Fr Kit Cunningham on the funeral at Brompton Oratory His COFFIN lay on high, the pall covering the catafalque, with several decorations lying there with a white mitre. Beneath, the mortal remains of Alfred Gilbey.
A poem came irreverently to mind: "A dreadful hush in the close tonight." A sense of peace, tranquility and quiet he brought it to us in death. You could hear the silence. No organ, and 1,500 people staying quietly with their thoughts of Alfred Gilbey.
The Knights of Malta were out in force, in their flowing black robes, a reminder that the Monsignor was their chaplain. They sat behind several rows of clergy, who were an overflow from the Sanctuary.
The Oratorians predominated, for it is their church, and Mgr Gilbey has said a private Mass there for many a year. But other Orders were represented: Benedictines from Ampleforth and Downside; Dominicans and Carmelites; Rosminians and a variety of Friars. It all spoke of the esteem in which this man was held.
They were there to remember past deeds, many recent, and many from 40 or 50 years ago. Cardinal Hume no doubt thought of the retreat he had from Alfred Gilbey at the age of 15.
When one has a lifespan of continuous activity of the kind that Alfred Gilbey had, it meant that he had followers from the ages of 70 down to 20. And possibly his greatest admirers were two little girls, halfway down the church. They had come because he had baptised them when in his late eighties.
The various processions of clergy, from those whose knees are hardly worn in the service of God, to those with knees battered and arthritic, came quietly to their places. Sound was displaced by colour, as the varying robes of monsignori and canons, bishops and Cardinal Hume, illuminated the ornate sombre back
ground of the Oratory Sanctuary.
Then to the altar came Fr Ronald CreightonJobe, the celebrant, and the deacon and subdeacon, dressed in gold and black.
This was a significant moment in the life of the Church, with members of the hierarchy attending a public celebration of the Mass of Pius V, something not done for many a year.
It was a full church with standing room only. And it is a measure of the affection in which Mgr Gilbey was held that so many people came.
Surveying the congregation as they poured out of Brompton Oratory, you saw his undergraduates, now aged over 50; you saw younger men and women, the children of those undergraduates, whom he married off, and so on... until he was too old to be only "robes and in the sanctuary".
You may see other funerals, with choirs and Tridentine Masses, but the funeral of Alfred Gilbey was unique. For it had the combination of the Tridentine Mass celebrated in the special Italian Baroque setting of Brompton Oratory, with the personality of Mgr Gilbey at the heart of the event.
We shall not see his like again that combination of a Church confident in itself, with the last survivor of the "Second Spring".
• A Reqiuem Mass for Mgr Gilbey will be colobrated at Corpus Christi Church in Covent Garden on 27 Apn7 at 6.30pm.