitpick a liturgy to death or arrogantly aver that "our" liturgy is the right or better one? I don't think so.
Harangues like this are what give Catholics bad names. Have some respect for others, please.
The funeral was done as well as any and I honestly doubt if the Lord of the Universe is greatly shaken by the sight of military medals on a church vestment. The point of the service was to gather prayerfully in honor of a deceased brother and commend his soul to God, while offering peace and consolation to the bereaved. Let that concern you, not hairsplitting comparisons of every deetail in favor of what-Catholics-would-do. It demonstrated that you watched the proceedings solely in order to pounce on every detail that failed to meet with your "Catholic" opinions, while failing yourself in the exercise of Christian love. Which is more important, the letter of the law concerning ritualistic practices - or the love of our fellow man and respect for all of good faith?
In reading what sounded so childish, pharisaical, and incredibly unloving and disrespectful to those of other faiths, I almost felt shamed to be a Catholic myself. This was not your finest hour, Fr. Fox. Please review the tone of your statements and assess why you took this attitude.

Deacon David Oatney said...

i would hardly call Father Fox "sophomoric." His questions are quite legitimate for a Catholic priest unfamiliar with Episcopal norms.

Anonymous said...


It seems to me that Fr. Fox was not questioning the inclusion of a Gospel reading per se, but merely that it came after the 4 "tributes" (or rather, that the tributes came before the Gospel).

Anonymous said...


I think you have WAY over-reacted to Father's post. I read nothing in it that was disrespectful. He was simply asking legitimate questions because he is not all that familiar with Anglican liturgical norms.

I do not see criticism or lack of Christian charity in Father's words. I simply see curiosity and interest, a bit of puzzlement perhaps, but nothing more.

Frankly, I think your comments to Father were tending toward the unchariable, not his.

Anonymous said...

I would hope that the National Cathedral could be used for the funeral of a Catholic president. To my knowledge it is a non-denominational space that is only administered by the Episcopal Church. Someone might correct me on this, though. Although the National Shrine is beautiful, I much prefer the Gothic revival of the National Cathedral. It does have an English feel to it, but one must recall that many of the Anglican cathedrals of today were once Catholic.

I also object to the characterization of Father's comments as sophomoric. That characterization was a textbook sophomoric comment. It was made with an air of Christianity and a thinly veiled anti-Catholic attitude.


Fr Martin Fox said...

FrCathie said:

"I am an episcopal priest, and can assure you that most of the things you mention are usually found in an episcopal funeral - asperges (sprinkling of holy water), reading from the gospel, a homily instead of a eulogy (or 4), but state funerals are a different matter."

That was my assumption, as well. But I really didn't know what was usual for an Episcopal funeral liturgy.

Anonymous said...

From the foreword of "For Thy Great Glory: The Building of the Washington National Cathedral" (1965):
The idea of a Washington Cathedral is as old as Washington itself. When the Congress of the newly created United States decreed in 1791 that the "Federal City" and future capital should be "the City of Washington," the men responsible for that city talked of a cathedral or great church. The chief planner, Major Pierre Charles l'Enfant, thought a church should be erected "for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations; and be assigned to the special use of no particular denominated or sect; but be equally open to all."
...many people were discussing the possibility of a cathedral, planned by the Protestant Episcopal Church, bu free to all...on January 6, 1893, the National Congress acted: It granted a charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia, empowering it to establish a cathedral and institutions of learning "for the promotion of religion and education and charity." Preserved in the National Archives and signed by President Benjamin Harrison, the Document is the Cathedral's birth certificate.
End of excerpt.

I own this book because my dear Dad, a devout Roman Catholic, was president of the construction company that built the cathedral (The George A. Fuller Co.) from it's beginnings until about the mid-seventies, when that Foundation changed contractors. The job was under my Dad's direct supervision as manager of the company's Wash. office during the 1960's.

Anonymous said...

One thing that struck me as I read this blog entry was an tone of negativity when you compared the rites of the Roman Catholic funeral to that of the Episcopal church. It was almost like you were questioning their rites as incorrect. While that might not have been your intent, it came across that way to me.

While I realize that the Episcopal faith is very close to the Roman Catholic faith, they are different and therefore, it would follow that their rites would be different. And I would guess that because it was a state funeral, it deviated from the norm for an Episcopal funeral.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

I don't think I am hyper-sensitive and I am not being critical. I am only expressing my opinion.

I did understand that you were looking for input from those who have knowledge of the Episcopalian faith, but the wording in your points seemed to me to be "challenging" rather than inquisitive. And I enjoyed reading comments from those who know more than me about Episcopalian rites and presidential funerals.

Anonymous #2

Anonymous said...

All I got from Fr. Fox's 'tone' is that he was typing the post as he was watching the funeral, which he states upfront. It sounds "note-y" and bulleted, but not rude. I guess I can see the tone being interpreted as 'challenging', but I just took it, as I've already suggested, as slightly distracted blogging. This is a personal blog, not (for example) a print publication or an organizational web site. As such, I have different expectations and standards. If I notice a typo in Fr. Fox's blog, I probably won't mention it; if I see it on the archdiocesan web site, I probably will. Likewise, if a blogger says something clumsily, I'm less apt to complain than I would to, say, the New York Times. They're different sites with different resources and purposes. A blog is decidedly less formal than the New York Times online edition. Even the blog of a priest.

As to the courtesy and care in language to be expected of Fr. Fox, apart from my earlier point about blogs, I would hope everyone would use the same courtesy and care in language themselves that they expect from the good father. Since I know I, for one, sometimes fail to be as vigilant as I should be in monitoring my own language, I would not be so quick to jump on someone else, particularly when I don't know that person to have a history of being rude or uncharitable. In Fr. Fox's case, my experience is exactly the opposite: I have yet to see him be intentionally rude, and he's been consistently courteous even to some of his most dogged detractors.

God bless,

Anonymous said...

Fr. Fox,

Episcopal funerals?

Methinks you have way too much time on your hands. Tend to your flock, good pastor, and leave blogging to others.

Banshee said...

It occurs to me that, were the media commentators doing their job, all these things would have been explained during the course of the funeral. I'm sure many people would have liked to know what was going on, and matters may have looked _very_ strange to folks from non-liturgical churches, and certainly to non-Christians. But instead of an educational explanation by voice or crawl at the bottom of the screen, we got what we got.