An unidentified Episcopal priest writes in Touchstone Magazine of the embarrassing contrast between a funeral service of a retired Marine Reserve officer, conducted casually and even stumblingly by a retired priest, versus the reverent nature of the subsequent burial, conducted by the Marine Corps:
Then the marines took over. Everything they did was deliberate, well practiced, careful, unhurried. It was pure ritual. It was clear that they took seriously what they were doing. Every movement had been considered, and, I assume, drilled ahead of time. It was to be done correctly in every detail, with dignity and honor, without regard to time: Seemingly this was all that mattered to them.
The precision and dignity was a matter of honor. At the end, the flag was presented to the widow by the commander of the marines on the base. He could easily have sent a junior officer to deal with a reserve officer’s burial, but chose not to. It was all profoundly moving, as a number of mourners remarked after the services.
The care and dignity of the military rite put the Christian rites to shame. I don’t believe that the priest was intentionally irreverent or unprepared. But by comparison with the marines’ reverent ritual, the chapel service and the committal seemed slapdash.
4. The Episcopal Church has, in general and with exceptions, for a generation abjured the kind of formal ritual the marines maintain. This stems, judging from the words of liturgists and hierarchs, from the desire, common in many churches of the late 1960s and 1970s, to be more culturally relevant. By contrast, the message from the marines is: We will do what marines do, whether the culture understands and affirms it or not. They are willing to be countercultural when the essential character of the Marine Corps demands it.
5. The church rites sought to focus on the individual worshipers and the deceased; the marines focused on the rite. The individual marines set aside their individuality in order to serve the common purpose of honoring the dead. This sacrifice of self for the common purpose itself lends power to ritual, since we all (the “old man” in us) resist self-sacrifice. If the marines were bored, or thinking about their girlfriends, or wondering what was for supper, that fact was well hidden by their participation in the ritual. The ritual protected them—and us—from their human defects.
6. The marines’ rite pointed to transcendent values: honor, service of country over self, sacrifice. While the texts of the church service pointed to redemption and the resurrection of the body, the streamlined texts and the haste with which they were (and too often are) performed suggested that we should be thinking about worldly things, the things we’ll shortly be about, and not about eternal things, like commending the soul of a Christian man to God.
(Emphasis added; hat tip: TitusOneNine)
Couldn't agree more. The liturgy - particularly the Burial Rite - is extremely important and needs to be done as prescribed: solemnly, deliberately, and reverently. The military is very, very good at it.
But my parish, and most of the Episcopal parishes I've been to, are in fact very careful to do rites properly. And of course many people observe the same thing - that the elegant and beautiful liturgies are what attract them to the church.
So I don't agree that the church in general doesn't do these things properly - even if it has "for a generation abjured the kind of formal ritual the marines maintain." Even churches that are fairly casual on any given Sunday get pretty serious for important occasions like this.
OTOH, it could just be the churches I've been to.
Posted by: bls | February 17, 2007 at 01:09 PM