Project Canterbury

Locust Street Letters

By Frank Lawrence Vernon

Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.




Humility, penitence, patience are the dominant notes which give utterance in the Christian ceremonies for the dead.

Humility is seeing things as they are, in right relations and in true proportions. Humility is looking things in the face. This is precisely what the Church always does. She looks everything in the face. She looks life in the face without disquietude. She looks death in the face without dismay. She receives the child at the Font. She sends the child out into life with spiritual equipment sufficient to enable that child to continue steadfast in faith, joyful through hope and rooted in charity. She provides for all the spiritual needs of the journey of life. Illumination, strength and filial piety, in one Sacrament. Pardon and peace in another. The strengthening and refreshing of body and soul and preservation unto everlasting life in another. Healing grace for soul and body in another.

And then at the journey’s end, She is there, wise, competent and effective. She knows just what to do and how to do it. She is militant in one world, expectant in another, triumphant in another. She is at home in all three. Her agents are active in all three, and they work together. There is never an instant when the souls in her keeping are alone, forgotten or uncared for. Her last absolution sets the soul free from the last fetter. Her Viaticum furnishes food for the journey from one world to another. Her last Unction leaves no need unsupplied. At the moment of death, when her priests finish their work in one world, her Angels begin in another.

At death She receives the body, which once She received at the Font, and finds place for it before her Altar. Here once more She faces things as they are. She does not disguise death. She makes it plain. She is not afraid of letting it appear in its reality, because She is not afraid of its reality.

The body is covered with a purple pall, signifying that body and soul are clothed with penitence. On either side stand six burning candles, for He who is the light of the world, is lightening the darkness of death, and in Him is no darkness at all, for the night is as clear as the day. She chants her psalms and they are psalms of pilgrimage through death to life. She reads her lessons and they are plain instructions on the facts of death. She recites her collects and they are for the soul departed. She will care for the mourners at another more fitting time, not then. She pronounces her absolution over the body. She bathed that body once with the water of Baptism. And at this last moment She sprinkles it with holy water and prays that its Baptismal purity may be restored. She envelops it with fragrant incense the while She invokes the prayers of her Saints who are waiting behind the veil.

And then She makes way for the Lord of Life, the Advocate, Mediator, Redeemer and Saviour of mankind. She relies only and wholly upon His all-sufficient aid and comfort and deliverance. It is aid in death for which She asks. She makes it plain. Her Altar is vested in black. There are no festival flowers. For this business which She is transacting is not a festive occasion. It is a serious business. It is Miserere, not Alleluia now. She is absorbed for this moment in that soul. Her Introit, Collect, Epistle, Tract, Gradual, Sequence, Gospel and Offertory have to do with death. There are no lapses into diverting melody. She sings, but it is the austere, unearthly, exquisite chant of the undivided Church. Her courtiers at the Altar wear court attire. But it is a court in mourning. “Lord all pitying Jesu blest,” She cries, “Grant them thine eternal rest.”

And then having made all things ready, She opens the door, at the Consecration, and then, Her Lord Himself appears in His Sacramental Body. “O Lamb of God,” She cries, “that taketh away the sins of the world, grant them rest. Grant them thine eternal rest.” And her Lord offers the timeless Sacrifice of Calvary. Between the sins, done in that body under that purple pall, and their reward, is placed the Passion of God’s Son our Lord. The body is carried out from the building. The Church is content. The soul is safe in the arms of Jesus. The body He will raise at the last day.

Affectionately in Our Lord,

Project Canterbury