After a good night’s sleep to displace the jetlag I went in early to work. I had a School Mass so I needed to gather my thoughts after a week in UK. Soon after arriving I learned that the Pastor Emeritus Msgr Laurence Higgins had died at 5.30am. He had been Pastor since 1958 until about 2007. He was known as the Bishop of Tampa for his massive popularity in most sectors of the city.
I chose to spend the day sorting things for the weekend. I realised that the psalm for Sunday I had set years ago in 2001 when the UK Augustinians had employed me to be liturgist for their Chapter meeting. It was an amazing meeting and one great encounter was with a Fr Seamus Ahearne OSA from Dublin whose unkempt appearance reminded me of Kevin Donovan SJ. When he spoke he was full of life and related stories of ‘his world’ among the Irish poor. I was so impressed by him that I wrote him a setting of the psalm for that weekend’s conference Mass, 22nd Sunday in Year C. I had not used it since as I had spent every Bank Holiday since then at the Greenbelt Festival as part of the Iona Community’s Wild Goose Worship Team. I wrote to Seamus and and it was great to get an enthusiastic reply.
During the day at a Press Conference about the death of Mgr Higgins I asked why, having been trained in Dublin he got his first placement in Tampa. The Bishop responded that he had been trained as a missionary and that Tampa really was missionary territory then!
The following day I started work on the music for the funeral. It had been clear from the outset that Mgr Higgins had agreed years ago that my predecessor would direct the music for the Funeral Mass. I had had to eat that kind of humble pie before so I was well versed in dealing with it. I did fear for the reaction of the Parish Choir who were also not past of the deceased plans. My first task was to write a letter to the choir. I got a passing colleague to check it before I sent it and his tears confirmed his assertion that it was fine. The Parish Choir and I still had to support the Gathering in the presence of the body at the start of the 2-day visitation and the Solemn Evening Prayer on the second evening. I also had to deal with two funerals before the weekend and a meeting to discuss a wedding in October. I spent the rest of the day assessing how much of the 1996 Evening Prayer of the Dead I had written for the Funeral of Bishop Moverley of Hallam could be re-used. Fortunately Hugh Finnegan, my old assistant, had sent this from Sheffield so I was able to produce a new edition from this.
By the end of the day I had both Presider and Assembly editions of the Order of Service and much of the music was re-typed for use. Throughout the day the staff were called together to brainstorm on the considerable logistics involved in a funeral with over 2000 attendees, camera crews, police, swat squads etc. None of this was particularly helpful to my creative juices!
The following day Friday should have been a day off but this funeral was never going to allow this. In addition I had another funeral at 1030am which was wonderful. It may have been the most honestly faith-filled eulogy I have ever heard. Prior to this I met with the Deacon to share where I had got to so far with the Evening Prayer and the Greeting of the Body. That brief meeting enabled me to get on with thing after the morning’s funeral. There has been a meeting with local Police for which food was provided and much left over so lunch for staff was provided!
At 1pm we had a meeting to update on arrangements for the funeral of Mgr Higgins. 2000 people would need to be watered (and later fed) and 500 transported to the cemetery. It is a real operation with massive offers of help coming in all the time. During the meeting the local baseball team offered to provide a reception for the most high-flying VIP guests. What a relief! I did find it odd that the musician for the Funeral Mass was not at the meeting but it seemed that he had not responded to messages!
The meeting paused for about 30 minutes in which I wrote a bit more music and then we resumed. We broke around 5.30pm and I was able to get back to designing the Order for the Greeting of the Body and to start the printing of the Evening Prayer.
My friends from St Marie’s Cathedral Sheffield may remember my ‘OUR HEARTS ARE RESTLESS’ which I composed to Augustine’s texts for the Augustinians Community in UK. The deceased Pastor often used to quote this text of Augustine so it seemed appropriate to use it as he is brought in to the church for visitation. we will also use Chris Walker’s THE LORD IS MY LIGHT.
I left work around 7pm and headed for a drink and later relaxed in front of the final episodes of West Wing.