Church of England Holds "Unique" Funeral Service for Princess Diana
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was commemorated on September 6 at a Christian funeral service in London's Westminster Abbey. During the past few days, the princess has also been memorialized by many other faiths throughout Britain. The Independent reported that special services for Diana were held by Britain's Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. The United Kingdom's Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, composed a memorial prayer to be recited in every synagogue while the funeral was taking place at Westminster Abbey.
Princess Diana, former wife of the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, died in a Paris car crash on August 30. She was 36.
Her funeral service at Westminster Abbey, Britain's national church, was in accordance with the rites of the Church of England (Anglican) – but a modern Church of England, which is experimenting with forms of worship.
The funeral was organized by the Very Rev. Wesley Carr, dean of the abbey, in consultation with Diana's family (the Spencers) and the British royal family. "This is the biggest thing I have ever done," Dr. Carr told The Times of London. "But it is a rare opportunity for the abbey to bring together pageantry, royal history, and the common touch."
He also had difficulty balancing the desires of the two families; several British newspapers reported that the royal family wanted a traditional service, while the Spencers wanted a modern service, which they felt would be in keeping with Diana's modern lifestyle. Dr. Carr did not comment directly on this alleged struggle, but he told The Times, "It is difficult to be sensitive to the whole range of emotion and expectation. Obviously this is a unique occasion, but every funeral is unique, and the pastor must try to express that uniqueness at every funeral he conducts."
The issue of what type of service should be held is only the latest in a long series of debates over how the Church of England should conduct its services. Although the church's official prayer book is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, many Anglicans in England now use the church's 1980 Alternative Service Book, which contains an eclectic blend of traditional and modern liturgy. Some Anglicans continue to oppose the use of the newer book; Prince Charles himself is a supporter of the Prayer Book Society, which advocates the use of the Book of Common Prayer.
In the end, Dr. Carr chose the eclectic route in deciding the order of service. He combined traditional Bible passages and hymns with modern touches such as Elton John's performance of his pop song, "Candle in the Wind," originally released in 1974 to memorialize Marilyn Monroe and specially rewritten for Diana's service. It seems likely that Diana's service, especially its use of the Elton John song, will renew debate over the use of modern prayers and popular culture in Anglican services.
Washington Feature: Prayers, Tears, and Cameras: Washington Mourns Princess Diana While the Press Watches. By Heather Elizabeth Peterson. As Princess Diana's brother continued to denounce the news media's scrutiny of his sister, Washington National Cathedral prepared a press-friendly memorial service for Diana. (September 9, 1997)
World Brief: Death of Diana Affects Church of England Succession (August 31, 1997)
Order of Service for the Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (from the [British] Press Association NewsCentre)
Annotated Order of Service (from The Sunday Times of London; free registration required)
Princess Diana 1961-1997: A View from the Web (a comprehensive listing of Web resources on Diana's death, from Yahoo! Internet Life)
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson