Friday, December 7, 2018


I usually do not like anything Michael Winters writes for the National Chismatic Reporter (NCR), but his observations about the Episcopal Funeral Rites for President George H. W. Bush are my sentiments exactly.

I don’t like critiquing non Catholic funeral liturgies because our own have so much to criticize especially when these become a celebration of life or a canonization, as was the case for President Bush, rather than a prayer for the faithful departed, a true Requiem.

I also applaud the ultra liberal, heterodox Winters in his dislike of an amalgamation of Christian and non Christian ministers each with their own part in a politically correct state funeral.

I watched some of the funeral rites from Texas at the magnificent and more Catholic looking than many actual Catholic  churches, St. Martin's. The music was spectacular and well executed, but it was in the Protestant style, as it should be, over the top triumphalism. The soaring notes truly brought about an emotional response as was the case for President W at the end of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Here is an excerpt from Winter’s critique but you can press the title for the full article. What do you think?

Bush funeral blended symbols of church and state, seemed non-communal

A presidential funeral at a high church sanctuary like St. Paul's, like the requiem Mass for President Kennedy at St. Matthew's Cathedral in 1963, would strike most Americans as profoundly strange. The Episcopal liturgy we witnessed on Wednesday was decidedly low church and not very liturgical at all and, just so, it could accommodate the civil religious themes more easily.

One of the characteristics that most struck me was how non-communal the service was. It is not only that there was no Communion service. The Our Father, a prayer that all could recite together, was instead sung by a soloist and the choir. The beautiful hymn "The King of Love My Shepherd Is," a setting of the 23rd Psalm sung to the Gaelic hymn tune St. Columba, was performed as an anthem by the choir and not sung by the congregation. One of the most universally familiar hymns, especially at funerals, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," a setting of Psalm 90 sung to the tune St. Anne, was likewise sung by the choir only.

The body of the former president was brought down the nave of the cathedral at the start of the service in silence, with only the tolling of the bell, until one of the clergy recited verses of Scripture. Apart from the prayers of the faithful and the Apostles' Creed, and an opening and recessional hymn, the service had the feel of a testimonial, not a communal liturgy, with multiple eulogies and musical numbers, performed before a passive congregation. The individualism of American culture has taken some of the civis out of civil religion, some of the communion out of the Christian communion.
I was grateful, however, that the service did not become a hodgepodge of interdenominational representatives divvying up the tasks, an effort at inclusiveness that has the effect of turning the liturgy into a kind of Model United Nations at prayer: All of the parts reserved for the clergy were led by the clergy of the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson, the rector at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Houston, preached a very excellent sermon. He included references to the readings, intertwined with personal remembrances of the man they had gathered to bury. Most importantly, he proclaimed the essential Christian belief in the salvific passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Gene said...

I get absolutely sick of funerals being called "celebrations of life," where they proceed to beatify the deceased. The only life being celebrated at any Christian funeral is the Risen life of Jesus Christ, without which we would all be dead in our sins.

Anonymous said...

Some background:

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which includes Houston, has never been a hotbed of "High-Church" Anglicanism. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church between 1965-1974, John Hines, was a bishop of the Texas diocese for 20 years and never wore a miter or cope---always choir or academic vestments. Even today, the bishop of that diocese, Andrew Doyle, dresses "low church" for confirmations and ordinations.

President Bush's pastor, Dr. Levenson, has something of a low church background---I think he was a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary in Northern Virginia, which has always had a "low church" preference (as is typical of Virginia Anglicanism). HIs current parish alternates between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion for their mid morning service, while their 11 or 1115 service always is Holy Communion. I have checked their website and have found instances where the chasuble is worn for the Eucharist, but other instances there where it is not (they have "informal" services outside the main sanctuary).

Often there has been tension in the Episcopal Church between "high" and "low", which of course results in compromise---maybe the 1st and 3rd Sunday will be the Eucharist at the main service, and the 2nd and 4th Sundays Morning Prayer. In the Atlanta Diocese, Morning Prayer has largely died out and almost every parish there will have Eucharist at all Sunday services---and with Eucharistic vestments.

TJM said...


Well if you really want to get sick, read this:

December 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Pro-LGBT Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin is promoting on social media a rosary with “rainbow” beads for one of the decades which are to be used, the rosary’s creators say, to pray for the “full acceptance” of homosexual couples.

Why they don't toss this "priest" out is a mystery (well maybe not really given that there are cocaine fueled gay sex orgies at the Vatican, and nothing is done with the miscreants)

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

A@9:52, thanks for the clarifications. However, it seems that whoever envisioned the erection of their magnificent Church which appears to me to be extremely high church because it looks so Catholic must have desired for St. Martin's a more high church liturgy?

Woody said...

Thank you for this very interesting post, Father. My wife was singing in the choir at the Bush service at Saint Martin’s and will surely appreciate your endorsement. As to the priest responsible for the church building, called by the parishioners the “ new church” as there is an older church structure still on the campus, it was Fr. Lawrence Gipson (always called “Father” at St. Martin’s) who raised the funds and had the church constructed. In line with your intuition, Fr. Gipson then retired from Episcopal ministry and came over to the Ordinariate. Pope Francis made him a Monsignor only a couple of years after swam the Tiber, as I heard it, in appreciation of his many years of ministry. Msgr Gipson is now retired from the Ordinariate and living with his wife and grandchildren in Mobile, Alabama. He still serves on the governing council of the Ordinariate as representative of retired clergy.

