Thursday, March 5, 2015

English King Richard III to be Afforded a Latin Requiem Mass

King Richard III of England. What images does that name bring up? Perhaps his monstrous form,
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amourous looking-glass; I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion, Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my timeInto this breathing world, scarce half made up, And that so lamely and unfashionable That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;1
Bones of Richard III

Or perhaps our mind's eye sees the beleaguered king calling out. "a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!2" on bloody Bosworth Field before being cut down and having his throne usurped by the future King Henry VII (father of the schismatic King Henry VIII).

Whatever images we might have of this king, they probably are none too pleasant, mostly thanks to Shakespeare's immortal play. Nevertheless, Richard, despite whatever defects he may have had as a man and as a ruler, lived, ruled, and died a Catholic. He may or may not have been a very good Catholic3 (he certainly was no St. King Louis IX of France), but a Catholic he was.4

This, of course, mattered little until the late King's bones were found under a parking lot in Leicester a few years ago. Historians and British officials were suddenly presented with a unique problem, Richard would need reburied (and ought to receive a burial fit for a monarch) but should he be buried according to the rites of the Catholic Church to which he belonged or should he be buried in accord with the Anglican Church which was founded by the son of his murderer?

Put that way the answer seems rather straightforward. However, the Anglican Church likes to (occasionally) think of herself less as a Protestant era church and more as the ancient and apostolic Church in England. Under this admittedly absurd and revisionist history of the Church in England (established, you'll recall, by St. Augustine of Canterbury under orders from Pope Gregory the Great) all Englishmen had always been Anglicans, including Richard III. Allowing the King to be buried with the funeral rites of his own Catholic Faith, then, would be a tacit admission of the Sixteenth century foundation of the Anglican communion. Unable to allow such an admission (even as the Anglican communion drifts further and further away from any similarity to the ancient faith held by men like Richard), the Anglican officials have decided to bury the King in Leicester Cathedral in an Anglican service.

The initial Catholic response, including thousands of signatures on a petition calling for the King to receive a burial according to his own faith, was muted a bit by a seemingly unfortunate "ecumenical" decision by Catholics to go along with the Anglican burial. While I admit to being a bit dismayed at this at first (would you want to be buried Anglican?), I kept faith in the English episcopacy to do the right thing and offer a Mass for the repose of King Richard's soul (if the legends are true, and if he died repentant, he would seem to be in quite need of one, after all). That faith was justified by news I received just today,
A Requiem Mass in the traditional Latin form is to be offered at a Catholic church in Lancashire to mark the reinterment of King Richard III, which will take place on the same day at Leicester’s Anglican cathedral.
The mortal remains of Richard III, who died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, before the Reformation, will be reinterred in the cathedral on March 26, in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and an invited congregation.
The Requiem Mass for the repose of Richard III’s soul will be held on the same day St Catherine’s Church, in Leyland, Lancashire, at 7.30pm. It will be a Sung High Latin Mass with singers from the Laeta Cantoribus Choir, “in the style and manner of (Richard III’s) day”.
“The idea is that it will be closer to what he might have experienced in his own lifetime, as a pre-reformation Catholic,” said parish priest Fr Simon Henry.5
All I can say is "bravo!"

Please join me in offering up a prayer for King Richard's soul,
Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine
Et lux perpetua luceat ei
Requiescat in pace.
1. Shakespeare, Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1
2. ibid. Act 5, Scene 4
3. Our sources, and Shakespeare's, are from the Tudor period and are colored by the desire to justify the treachery of Henry VII in usurping the throne from Richard. That, of course, doesn't mean Richard as any less of a monster than Shakespeare imagined, but it does give some room for historians to dig into the past and see if Richard's reputation is deserved or not.
4. "There is a lot of evidence that Richard III had a very serious personal faith. If Richard III had not have died, maybe the Anglican church would never have existed." according to Dr. John Ashdown-Hill (source)
5. Via The Catholic Herald: (emphasis mine)

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