Posted by Richard Rawlinson
Mafia funerals in churches intrigue. Any congregation inevitably includes an eclectic mix of faces in the pews, but the mobsters and molls at a gangster funeral turn the nave into something else. They’re totally welcome, of course, and are likely to be behaving with perfect decorum, but you still can’t help projecting onto those grieving faces all the crimes they’re alleged to have committed. Hard eyes and mouths telling tales of violence, perhaps. Bling coffins and flash clobber as displays of ill-gotten gains. Burly security and watchful police. Onlookers can’t help a frisson of excitement when glimpsing a hidden underworld.
The expression and body language of the unworldly priest is something to behold, too. Some might be extravagantly warm, working hard to make out they feel at ease. Others might perform their duties with a poker face and a stiffness that reveals they’re beyond the comfort zone of being among their regular parishioners.
I recall attending the church funeral of a young journalist some years ago where the equally young Anglican priest’s demeanour stole the show for me. An endless eulogy performed in the pulpit by a friend of the deceased man was a string of gossipy anecdotes about promiscuous sex, drink and drugs binges and bitchy feuds with various acquaintances, all delivered with appropriately colourful language.
Intended as a fond tribute to a decadent and sometimes rather vicious rogue, it would have been a step too far as a raunchy best man’s speech let alone a funeral eulogy. Most of the congregation seemed to lap it up, laughing raucously at the most shocking outbursts of the stand-up comedian by the altar, seemingly insensitive to the view of some that it might be defiling a place of worship.
My eyes were transfixed on the priest who sat motionless, his expression, though deadpan, showing a hint of cool disdain. His lack of reaction to the speech—neither amusement nor embarrassment nor anger—seemed to speak volumes of his disapproval. The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Keep calm and carry on.
He dutifully stood at the door of the church shaking our hands as we processed out. When I said, ‘Thank you, Father,’ he nodded without so much as a smile. He seemed to just want out of the situation. Perhaps he was feeling remorse that he’d been naïve to allow things to go beyond his control.