Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, available from Scepter Publishers. She resides in Wichita, Kansas and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.
Blogs | Sep. 3, 2016
The Princess and The Saint
When Mother Teresa is canonized this Sunday, pause to pray for the intercession of the Saint for the soul of the Princess.
Nineteen years ago from August 31 to September 6, you could not avoid the media coverage of the death of Princess Diana, the former Princess of Wales (except by turning off the television and radio). Debate raged about who was to blame for her death after a car crash in Paris: the drunken limousine driver, the paparazzi, or the Royal Family. Stephen Frears’ 2006 film The Queen, with Helen Mirren in the title role, depicts the public outrage when Elizabeth II does not respond with the demonstrations of grief her subjects demand.
Diana’s funeral, held in Westminster Abbey, included both tradition and innovation, with Sir Elton John singing a special version of “Candle in the Wind”, originally written about Marilyn Monroe, and her brother’s eulogy which attacked the press and criticized the Royal Family. English pomp and circumstance combined with celebrity status. Hundreds of thousands watched the services on screens in Hyde Park and the funeral was carried live on TV and radio. The media tones were hushed and reverential for “the people’s princess”.
Reports were that Diana was buried on the family estate holding in her folded hands a rosary given to her by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta had died the day before Diana’s funeral, on September 5, 1997. While she was granted the honor of a State funeral in India, ABC News with Peter Jennings chose to have Christopher Hitchens, her most virulent critic, add his commentary to the broadcast of her funeral Mass.
I watched both the Anglican service at Westminster Abbey and the Catholic Funeral Mass in Calcutta in 1997. Within the Gothic beauty of the formerly Catholic and Benedictine Abbey, Princess Diana’s funeral was her canonization. She was the lovely victim and martyr, betrayed by the media and her in-laws. Her brother Charles Spencer did not want her to be canonized, however, because he thought that being a saint was something less or other than being human:
There is a temptation to rush to canonize your memory, there is no need to do so. You stand tall enough as a human being of unique qualities not to need to be seen as a saint. Indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humor with a laugh that bent you double.
Sadly, while he praised his sister’s great humanitarian work, he had the wrong idea about being a saint, thinking it meant she could not be remembered as mischievous or fun. It’s too bad he did not know about St. Philip Neri or St. Teresa of Avila! Spencer was disappointed that her good intentions were so mocked by the media, and thought it was because her “genuine goodness” was threatening.
In contrast, Mother Teresa’s Funeral Mass on September 13, while reverent and orderly, was held in an indoor stadium, with none of the magnificence of Westminster Abbey. In his homily, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul II’s Secretary of State, explored the theme of "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35) and even seemed to answer Christopher Hitchens’ attacks on her work during ABC’s broadcast:
It has been said that Mother Teresa might have done more to fight the causes of poverty in the world. Mother Teresa was aware of this criticism. She would shrug as if saying: 'while you go on discussing causes and explanations, I will kneel beside the poorest of the poor and attend to their needs'. The beggar, the leper, the victim of AIDS do not need discussions and theories; they need love. The hungry cannot wait for the rest of the world to come up with the perfect answer; they need effective solidarity. The dying, the handicapped and the defenceless unborn, who are without a constituency in the utopian ideologies which, especially in the last two hundred years, have been trying to model the perfect world, need a loving human presence and a caring hand.
The world viewed these two women so differently, but Mother Teresa testified to the link between them. She offered her condolences when the Princess died: "She was very concerned for the poor. She was very anxious to do something for them. That is why she was close to me." When Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is canonized this Sunday, pause to pray for the intercession of the Saint for the soul of the Princess.