Rite and trite

Charles 3 Comments

There’s an interesting article in yesterday’s Guardian about funeral rites in the Church of England Book of Common Prayer (BCP). Here are some tasters:

Life expectancy in Tudor England was mid thirties, and about a third of children died before attaining the age of ten. Mortality was very much in the air and on the streets, what the Book of Common Prayer described as “divers diseases and sundry kinds of death.” … Before modern times the unjust and random nature of fate was inescapable. Death was no stranger, and contemplating your end was not an exercise for a retreat, but the inevitable consequence, half the time, of going out in the streets. In the midst of life you were in death … Death’s carriage delivered us, in the end, to the public crematorium of the 1970’s, with its Terylene curtains, cheesy music, elaborate floral tributes, and shuffling, embarrassed mourners. Death still comes to us all, but now as a sanitised stranger.

Most interesting, though, are some of the comments left by readers. Here’s a sample:

This summer I visited the convent chapel in the aragonese castle on Ischia.
What I thought at first to be toilets, were in fact the penultimate resting places of deceased nuns, whose corpses were seated on these bowls as corruption removed the flesh slowly from the bones and the fluids drained away. To be constantly reminded of their mortality, the other nuns would visit this apalling spectacle daily, many of them sickening and dying themselves as a result of the germ-laden atmosphere.

Give me sanitation and terylene curtains any day.

Dead nuns’ draining seats, Ischia

Existences of null consequence seems to be the modus operandi of modernity. Organs in bodily transition – no future / no past a linear journey from birth to death with no stops and seeming little point.

This seems to that ino our “yoof” obssessed culture we journey into invisibility and then pass away pointlessly. The links to the past and the future give us meaning in the present.

I’m fascinated how you could write a fairly extended piece on the BCP Funeral Service without mentioning the Funeral Sentences ?.

So I will.

Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

What language. If I don’t have these words said at my funeral, I shall return to haunt CiF [Comment is Free]  belief !

Read the entire piece here.

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Death Matters
13 years ago

Wow, Charles, now that tops anything I have ever seen or even imagined in terms of death contemplation. The crypts of Palermo with literally thousands of dried monks hanging from hooks on the walls come close – but they did not watch the awful process as it happened.

For me these nuns’ practice is way overboard – masochism really. Death contemplation needs to be associated with a positive outcome or at least the possibility of it.

Rupert Callender
13 years ago

I think even us hardy types at the Natural Death Centre would shy away from endorsing that. As Death Matter’s says, something warped about it.

Perpetua's Garden
13 years ago

Charles, in the original article I find the following sentence, which reeks of cultural myopia: “Small wonder, then, that people relished remembrances of mortality – moths, hourglasses, death’s heads and crossed bones – scattered around the insides of churches as we might expect to find them at a biker gangs convention.” No need to visit a biker gang! If the author watched a single night of TV with truly open eyes, he would observe an equally remarkable relishing of blood, guts, death and dying in the myriad forensic police shows, reality shows where operations are shown live, and so on.… Read more »