Farewell to the Cardinal who helped make Catholicism part of the British mainstream

Christian TodayBishops and priests greet mourners after the Requiem Mass for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor at Westminster Cathedral today. Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was among more than 1,000 people present.

Nearly 50 bishops, 250 priests, 35 deacons and hundreds of laity along with Archbishops from Anglican, Coptic and Orthodox Churches gathered in a two-hour Requiem Mass to say farewell to the much-loved former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The Mass was at once a thanksgiving for the death and resurrection of Christ and for the gift of life, as well as a commendation of the soul of the Cardinal to the mercy of God. It was also designed to give comfort to the mourners. Music was important to the Cardinal, a gifted pianist, throughout his life and the Mass included part of Fauré's Requiem as well as traditional plainsong sung by the Westminster Cathedral Choir.

The celebrant was the current Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. This was unprecedented, as Cardinal Cormac was the first Archbishop of Westminster to retire, and not to die in office.

The Mass followed the reception of his body into the cathedral, and a vigil. The service was a powerful manifestation of the Cardinal's wishes for a 'good death'.

Archbishop of Cardiff George Stack described in his homily a recent 'Pause for Thought' the Cardinal delivered on Radio 2 on this topic.

As he spoke, he already knew he had cancer. 

The Cardinal said: 'Firstly, I believe in the value and dignity of every human person – that means you. And secondly, I believe that everyone is loveable in the eyes of God. In spite of all our weaknesses and failures, God loves us. So death must be of one piece with life. With the help of God, I hope I will be able to face it, not with fear but with hope and confidence as being in the hands of God.'

Archbishop Stack also described the Cardinal's characteristic 'twinkle in the eye' – as well as his tendency to rush from one thing to the next.

As one bishop said, added Stack, 'he was probably texting the angels to get a move on'.

Although he was talented enough for a career in medicine like his father, a Reading GP, or in classical music or even rugby like his brother, from an early age he was convinced he should be a priest, like his two other brothers.

He himself chose the reading from St John's gospel at the Requiem Mass.

Stack said: 'His gift for friendship and his capacity for putting people at their ease, together with his insightful mind and depth of faith, were a wonderful combination of gifts.

'He generously put them at the service of God and the Church and society at large. They enabled him to reach out in meaningful and constructive ways to other Churches.'

 The Cardinal was buried in Westminster Cathedral, in a lead-lined coffin, beneath the tenth Station of the Cross, where Jesus is depicted stripped of his garments.

Stack said: 'Our faith and devotion teach us that the seamless robe of his revelation of divine love, the integrity and compassion of Jesus, is torn away. The Jesus who stands before us naked and unashamed calls us to pay more attention to who we are rather than what we have so cunningly conspired to be.

'Cormac knew well what it was like to have judgments questioned, decisions criticised, mistakes analysed. That "stripping away" could easily have made him angry and cynical, causing him to retreat from the public arena. Yet he acknowledged his mistakes. He made no excuses. He said the most difficult words of all. "I'm sorry". He learned a huge lesson and proceeded to establish the most robust safeguarding mechanism possible, a model for other institutions. Humility and action were part of the robe that he wore.'

Afterwards, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Catholic, told Christian Today he was a 'wonderful and holy man' who was 'incredibly generous with his time' but absolutely straight on the teaching of the Church. 'He was wonderful with people. He liked talking to them. He was a Cardinal and Prince of the Church but didn't have any airs and graces.' 

He added: 'I think he's had an important legacy following on from Cardinal Hume, in making Catholicism acceptable in the United Kingdom, turning it from being a minority religion that was thought of as being a little unusual to being part of the British mainstream.'

Among the 2,000 mourners present were the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, former Bishop of London Richard Chartres, Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthdox Church and Archbishop Gregorios  of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Other notable guests included Mary McAleese, former President of the Republic of Ireland, the UK Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy, Adrian O'Neill, Irish Ambassador to UK and Francis Campbell, former UK Ambassador to the Holy See and now Vice Chancellor of St Mary's University in Twickenham.

Condolences were received from Pope Francis, the Chief Rabbi Dr Ephraim Mirvis and others.