I suppose sitting for three hours in an air-conditioned church waiting for a service to start is a lot better than queueing for three hours under the sun. Never mind that you can’t snack, nobody passes any bottled water around and you can’t have a pee break because somebody will immediately slip into your seat at the pew. But at least, we could pray together – one rosary, one chaplet of Divine mercy and choir master Peter Low took us through all the hymns to be sung. That filled up a lot of time.
It was a requiem mass celebrated by the Archbishop himself, along with so many priests I couldn’t keep count as they walked into St Joseph’s Church at 1.15pm. The Papal Nuncio, the Pope’s representative, was there too, and His Grace entered the church under a canopy being held up by six lay people – the first time I’ve seen this happen.
I made up my mind to be at the mass ever since the Catholic Church first announced that it would do holding one. Both offline and online, there were some interesting discussions about why the Church was doing this for a professed agnostic who sometimes described himself as a nominal Buddhist. In fact, there was nothing “religious’’ during the wake. Only cultural, as when his grandsons carried his picture behind the casket as it made its way out of the Istana.
Through his life, Mr Lee Kuan Yew kept the State “secular’’ and drew a line between politics and religion. Of course, this made the religious unhappy sometimes. Like passing the Abortion Act, having lax bio-ethics rules (as compared to other countries) and which Catholic can ever forget the incarceration of some laypeople in the Marxist conspiracy of 1987? We probably didn’t forget, but it seems that we forgave, going by the turnout for the mass with people packed to the rafters and in the compound. But, maybe, we forgot that he greatly admired the Catholic institutions, with their welfare organisations and mission schools. After all, he sent his son to Catholic High.
The organisers only printed 1,000 leaflets for the order of the mass, a gross under-estimation. It was just like how the state’s funeral organisers under-estimated the unending lines of people who wanted to pay their last respects to the man in Parliament House. I didn’t see any children, mainly adults and plenty of retirees. All were garbed in subdued colours. It was, after all, Lent and Catholics have of plenty of practice on sticking to the appropriate dress code. The church was, as usual for Lent, somberly adorned with purple cloth at this time.
What was different: people put up their cellphones to record some bits of the proceedings, which wouldn’t have happened during any normal mass except weddings.
I had wondered what the Archbishop would say in his sermon. He was nowhere near as emotional as the MPs who paid tribute in Parliament yesterday and enough got a laugh when he told of how Catholics had called him and told him to go to SGH quickly to anoint Mr Lee when they heard he was worsening, that is, to give Mr Lee his last rites. I think Mr Lee would have chuckled too. Archbishop William Goh did his best to point out that whatever policies Mr Lee had promulgated that riled the religious, he did so with an eye on the greater good of Singapore. In other words, it was never a personal nor a religious attack.
The Archdiocese formulated the following Prayers for the Faithful, adapted from the Rite of Christian funerals for the unbaptized. I reproduce them here for fellow Catholics.
- Lord listen to this family of faith, we commend to you Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that he may be held securely in God’s loving embrace now and for all eternity. Let us pray to the Lord. “Lord Hear our Prayer.”
- For Mr Lee’s family, especially the Prime Minister and his family, that they feel the consoling presence of Christ in the midst of their pain and grief. Let us pray to the Lord. “Lord Hear our Prayer.”
It was not a teary affair, at least not until the end. That was when choir master Mr Low led the congregation in the final song, Rest in Peace, Lionheart.
(sung to the hymn, You are mine)
Great guiding light with vision grand
You gave your all for this our land
With verve and might, you shaped and forged
You led the way, you made your stand
Your journey’s o’er, Great Lionheart
You gave your all, you did your part
Carved in your heart forever more
May we remain “My Singapore’’
You gave your best, you did your part
In peace now rest, Great Lionheart