Woody said...

As to liturgy, under Fr. Gipson, as he was then called, the services were mostly Rite One of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the more conservative of the two options available, but so far as I know (after all, I was not there a lot as I am a parishioner at Walsingham) there were not the real Anglo-Catholic features such as use of the American Missal, an essentially English translation of the old Latin Missal.

Holy Week featured Stations of the Cross and sung Seven Last Words of Christ, as I recall, as well.

Anonymous said...

Father M., A at 952 (30327) responds---(1) the first President Bush was raised more as a "Low Church" Episcopalian (emblematic of the old Puritan influence on New England which frowned on opulence and ceremony), and probably did not want a "High Church" ceremony. (2) Appearances, as we know, can be deceiving. Here in Atlanta (literally in 30327), there is the Church of the Apostles, which you pass along I-75 near the West Paces Ferry Exit, and on the outside it looks high church---but on the inside you see film screens, an altar without candles, and clergy without robes. The Church of the Apostles included a number of folks from Atlanta's Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip, which is fairly High Church liturgically but also increasingly liberal on social issues. So the folks that settled at Apostles took a more evangelical stance not just on matters of morality but also on liturgy.

I can understand not having communion at the National Cathedral service because of the logistics of a large crowd (security not wanting people to get up during the service), but I think it should have been served at the president's home church. But as I said about his being more "Low Church"...

In the Savannah area, Episcopal worship can run the gauntlet. At Christ Church, the "mother church" of Anglicanism in Georgia, the Eucharist is celebrated at all Sunday services---and the chasuble is worn. But not far away, at old St. John's Church, the 1928 Prayer Book is used (not the modern 1979 one), and their main service (1030) alternates between Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. The bishops of the Savannah Diocese (Episcopal Diocese of Georgia) have been more on the "high" side going back to the 1950s. going back to the late Albert Stuart---the current one, Scott Benhase, typically dresses with miter and chasuble.

rcg said...

Most of the Episcopal churches I have seen are very pretty. I don’t recall ever attending a service. What they do is up to them. What we do is judgement upon us. I really don’t like the canonization of the deceased and am especially troubled when some is proclaimed an angel. That is something the Catholic Church could teach effectively by example. I think my cold medication is making me hallucinate.

Anonymous said...

One last thing from 30327---Wikipedia describes St. Martin's (President Bush's church) as "Low" in churchmanship. Elsewhere I have seen the parish described as "theologically conservative"---meaning among other things, there will be no same-sex marriages performed there, thankfully.

ByzRus said...

I had wondered if the albs worn by the ministers/acolytes were proper to their rite. They seemed strangely short on about all who wore one.

TJM said...

One of my episcopal friends was upset when they got a new pastor and he began celebrating the Eucharist ad populum!!!

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The albs were short and sloppy looking which is shocking for Episcopalians who usually have good taste!

Anonymous said...

ByzRC, one would think an alb would be more associated with the Eucharist, obviously worn under the chasuble. Otherwise, I would think for a funeral without communion, the priest would wear a cassock, surplice and stole, or if he wants to get really ceremonial, a cope. I pointed that out with the Wednesday service at the National Cathedral---neither of the two bishops there was wearing a miter or a cope at a church (cathedral) that you would think (from its design) promote more of a "high church" feel. Dr. LEvenson, the president's pastor, did wear a cassock, surplice and stole for his homily at the cathedral, which I think was appropriate clerical dress.

The chasuble is worn at most Episcopal parishes these days for the Eucharist, but doubtless you can find some where the priest just wears an alb or stole, or even dresses in cassock, surplice and stole. As far as I know, there is nothing in Episcopal Church canon law that mandates the clerical dress worn for various services---I guess "local option' is the norm. Atlanta's Episcopal bishop often just wears choir dress for confirmations, the exception being at the cathedral where he puts on the full regalia.

rcg said...

From a poem I read childhood (Walter Carlos Williams)

Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind--as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly--
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What--from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us--it will be money
in your pockets.

Go now
I think you are ready.

John Nolan said...

Only the acolytes and crucifer were in albs; they were properly cinctured and of the correct length. The traditional Anglican surplice and rochet are fuller and longer than their Roman equivalents, and the rochet is usually tucked in at the sleeve with a ribbon. They should not be confused with albs, which are not part of choir dress. (Note that the cardinal present wore choir cassock, lace rochet and mozzetta).

The service was too long, but followed the usual Anglican formula for state funerals, although it is customary to have fewer eulogies and more Scripture readings. Protestants are not supposed to pray for the souls of the dead, although Anglicans often come close to doing so, and there is a liturgy for the dead, some of which was used here, but by no means all; Purcell's magnificent funeral music for Queen Mary II includes settings of the 'sentences' and would have been preferable to the 'Elton John moment' with a pop crooner at the piano.

One of the benefits of having an Established Church is that it can cover the religious aspects of State occasions without appearing too 'denominational'. However, the US specifically rejected this idea, so denominationalism abounds.

Winters's take on 'communality' is essentially a modernist one, which involves people 'doing things' and 'participating' in an obvious way. The traditional Catholic funeral rites do not require any of this, although if the congregation is able to join in the chants, all well and good. I dare say if Winters were to attend a solemn Missa pro Defunctis he would be quite scathing about it. His little liturgical bubble was only created in 1965 or thereabouts but he is quite incapable of thinking outside it.