By Vatican News staff writer
On the day of the funeral for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in Windsor Castle, a remembrance service, concelebrated by the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States was held in Rome’s All Saints’ Anglican Church.
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher opened his homily during the service with “an image far from this place, in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from the prelude of his epic-poem Evangeline”:
“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlock’s, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic. Stand like harper’s hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean Speak, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”
Archbishop Gallagher notes that the forest described in the poem would be full of immense trees of different varieties. In walking through the forest one would “note their presence with awe”, he said. “It seems they have always been there”. Returning to the forest for many years you take their presence for granted, he adds. “You hardly notice them; they are so much part of the landscape, but when they fall, by human hand or force of nature, it is a mighty sound, an earthquake at the heart of the forest. When you return you find an apparently irreparable gap in the fabric of the forest, that will take an eternity to fill”, said Archbishop Gallagher.
“The passing of Prince Philip is such an event in the forest of our contemporary history and society”, said Archbishop Gallagher. He described Prince Philip as being a constant: “always there, a few steps behind, but always present”, he noted.
The Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth, died on 9 April, aged 99.
Prince Philip was “present in so many ways and on so many occasions and scenes”, said Archbishop Gallagher, adding that however, “for most us he has remained indelibly, through many changes and years, the Prince Consort. A role, not an office, at the side of a Queen who reigns but does not rule”.
St Paul’s vision
Archbishop Gallagher went on to say that “Paul’s dynamic vision of the Christ’s redemptive action is also the unfolding of the Kingdom for which Jesus prays to the Father: ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.’ The Apostle teaches: ‘He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’.”, he added.
“I think St Paul and Prince Philip would have hit it off very well”, said Archbishop Gallagher, “both straight talkers with a penchant for a little controversy”, he explained.
Prince Philip’s achievements are remarkable, continued Archbishope Gallagher. He spoke of the Prince’s naval career and noted that he was patron of over 800 charities and organisations.
The first years of Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage, particularly in Malta, are believed to have very happy almost carefree. “The latter was to change upon the death of the King in 1952, when the Princess Elizabeth was 26 years old”, said Archbishop Gallagher.
“From that moment on until his death Philip was always there”, he noted. It is clear that the Duke shared the Queen’s commitment to the Commonwealth, helping in the early decades helping to sustain the great project which was the transition from Empire to Commonwealth. He also stood by his wife steadfastly in the darker moments, like the Annus Horribilis”!
Archbishop Gallagher then said that “our perceptions of this Service of Remembrance, and what we will see transmitted from Windsor this afternoon will differ, but the eyes of Christian faith invite us to witness the contrasts of which St Paul wrote: perishable – imperishable, weakness – power, mortality – immortality. And we will make our own the Apostle’s words of praise: “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'”.
Concluding his homily, Archbishop Gallagher noted that “indeed, Prince Philip lived a life of multiple contrasts and some could be reconciled only with difficulty, while others understandably provoked resentment and pain”. However, he continued, the faith we celebrate this Easter cuts through all that, “resolving differences and enlightening darkness and dissipating doubts”.
“For the Naval Commander, the Consort, the Father of a great family, for the leader in benevolence and education the battle is over, and all is quiet again in the forest, concluded Archbishop Gallagher. “The great tree may have fallen but it leaves its mark and encourages fresh growth towards the heavens”.