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261: Basilica of Our Lady, Montréal, Canada
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Our Lady, Montreal
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: Basilica of Our Lady, Montréal, Canada.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The parish was established by the Sulpicians in 1678, but this building dates from 1830, and at the time was the largest church building in North America. The Irish Protestant architect, James O'Donnell, converted before his death and is buried in the basilica. Notre Dame's Neo-Gothic features are resplendent with the painted and carved wood which characterizes much of French Canadian Roman Catholic churches.
The neighbourhood: Office buildings in an older part of Montréal.
The cast: Jean Turcotte, Cardinal Archbishop of Montréal, and about 30 priests.
What was the name of the service?
State Funeral for the Right Honourable Pierre Trudeau.

How full was the building?
Quite full, with around 3,000.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was one of the two dozen federal bureaucrats whose job it was to welcome VIPs and lead them to their assigned seats. By 6.00am, we were in front of the basilica and along with various of my colleagues, we decided to make ourselves useful by putting tassels on the 3,000 programmes which had been printed overnight. By 9.00, things were rolling, with Royal Canadian Mounted Police dogs (no, not in scarlet serge) sniffing the chancel for explosives. Notables began to arrive and I was able to seat several among the Great and Good.

Was your pew comfortable?
I never noticed. By this time, all were being asked to take their seats. I took a peek in the glass-walled baptistery, where Fidel was sitting on a pew with Jimmy Carter, an interpreter translating at high speed. Leonard Cohen looked at some of the carving on the altar. The Aga Khan stood chatting with Marc Lalonde, Mr Trudeau's last finance minister. All seemed fine there. I rushed back to my little perch near the entrance, and sat beside a comrade, who was once a good friend of Mr Trudeau and whom I thought might like to have an old colleague nearby to pass the kleenex. The basilica by this time had over 2,700 folk in it. With the TV lights, it was getting hot.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ was doing a very quiet voluntary and then fell silent. I heard applause from outside the basilica and stood at the end of the pew to watch. The mounties came in with the flag-draped coffin. They turned sideways, each row facing the other, as the doorway is narrow. The woman sergeant gave commands in a low, flat, western voice. "Mark", she said, and they stepped sideways a pace, leading into the church. "Mark", and they stepped again. They faced toward the altar, bringing the coffin to the trolley and the six very perspiring mounties lay it down. I looked behind the coffin and saw the two sons and Mrs T standing, and behind them were Deborah Coyne and her nine-year old daughter Sarah,wearing a dark blue velvet dress with small white flowers. They stepped forward and the little girl stood behind her father's coffin. The organ started up again, breaking the silence with "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", and they proceeded up the main aisle.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Que Dieu de l'espérance vouse donne en plénitude la paix dans la foi, et que le Seigneur soit toujours avec vous." ("May the God of hope give you abundant peace in faith, and may the Lord be always with you.")

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
An extraordinarily fine Casavant organ. The mass had much Gounod scattered about, along with Bach, Handel and Mozart, but very well done, at concert level.

Did anything distract you?
Nothing. Nothing. Couldn't be done.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, it was a State Funeral. And it soon became clear that this was also a family requiem mass, pour un français, pour un croyant (for a francophone, for a believer). The Old Testament lesson (Daniel 4:7-12) was the text chosen for the funeral mass of Trudeau's second son, Michel, who had been killed in an avalanche the year before.

Our Lady, Montreal

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were three eulogies, of between 8 and 15 minutes each.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
The scoring mechanism doesn't play for this event. Read on...

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The eldest son, Justin, a grade-school teacher in Vancouver, gave the final euology. As he stepped up to the mike, the basilica became very quiet, the breathing of the 3,000 stilled. And as he finished, and we began to breathe again, everyone stood and there was applause, not because this was a great performance, but because it was something else entirely.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Knowing that several thousand powerful and formerly powerful people were facing a spiritual experience.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A surreal dialogue immediately before the service with a shiny young man in a pricy but slightly garish suit, who worked in the office of Stockwell Day (the Leader of the Opposition). He was worried about where Mr Day was sitting: "Are you certain that his place in row K is not a violation of protocol? I am concerned."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had official duties, so was not able to fulfil this aspect of the Mystery Worshipper's mandate. After the dismissal, everyone felt silent again for the final censing of the coffin, and the mounties picked it up again and came down the aisle, with the family and the pallbearers following. Cardinal Turcotte, by this time, had come down to the entrance, and greeted the family and pallbearers as they left. His greetings were subtly cadenced; an embrace for the boys, words for Margaret, crouching down to speak with little Sarah, respectful kisses on both cheeks to the Governor General, and so on...

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I'm still thinking about it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Late that night, returning to Ottawa, I took a taxi and the driver spoke with me about how she watched the funeral on TV with the other drivers, and how they were all crying as they watched. She said she had a granddaughter the age of Sarah and then she began to cry. So the evening ended sitting in a dark cab outside my house at midnight talking with a distressed cabdriver.

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