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Prince Philip: church guidance on prayers, bells, candles

10 April 2021


Flowers left outside Windsor Castle, where the Duke of Edinburgh died, on Friday

Flowers left outside Windsor Castle, where the Duke of Edinburgh died, on Friday

SPECIAL services to commemorate the life of the Duke of Edinburgh have been approved by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

As well as an official commemoration service, published online by the Cambridge University Press, the Archbishops have approved a service of prayer, for use in church or at home; a Service of the Word; and two forms of holy communion using modern and traditional language. The Cabinet Office has declared eight days of official mourning. The funeral will take place next Saturday (17 April) at 3 p.m. in St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

All these resources, which include prayers, suggested readings, and a selection of hymns and anthems, are available on the Church of England website.

A guidance note, issued on Friday by the archdeacons’ national development officer, the Revd Cameron Watt, and the national liturgy and worship adviser, Dr Matthew Salisbury, says that the services are a result of “a considerable amount of national planning” in preparation for the death of a senior member of the royal family.

Parish churches “will play a key role in the life of the nation” at this time, they write, particularly during the designated days of mourning until the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. The existing coronavirus restrictions colour the advice that they give, which includes:

books of condolence: these should be online only. National books of condolence exist, such as on the Church of England website and at www.royal.uk. Local books should be organised in conjunction with local authorities. They should be closed at the end of the day following the funeral. It is suggested that a letter by those responsible for books of condolence might then write to the Queen via her private secretary.

floral tributes: these are being discouraged by the royal family, who ask that charity donations be given in their place. Again, churches are encouraged to liaise with local authorities about a location that might be used by those wishing to leave flowers, as well as arrangements for clearing them away on the day of the funeral.

a focus for mourning: church authorities are enjoined to draw up a risk assessment covering an area in their church where people can express their mourning, such as somewhere to light a candle, with a suitable photograph on a black-draped table. As well as the need to manage the coronavirus risk, “the pastoral needs of those who are gathered to mourn will also need to be considered.”

flags: are to be flown at half-mast until the day after the funeral (more guidance is available from the British Flag Institute).

bells: these could be tolled during the hour before the funeral. Coronavirus restrictions mean that this will need to be done by just one ringer (more guidance is available from the Central Council of Bell Ringers).

As for special services of prayer and adaptations of planned worship, the Church of England site lists a number of prayers giving thanks for Prince Philip’s life and asking for comfort for the Queen and all who mourn his death.

These range from the Orthodox Kontakion for the Departed — “Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with the saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting” — to a prayer for use with young children: “Loving God, we are sad that Prince Philip has died. Thank you for his long life and for his care for the Queen and our country. Amen.”

Additional material includes a litany of thanksgiving “for all people touched by the Duke of Edinburgh’s devotion to public service”; readings for gatherings outside church; and a list of choral anthems, among them Sumsion’s “They that go down to the sea in ships.”


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