Saturday, January 24, 2015

Burying Richard III

I have written about this before, but an article in yesterdays' British publication Catholic Herald has reminded me that efforts are still being made to keep alive the issue of a Catholic funeral for Richard III - even as the date for the last Yorkist King of England's March 26 funeral and re-burial approaches. According to yesterday's Catholic Herald  article, some 3000 people have signed a petition (addressed to the Cardinal archbishop of Westminster) asking that Richard III receive a Roman Catholic funeral - on the obvious grounds that as a medieval man, ruling pre-Reformation England, Richard was, whatever else history may say about him, certainly a Catholic, and should be buried according to the rites of his Church and not that of the Church invented to resolve the marital problems of one of his more infamous successors. 

Of course, Cardinal Nichols is not the one empowered to make that decision, nor is there any evidence that he has any significant objections to plan presently in place for the king's final obsequies. The article notes that there will be ecumenical services surrounding the event, that the Cardinal will preach at Compline on the day the royal remains are received at Leicester Cathedral (Sunday, March 22), and that he will also celebrate a Requiem Mass the next day at a nearby Catholic church.

Personally, I see little to object to in these arrangements. For better or for worse, the Church of England is the Established Church in historic continuity with the pre-Reformation English Church. Any "State Funeral" must reflect that historic fact. On the other hand, Richard's pre-Reformation Catholicism is an historic fact that should also be respected. Certainly, the Cardinal's participation in the official rites and the offering of a Catholic Requiem the same day represent reasonable efforts to show such respect. (Parenthetically, one wonders what rite the Cardinal will use at the Requiem. If historical accuracy is the issue, then the Mass should be celebrated according to the pre-Reformation rite in use in 15th-century England - certainly the 1969 Missal of Paul VI, but also equally not the 1570 Roman Missal of Pius V, which only came to England with the Elizabethan Jesuit missionaries.)

It is easy to blow such matters out of all proportion, and certainly this controversy among historians should not be overdone. It does, however, serve as a salutary reminder of one devastating consequence of the Wars of the Roses and the eventual rise of the Tudor dynasty. As such it invites one to imagine an alternative history, what easily might have been. As one of the historians who worked to identify Richard's remains was quoted as saying: "If Richard III had not have died, maybe the Anglican church would never have existed."

(The January 23 Catholic Herald article about the latest petition can be accessed at

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