By Catherine Pepinster, Development Officer and former Editor of The Tablet
Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the former Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has a daily remembrance of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who died on September 1. He wears the cardinal’s episcopal ring, which his friend gave him at the dinner in Church House which the Church of England organized to mark the cardinal’s retirement as Archbishop of Westminster in 2009.
On Wednesday, Lord Williams was one of many Anglicans who gathered with their Catholic friends to remember the Cardinal at his Requiem Mass. Among those attending the service, which was presided over by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Cardinal Cormac’s successor as Archbishop of Westminster, were 47 Catholic bishops, 250 priests and 35 deacons, as well as representatives of government and public life, including the Duke of Norfolk, representing the Prince of Wales, and Damian Green, the cabinet minister.
But it was noticeable how ecumenical a funeral this was, reflecting Cardinal Cormac’s longstanding commitment to improved relations between Christian denominations and his chairmanship of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) from 1982 to 2000. As well as Lord Williams, his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the former Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, were seated in the sanctuary.
Ecumenical guests in the congregation included Dr William Adam, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ecumenical officer, Jonathan Goodall, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Mark Santer, who was the cardinal’s co-chair of ARCIC, Bishop Christopher Hill, former secretary of Arcic, Bishop Christopher Foster of Portsmouth, Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, and Bishop Stephen Platten, our own chairman of the governors of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
During the Requiem Mass, the cardinal’s service as Rector of the English College, Rome, bishop of Arundel and Brighton, archbishop of Westminster, and cardinal was remembered, as well as his capacity for friendship and his talent for bringing people together.
In his homily, the Archbishop of Cardiff, George Stack, paid tribute to the cardinal’s ecumenical work. He said:
“His gift for friendship and his capacity for putting people at their ease, together with his insightful mind and depth of faith, were a wonderful combination of God’s gifts. He generously put them at the service of God and his Church and indeed society at large. They enabled him to reach out in meaningful and constructive ways to other churches.
“His membership and scholarly contribution to the conclusions of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission were an example of this. Much to his delight the fruits of his work were captured this year in the publication of all five ARCIC documents in one volume. His conviction that unity of mind and heart amongst the followers of Christ were not optional extras but sorely needed in this fragmented world of ours. His gift of hospitality. He took the words of Jesus seriously “Love one another as I have loved you”. These gifts, and the generous way in which he used them, were expressive of the fact that he liked people and liked being with them. He drew the best from others and gave them nothing but the best of himself in return.”
The readings given at the Requiem were Ephesians 3:14-19 and John 15:12-17. Archbishop Stack said that the Cardinal, who had made arrangements for his own funeral during his last days, chose the reading from St. John’s gospel “because of his belief that we do not choose God, but God chooses us, earthenware vessels that we are, to be signs, and servants and instruments of his presence in the midst of his people. “You did not choose me, but I chose you that you should go and bear much fruit”. “
Cardinal Cormac was buried in the nave of the cathedral, dressed in vestments for Mass, and with his pallium, the stole made of lamb’s wool, given to him when he was first appointed a bishop and representing the pastor carrying sheep on his shoulder. Also in the coffin, as is traditional for a Catholic bishop, was a rogito, or small scroll which describes his life.
The Requiem Mass was unusual because Cardinal Cormac was the first Archbishop of Westminster not to die in office, but in retirement and the first where his successor archbishop presided at the requiem. It was preceded by Vespers, the night before, after the cardinal’s body had been received into the cathedral. The Dean of Westminster, John Hall, gave one of the readings.
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