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St Paul’s congregation prays for the late Queen and sings ‘God save The King!’

09 September 2022

Glyn Paflin reports from the Service of Prayer and Reflection


Members of the public attend the Service of Prayer and Reflection at St Paul’s Cathedral, on Friday evening

Members of the public attend the Service of Prayer and Reflection at St Paul’s Cathedral, on Friday evening

IT WAS a service of prayer and reflection, not the state funeral itself; and so, on Friday evening at six o’clock, St Paul’s Cathedral was full, but not at its most formal. In the heart of the City of London, it was not surprising to see plenty of men in suits or that they had chosen black as the most suitable colour of tie on this occasion; but the atmosphere suggested a sombre but essentially familial diocesan event — or, as another reporter referred to it afterwards, a “people’s service”.

Nevertheless, there was a contingent of “protected people”, as I heard an armed policeman call them afterwards, when he was shooing people away from one route out of St Paul’s Churchyard. Among the VIPs were the Prime Minister, who was going to read the second lesson, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and other politicians, as well as the Lord Mayor of London. So the media were bidden to arrive early; and the congregation in general had to be seated by five.

For the public who wanted to attend, it was first come, first served, for the wristband that would gain them entry. By 3.30, Paternoster Square, to the north of the cathedral, had queues across it like the snakes on a snakes-and-ladders board. We reporters took our seats in the south-transept gallery about an hour later.

At ten to five, a procession of prebendaries and other clergy moved to the chancel. By 5.25, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had arrived together to robe. The order of the day for the clergy was choir dress. The Archbishops and the bishops present looked mournful in black chimeres. We could see that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave the blessing, and the Bishop of London, who preached, both wore black armbands.

At 5.30, as the nave filled steadily up, the organ music began: by Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Peter Maxwell Davies. Finally, Edward Elgar’s Solemn Prelude “In Memoriam” from For the Fallen cast its gentle melancholy over the waiting congregation and set the mood for the opening of the service.

The still unfamiliar figure of the Prime Minister, in a black dress, looking tiny from where we were seated, was escorted by the Canon in Residence through the new porch that has been created in memory of the victims of Covid; she took her seat at the very front on the north side of the nave. A few minutes later, the Lord Mayor and Mayoress were brought in by the same way.

The monumental doors closed solemnly on the new porch, and the Dean announced what the order of service did not, that, before the first hymn, we would hear the King’s broadcast. Suddenly, there was that familiar voice, but with its new authority and gravitas, speaking of his late “mama”, but also of his own faith and pledge to serve for the days that remained to him; and of the values and traditions of this country and the other Commonwealth realms, and of the religious and cultural diversity that came from the transformation of the UK during his mother’s reign. He confirmed that he had made the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge the new Prince and Princess of Wales.

Church TimesWould-be worshippers queue in Paternoster Square to attend the Friday-evening service in St Paul’s

Then we stood for “All my hope on God is founded” and the opening procession, and the service began with a responsory based on 1 Corinthians 15.

“With proud thanksgiving, we gather in this cathedral today to mourn the death of our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth the Second,” the Dean Designate, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett, introducing the service, said. “. . . We pray too for our most gracious Sovereign Lord, The King, that placing all his trust in God, he too may rule over us in peace with justice and compassion.”

The collect, asking for light and peace for “your servant, Elizabeth” and “your whole Church, in earth and heaven”, was followed by an anthem composed by Howells and sung at the 1953 Coronation: “Behold, O God, our defender”. Then the Canon in Residence read Isaiah 61.1-3, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me. . .”

The choir, under Andrew Carwood, sang another classic of 20th-century English cathedral music, William Harris’s “Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening”, which is a setting of John Donne, the famous poet-Dean of St Paul’s.

AlamyThe Prime Minister, Liz Truss, reads Romans 14.7-12

Liz Truss’s reading was Romans 14.7-12, “We do not live to ourselves. . . Each of us will be accountable to God.” It was followed by the hymn “O thou who camest from above”.

In her sermon, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that “a life lived in service” was a jewel that the late Queen had worn as a crown.

“Her Majesty’s sense of vocation and calling was not something she could pick up and put down again. It was deeply embedded in her understanding of herself. In the spirit of our reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, she did not live to herself, nor has she died to herself.”

The Bishop spoke of the power and strength to be found in coming together; and about grief. “All of us are grieving the loss of our Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. But the Royal Family are grieving the loss of a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother.

“How we learn to live with the death of a loved one differs for each of us, but we must all find a way to grieve. As the theologian Tom Wright said, ‘Not to grieve, not to lament, is to slam the door on the same place in the innermost heart from which love itself comes.’ We may not know the power of that love until the moment of loss, for as the writer Kahlil Gibran wisely observed: ‘Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

“When we are bereaved, we need to make opportunities, individually and together, to face and absorb the depth of our loss. Yet we are also invited into the healing love of God which never falters, and which is the deepest and widest perspective of our lives.”

During the Coronation, Queen Elizabeth, the Bishop said, had given “her allegiance to God before anyone gave their allegiance to her. The depth, breadth, and generosity of Her Majesty’s self-giving in service was an extraordinary gift. I am certain it has gladdened God’s heart. No words can encompass how much we owe Her Late Majesty The Queen.”

The Bishop’s sermon led smoothly into the choir’s singing of the Nunc Dimittis, to Stanford in G.

The minor canons led the prayers, and the congregation stood for “The Lord’s my shepherd”. Someone who viewed the service on television, and could see as the camera panned across, suggested to me that many of the congregation did not sing during the hymns. But then this was a congregation of all comers, not a carefully rehearsed Songs of Praise. Some of us sang in the press gallery, while others typed away on their laptops.

An Act of Commendation was led by the Dean-Designate, beginning with the responses “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”; and including a brief silence and a Scottish piper’s lament, played as he walked from the west to the east end, through the centre of the congregation. The response “Rest eternal grant unto her, O Lord” was said.

There followed an anthem by a contemporary composer, Geraint Lewis, “The souls of the righteous”, while the Books of Remembrance were taken from the dome altar to St Dunstan’s Chapel and the Chapel of St Michael and St George.

The blessing brought us back to the conventions of the new reign which we are still getting used to. “God grant to . . . the Church, the King, the Commonwealth, and all people, peace and concord.” And when everyone had said Amen, the organ built up to introduce the National Anthem, and for most of those present it would have been the first time in their lives that they had sung “God save our gracious King.”

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