Funeral of Brian Mulroney, Notre Dame, Montreal, Quebec, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Funeral of Brian Mulroney, Notre Dame, Montreal
Location: Quebec, Canada
Date of visit: Saturday, 23 March 2024, 11:00am

The building

In 1657 the Sulpicians arrived in Ville-Marie, now called Montreal, and six years later built the first church on this site. By 1824 the congregation had outgrown the church and James O'Donnell, an Irish-American Anglican from New York City, designed this building. With a huge nave with four aisles of pews and two semi-circular galleries, it can seat 10,000 people. O'Donnell converted to Catholicism on his deathbed and is the only person buried in the crypt. The church is visited by 11 million people every year and is one of the most visited buildings in North America. For organ nerds, the four-manual organ with 99 stops and 7,000 pipes was built by the famous Canadian company Casavant Freres in 1891. It was their first organ to have an electric combination system.

The church

Notre Dame Church was raised to the status of Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1982, and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1989. It is the Montreal church where great events are celebrated: the provincial state funeral for former Montreal Canadiens hockey player Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard was held here May 2000; the state funeral of the 15th prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, October 2000; the world famous Québécoise singer Celine Dion celebrated her wedding here December 1994, and also the funeral of her late husband Rene Angelil, January 2016. Following the fire at Notre Dame de Paris in 2019, this Basilica organized the Canadian donations for the repair of that church. At Christmas, many Montrealers attend the annual performance of Handel's Messiah.

The neighborhood

The church is in Old Montreal, where there are painful cobble-stoned streets and many impressive and historic buildings, mostly religious in nature, dating back to New France.

The cast

The Funeral Mass was concelebrated by the Archbishop of Montreal, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, the Rector of Notre-Dame Basilica, and the Rector of Saint Patrick's Basilica. There were two organists: the organist of the Basilica, and the organist-in-residence of l'Orchestre symphonique de Montreal (OSM). There were two choirs – the Basilica Choir and a Chorus of the OSM and a small orchestra from the OSM. The Canadian quartet, The Tenors, performed ‘Danny Boy’ during the service; an opera soprano performed an excerpt from the opera La Wally for the procession; a tenor soloist sang Quand les hommes vivront d'amour (‘When men live on love’), and a granddaughter performed Mais qu'est-ce que j'ai? (‘But what do I have?’), a song by Edith Piaf. She and the tenor soloist then sang a duet of ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling.’ During that duet performance there was a charming part, which lifted the spirits of all in the church, when the voice of the late Brian Mulroney was broadcast singing the last verse. Our 18th prime minister loved to sing, and once did so at the White House with Ronald and Nancy Reagan!

What was the name of the service?

State Funeral of the Right Honourable Martin Brian Mulroney P.C., C.C., G.O.Q. 18th prime minister of Canada.

How full was the building?

There were 1,400 invited guests.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I watched the service on the national CBC television broadcast.

Was your pew comfortable?

I hope they were, because the congregation had to sit on them for more than two hours!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere was quiet as organ preludes were played. The many dignitaries were milling around in the aisles, shaking hands and greeting each other. Due to the security for the service, people were being screened and let in two hours before the service commenced.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The Archbishop of Montreal met the casket, carried by eight Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, halfway down the aisle, and proclaimed the greeting of the body in French.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a special service bulletin printed by the Government of Canada.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, piano, and a professional orchestra.

Did anything distract you?

No, certainly not. Like the Brits, we Canadians have a long royal heritage and are well trained to perform dignified and impressive state occasions. Also, we always use two official languages, which the BBC never has to cope with!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The service was very well organized, in both English and French. I always think it very decent and thoughtful when French Canadian Roman Catholic clergy, for the benefit of the whole nation, struggle with English. The Mass was beautifully and efficiently done. With so many additional clergy, the distribution of communion (in one kind only) was very quickly done. I was surprised that incense and holy water was only used at the time of the censing and sprinkling of the casket for the final commendation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — I'm giving the archbishop an 8 because he had to give the homily in two languages. Some clergy are incapable of delivering a decent message in one!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

‘Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.’ The archbishop referred to the many displays of national mourning for Brian Mulroney – the lying in state at the Parliament Building in Ottawa, the repose at St Patrick's Basilica in Montreal, the many Canadians who went to either place to offer condolences, and the presence of the whole Mulroney family, in both cities, to greet all the mourners. The archbishop spoke of human life and what everyone experiences – joy and sorrow, success and failure, and particularly for politicians, gratitude and humiliation. He spoke of Jesus as the peacemaker and author of love. Regardless of our personal experiences, and possible difficulties, we must continue to show love to each other though our lives are, and always will be, an unfinished symphony. He said that Canada, like Brian Mulroney, is a welcoming nation. Though it can get cold, we have a heart full of warmth. We go back to our daily lives tomorrow, but must always show love and service to others as Brian Mulroney tried to do throughout his career. ‘We entrust our brother to you.’

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The whole service was a powerful and moving testament to the life and witness of Brian Mulroney. Though I never voted Conservative, as a Canadian I felt it important to watch this service and I'm certain many others felt the same way, from coast to coast.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Oh, that poor congregation! There’s the old joke – ‘Why Catholics can’t sing’ – and this service, unfortunately proved it. There were no hymns for the congregation to stand and participate in, and they sat there for 90 minutes before they had the chance to get up for the Gospel reading. Of course, it would be difficult to find a hymn that would work in both English and French at the same time! Brian Mulroney, during his career, had given eulogies for Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. For this service, there were four eulogies, an address by prime minister Justin Trudeau, and the homily – an exhausting amount of sitting and listening. However, the congregation behaved very well, with no loud coughing at all.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I didn't and neither did the congregation. They got out of their pews as quickly as possible and obviously welcomed the chance to get out into the very windy snow storm that had been battering Montreal all day.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None, but I’m sure a lot of the congregation high-tailed it to the bar in the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hotel!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — I have been in Notre-Dame before, but as I am Anglican, I have never attended a service. They offer Mass in French only.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, and proud to be Canadian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

All the music – the organ, soloists, choirs, orchestra, parts of the Mozart Requiem, ‘Danny Boy’ and Edith Piaf – was very well performed. I must also give huge credit to the archbishop for his bilingual homily.

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