Mgr Bruce Harbert bids farewell to Fr Anthony Andrews
In 1963, I was staying in the mining village of Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, where my friend Fr Anthony Andrews had recently been appointed Vicar, although he had not yet reached thirty years of age. Being on holiday, I had risen late from my bed, and was enjoying a mid-morning bath when I was startled by a booming voice declaring “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” It took me a few moments to realise that the voice was that of Fr Andrews, and that he was at the gate of the churchyard, beginning a funeral with the Burial Service from the Book of Common Prayer.
In choosing to begin the Burial Service with those words, the devisers of the 1549 Prayer Book were setting a new tone. The medieval service had begun circumdederunt me gemitus mortis – “the groans of death have surrounded me” – and, in what followed, the note of fear seemed to sound more loudly than that of hope. This somewhat gruesome response to death developed in later years, with the incorporation into the Requiem Mass of the Dies Irae and its chilling evocation of the last judgement. Black vestments, sometimes adorned with skull and crossbones, added to the atmosphere. Arresting settings of the Requiem Mass by Mozart, Berlioz, and Verdi invited a wider audience to savour the Roman liturgy of death.
And then in 1963, only a couple of months after my startling experience in the Goldthorpe bathroom, the Second Vatican Council mandated that the Roman rite of funerals be revised in order to express more clearly “the paschal character of Christian Death” (CCC 1685). The Council Fathers were seeking to recover forgotten elements from the early centuries which, they judged, would be valuable in the evangelisation of the contemporary world. Many of them had visited the catacombs and seen the inscriptions on the tombs of doves and olive branches with the words in pace: “in peace”. They knew there were other Christian ways of responding to death than the one with which they had become familiar. Accordingly, when the rites were revised, we were permitted to sing Alleluia and Glory be; black vestments were no longer mandated; and “I am the Resurrection and the Life” found its place among the permitted texts. The Pope, it seemed, had caught up with Cranmer.
This development led, unsurprisingly, to an over-reaction. White vestments became the fashion, inappropriately jolly songs began to be thought suitable for funerals, and little space was left for the mourners to express their natural grief. Secular pressures also played their part: a decline in religious faith and practice among the population led people to speak of a funeral as a “celebration” of the life of the deceased, and larger questions concerning the meaning of life and death were brushed aside. Through all this Fr Andrews ministered faithfully in Goldthorpe and Notting Hill: he was not one to follow fashion. In his study he had a statue of St Jean-Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars, who served a single parish for 41 years. Fr Andrews served in Notting Hill for 42 years, faithfully delivering and preserving the western liturgical tradition, which, as he knew, contains great treasures for Christian people.
Part of Cranmer’s motivation for placing “I am the Resurrection and the Life” at the start of his Burial Service was his determination to exclude all prayer for the dead. Not long ago, I watched a recording of a memorial service for the late Lord Bannside. His widow, Lady Paisley, spoke movingly of his last hours and expressed her confidence that, when he seemed to be breathing his last, “his next breath would be taken in heaven”. “Now that’s true Protestantism”, I thought – “no Purgatory for Ian Paisley”.
But it is interesting to see how the idea of prayer for the dead is becoming more acceptable in the media. After some massacre, spokesmen will say “‘our thoughts and prayers are with” not only the bereaved, but “those who have died”. War memorials inscribed with “We Will Remember Them” and “Their Name Liveth For Evermore” are beginning to seem dated. Prayer for the dead arises from a deep human instinct: a conviction that we can change after our death, and that the prayer of the living assists that change.
So our liturgy today weaves together two strands: confidence in the promises of Christ; and prayer to help Fr Andrews on his journey. His body lies, as is traditional for a priest, with his head towards the altar, reminding us of his constant posture, facing the people to teach, guide and lead his them. But now that he has been taken from us, his face has turned towards the Father. He makes his journey towards God, and we seek to speed him on his way. We join in the prayer that he himself said so often: “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him.”
Our Lord’s Transfiguration, which we will celebrate in a couple of days, was a foretaste of His Resurrection. The transformation we are promised does not turn us into somebody else, but makes us more fully ourselves. Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur, as the priest says in the Requiem preface – for your faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not taken away. Fr Andrews endured much suffering in recent years, from which he is now delivered; and he looks forward to the transformation promised him by Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life. May the Lord restore to him the joy of his youth.
I should like to recall the song of the Angel at the end of Blessed John Henry Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius. It speaks of Purgatory – not as a place of torment, but as a cleansing lake. It reflects perfectly our confidence in God’s great mercy.
Softly and gently, dearly-ransom’d soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.
And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And masses on the earth, and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the Most Highest.
Farewell, but not for ever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.
The Rt Revd Mgr Bruce Harbert is a priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This homily was delivered at the Solemn Requiem for Fr Anthony Andrews on 4 August. Fr Andrews had been Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Notting Hill, since 1974, and was until his death Senior Priest Brother of the Society of the Holy Cross. Jesu mercy; Mary pray.