By Peter Jennings in St Paul’s Cathedral
The well-known prayer by Blessed John Henry Newman, beginning “May he support us all the day long,” was recited by Archbishop Justin Welby, the recently installed Archbishop of Canterbury, before he gave the Blessing towards the end of the deeply prayerful, inspirational and emotional funeral service of Baroness Thatcher in St Paul’s Cathedral, on Wednesday, 17 April.
The prayer is taken from the end of the sermon “Wisdom and Innocence” preached by Dr Newman, then an Anglican Clergyman, at St Mary the Virgin, University Church, Oxford, where Newman was Vicar, on Sunday, 19 February 1843.
Sermon 20 in the volume “Sermons on Subjects of the Day” concludes: “May he support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done! Then in His mercy may he give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last!”
Unusually, The Queen accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, attended the Funeral Service of Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, and one who was most renowned. The last time this happened was when The Queen attended the State Funeral Service of Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, in St Paul’s Cathedral, on 30 January 1965.
Precisely as the clock struck 11am Lady Thatcher’s coffin, draped in a Union Jack, and after making its journey on a horse-drawn gun-carriage, was carried slowly, shoulder-high through the great West Door by a tri-Service bearer party, representatives of the Services who took part in the Falklands Conflict of 1982. On the coffin was a large, single wreath of white flowers and the simple but profound message: “Beloved mother, always in our hearts.”
The coffin was placed with expert military precision, under the ever-watchful eye of the head pall-bearer, on the catafalque under the great dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, with three funeral candles in large candleholders on either side. The light from the 2013 Pascal Candle directly behind the coffin was a vivid reminder of the “Lumen Christi” (“The Light of Christ”) sung three times by the deacon as the Pascal Candle is carried in procession into darkened churches during the Easter Vigil.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, MP, delivered the Second Reading from the Gospel of St John, chapter 14 vv 1-6, from the Authorised, King James Bible, ending with the words: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Amanda Thatcher, aged 19, Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter, daughter of her son Sir Mark Thatcher, had given the First Reading from St Peter’s Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6 vv 10-18. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
The Bishop of London, Bishop Richard Chartres, a family friend, began his meticulously crafted and thought-provoking sermon: “After the storm of a life lived in the heat of political controversy, there is a great calm.
“The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ‘ism’. Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.
“There is an important place for debating policies and legacy; for assessing the impact of political decisions on the everyday lives of individuals and communities. Parliament held a frank debate last week – but here and today is neither the time nor the place.”
The Bishop of London reminded the more than 2,200 mourners that: “This, at Lady Thatcher’s personal request, is a funeral service, not a Memorial Service with the customary eulogies.” He continued: “At such a time, the parson should not aspire to the judgments which are proper to the politician; instead, this is a place for ordinary human compassion of the kind that is reconciling. It is also the place for the simple truths which transcend political debate. Above all it is the place for hope.”
The Bishop of London added that Lady Thatcher had described her own religious upbringing in a lecture she gave in the nearby church of St Lawrence Jewry. She said: “We often went to church twice on Sundays, as well as on other occasions during the week … We were taught always to make up our own minds and never take the easy way of following the crowd.”
Bishop Chartres added: “Her upbringing was in the Methodism to which this country owes a huge debt. When it was time to challenge the political and economic status quo in nineteenth century Britain, it was so often the Methodists who took the lead. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, for example, were led not by proto-Marxists but by Methodist lay preachers.
Towards the conclusion of his sermon Bishop Richard Chartres said: “Today’s first lesson describes the struggle with the principalities and powers. Perseverance in struggle and courage were to be characteristic of Margaret Thatcher. In a setting like this, in the presence of the leaders of the nation, it is easy to forget the immense hurdles she had to climb. Beginning in the upper floors of her father’s grocer’s shop in Grantham, through Oxford as a scientist and, later, as part of the team that invented Mr Whippy ice cream, she embarked upon a political career. By the time she entered Parliament in 1959 she was part of a cohort of only four per cent of women in the House of Commons.” The bishop did not mention the Falklands Conflict.
Lady Thatcher’s choice of hymns for her Funeral Service reflected her Methodist upbringing in Grantham, where her father, Mr Alfred Roberts, was a lay preacher. The congregation sang “Love Divine, all loves excelling” by Charles Wesley, the sound filling every corner of the packed Cathedral. She had also chosen: the Pilgrim Hymn, “He who would valiant be”, with words by John Bunyan, and “I vow to thee, my country”, with words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice set to a melody by Gustav Holst.
The Archbishop Emeritus of Liverpool, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, represented the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, and said one of the Prayers during the Funeral Service.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference were on retreat in the villa at Palazzola, a possession of the Venerable English College, 18 miles south of Rome. Early that morning the Bishops of England and Wales celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica where they offered special prayers for Lady Thatcher.
After the prayers in St Paul’s Cathedral, the choir sang the beautiful “In Paradisum deducant te Angeli”, from Fauré’s Requiem (“May angels lead you into paradise”). Not alone I felt the tears roll gently down my face!
At 11.55am, the choir sang the Nunc dimittis from Evening Prayer, as the Coffin, accompanied by the Thatcher family, was carried out of St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of a quintessentially English funeral service into the early afternoon spring sunshine and to applause from the large crowds or ordinary people who had come to pay their respects.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, was present in St Paul’s Cathedral and represented the Holy See for the Funeral Service that was evangelistic, impressive and memorable.
As the various processions moved through the magnificent cathedral, Wren’s masterpiece, the organist played Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Sir Edward Elgar, followed by the Prelude and Fugue in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, LG, OM, FRS, 1925-2013, died at the Ritz Hotel in London, on Monday, 8 April, aged 87.