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Prince Philip would not have ‘over-spiritualised’ says Archbishop Welby

12 April 2021

A ceremonial funeral will be held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, on Saturday


The Duke of Edinburgh and members of the Royal family on their way to church in Sandringham on Christmas Day, 1999

The Duke of Edinburgh and members of the Royal family on their way to church in Sandringham on Christmas Day, 1999

THE late Duke of Edinburgh would have been “the first to harrumph strongly at over-spiritualisation” of both the world and himself — as even the disciples required sight of the resurrection to believe in the new creation, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

He was preaching in Canterbury Cathedral on Low Sunday at a service of remembrance and thanksgiving for the late Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, who died at Windsor Palace, aged 99, on Easter Friday (News, 9 April).

Archbishop Welby said: “For the Royal Family, as for every other, no words can reach into the depth of sorrow that goes with bereavement. . . Loss is loss. For each person it is felt individually and reaches into the heart variously.”

Yet for Christians, he said, there was hope in Christ and the resurrection; “for it is God who creates, God who calls, and God who sends. For His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, there was a willingness, a remarkable willingness, to take the hand he was dealt in life and straightforwardly to follow its call, to search its meaning, to go out and on as sent, to enquire and think, to trust and to pray.”

There was also hope and inspiration for the new creation of eternal life. “It is this new creation that inspires, and where we find lives that have prophetic aspects of foreseeing and practical applications of inspiring, as with Prince Philip, we see signs of this new creation — of the Spirit of God.”

But, Archbishop Welby continued, “We should not exaggerate. The Duke would have been the first to harrumph strongly at over-spiritualisation of the world he found, let alone of himself. The figures of the resurrection are fallible and normal. . . The reality of our life in this world is of old and new together — of strengths and weaknesses. We should not become hyper-spiritual or idealistic.”

With death came “deep loss and profound sorrow”, but also trust in eternal life. “Our lives are not completed before death, but their eternity is prepared. So we can indeed pray that the Duke of Edinburgh may rest in peace and rise in glory. We may pray for comfort. We may pray and offer love for all those who find that a great life leaves a very great gap — for the Royal Family and the millions who have themselves suffered loss.”

The Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, in his Sunday sermon, also reflected on the Gospel reading (John 20) in which the disciple Thomas asks to see the wounds in the risen Jesus.

“What the Queen has achieved through a lifetime of service has been built upon the foundation of a marriage, and to a man whose own values and character were formed, first through exile and then through the turmoil of war.

“Many things have been said about Prince Philip in the past few days, but one thing above others may be worth dwelling on as the Christian community in this land, is that the country that Philip served so faithfully was his adopted home.

“I wonder whether he could serve and become part of an adopted home, because his life was also formed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, who, when he stood among his disciples on that first Easter Day, and when in reaching out to Thomas reached out to each one of us, was forming a new household and a new humanity where the old boundaries and divisions no longer count.”

Pope Francis has sent his condolences to the Queen in a telegram in which he recalled Prince Philip’s “devotion to his marriage and family” and “distinguished record of public service”. It was written on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

“Recalling Prince Philip’s devotion to his marriage and family, his distinguished record of public service and his commitment to the education and advancement of future generations, His Holiness commends him to the merciful love of Christ our redeemer. Upon you and upon all who grieve his loss in the sure hope of the resurrection, the Holy Father invokes the Lord’s blessings of consolation and peace.”

Tributes have flooded in from world leaders past and present, bishops, faith leaders, politicians, and charities and organisations, among others over the weekend. Eight days of national mourning were announced on Friday, and acts of remembrance have been organised across the land (News, 10 April).

Services of remembrance and thanksgiving were held in cathedrals across England on Sunday, many of which were attended by invitation only, but live-streamed online. Bells were tolled 99 times, silences were held, gun salutes were fired, special prayers read, and churches were open for prayer and reflection and the lighting of candles, which can also be done virtually online through the C of E website.

Both the Royal Family and the C of E have opened online books of condolence (physical books of condolence are not recommended, owing to the risk of Covid transmission). The Royal Family have also asked that the public consider making donations to charity instead of buying floral tributes.

A ceremonial funeral will be held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, at which point the period of national mourning will end. Owing to national coronavirus restrictions, only 30 people will be permitted to attend the socially distanced ceremony, excluding the pallbearers and clergy, and including close relations.

The Duke will lie in rest in the private chapel of St George’s, a short distance away, before being taken to the State Entrance of Windsor Castle, and then the main chapel, where the coffin will be met by Archbishop Welby, who will conduct the service. Hundreds of members of the armed forces and police will line the streets.

Archbishop Welby also led a short a service of prayer, remembrance, and hope from the private chapel in Lambeth Palace on Saturday. The service was live-streamed on the Church of England website.

During it, he said of Prince Philip: “He did not see the world just as it was, but he saw what could be, and what should be. He was about innovation, possibility, potential. . . He knew the talents he had and what he could bring, and he brought them 100 per cent, at full throttle, right through his life.”

In his Thought for the Day, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 that morning, the Archbishop said: “Prince Philip shows how someone dedicated to bringing people together and encouraging the journeys of others achieved so much more than we can ever hope to on our own.

“Like all of us, Prince Philip had visions and dreams. He was amusing and witty. He had remarkable intellectual gifts and a willingness to test his opinion against others and listen to them. He was impatient with complacency about bad things happening. Whether in wildlife conservation and climate change, in working with young people, in interfaith relations in a world where more than eight out of ten belong to a faith, he was 50 years ahead of his time. And he was criticised for that, but, sooner or later, others followed.”

Prince Philip had set an example of the “essential but invisible” serving of others. “Above all, he served the Queen, for 73 years. That meant setting aside those things to which many people might have felt entitled. . . Perhaps the challenge which Prince Philip sets us is to look afresh at what we hold on to out of entitlement which, if humbly set aside, will make our lives transformative for others.”

The diocese in Europe has organised a special service at 4.30 p.m. on Friday to mark the life and work of Prince Philip. It will be led by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes, and livestreamed on the diocesan YouTube channel. “Contributions to the service will reflect HRH’s European lineage and global links across our diocese,” a note from the diocese explained. 

Dr Innes said: “For our European diocese, we remember that Prince Philip was born in Corfu, and his links across our continent were extensive. When he lived in Malta, he and the then Princess Elizabeth worshipped every Sunday he was not at sea at St Paul’s Pro Cathedral in Valletta, where he remained the Royal Patron of the Friends of St Paul’s Pro Cathedral.” 

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