Monday, May 12, 2008

Dr Mary Berry's Funeral

Inside Dorchester Abbey

The setting for Dr Mary Berry's funeral on Monday 12 May 2008 could not have been more apt. Dorchester Abbey, near Oxford, stands on the site from which Christianity spread to this part of England, for it is believed that here, in 635, St Birinus (who was sent to these parts by Pope Honorius I) converted and baptised King Cynegils of the West Saxons. The church that was built on this site came to house the shrine of the saint after his death in 650 and in 1140 it was established as an Augustinian abbey which was tragically dissolved in 1536. Those canons of St Augustine must have looked on with joy as today, Catholic worship was restored to the Abbey and suffrages were offered for their sister in St Augustine, Mary Berry, who was once known in religion as Mother Thomas More.


Architecturally, the abbey church is almost certainly the finest 15th-century church in Oxfordshire and the beautiful medieval stained glass, Jesse window, sculpture and sedilia are unique in the country. One saw the building come alive as the strains of medieval Gregorian chant, deftly and beautifully sung by Dr Berry's beloved Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, once again echoed throughout the building which was full of Mary's friends and associates.

Incensing the Altar

Ministers at the Sedilia

The Requiem was sung by Fr Guy Nicholls from the Birmingham Oratory, assisted by Fr Richard Conrad OP as deacon and Fr Thomas Crean OP as sub-deacon. Also in choir were the parish priest of St Birinus at Dorchester, Fr John Osman, as well as Dom Alban Nunn OSB, Rev Alcuin Reid and Br Lawrence Lew OP.

Elevation of the Host



After the Mass and the Absolution, a solemn procession formed and Mary's coffin was taken out the west door and through the lychgate into the main street of the village. The Litany of Saints (which included all the local and Augustinian saints, thus making 183 invocations!) was sung as we processed to St Birinus' Catholic church (which was just too small to host such a well-attended Requiem Mass) and following prayers, psalms, and the 'Salve Regina' sung to in Sarum chant, Mary was laid to rest in the earth next to the church where she and her choir had sung every Holy Week for many years.


Today's Mass was very much an intimate occasion - only Mary's closest friends, collaborators and associates were present; in this sense, it was like any other funeral. However, it was also an extraordinary occasion, and not just because of the rite employed! It is a rare blessing to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in one of our old Catholic abbey churches, let alone a High Mass sung by one of the finest Gregorian chant scholas in the land. These unique elements made the funeral an altogether unforgettable and splendid occasion.

In my opinion, this was a most fitting way to remember and pray for someone who had devoted her life to the study, promotion and prayerful singing of the Church's treasury of sacred music. Dr Berry deserves to be remembered as one of the leaders of the 'new liturgical movement' in England, although I doubt she would see herself in that light. Rather, she only desired to live out what 'Sacrosanctum Concilium' said about Gregorian chant; small wonder, then, that both Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II awarded her for her services to sacred music.

However, I am sure that her greatest reward will be in heaven, for even in death she remains a shining example of the merits of Gregorian chant. Her holiness of life - which many people attest to - is surely the fruit of a life that contemplated the divine mysteries through the Church's music, and what better witness to the power of the Liturgy and it's intrinsic Beauty need we have than that?

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May your servant, Mary, rest in peace.

* * * * *

The above are a selection of the many photos I took at this Mass. More are available online at my Flickr set.

Recordings of Dr Mary Berry conducting the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge are available at the Herald AV site.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: