State Funeral for President Ronald W. Reagan
June 11, 2004
On June 11, the Cathedral paid final tribute to the fortieth president of the United States. The funeral combined stunning music, heartfelt tributes, and words of Christian faith and condolence. The motorcade bringing the flag-draped casket of Ronald Wilson Reagan arrived on the cobblestone at the west entrance to the Cathedral shortly after 11 am. Received by Bishop John Bryson Chane, Vicar A. Theodore Eastman, and the Rev. John C. Danforth, the casket carried by a military color guard moved down the center aisle to the great crossing. Rabbi Harold Kushner read from Isaiah, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick read the Gospel from Matthew, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor read from a sermon of John Winthrop. Tributes were offered by the former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (via videotape), President George H. W. Bush, and President George W. Bush. Danforth presented the homily and the commendation. Bishops Eastman and Chane lead prayers and the blessing, respectively. Led by Cathedral acolytes, the casket recessed to the waiting hearse and the respectful drive down Massachusetts Avenue and on to Andrews Air Force Base. Music for the services included instrumental and choral prelude music offered by the U.S. Marine Band and the Armed Forces Choir; a solo by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan; an anthem sung by the Cathedral Choir; the congregational hymn Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; and the stirring Mansions of the Lord during the recessional. The bourdon bell tolled forty times, and the Washington Ringing Society played a half-muffled peal on the Cathedrals change bells.
Since the Cathedral Foundation was established in 111 years ago, the Cathedral has conducted funerals or memorial services for ten of the fourteen presidents who have died. Fulfilling its mission as a great church for national purposes, the Cathedral has always offered comfort and solace in times of mourning. This service for President Reagan followed by just a week a national service for those who served in World War II, and continues a tradition highlighted by the service following the terrorist attacks on September 11. President Reagans marks the second state funeral at the Cathedral; Eisenhower was the first in 1969. In 1924 Woodrow Wilson was interred in the Cathedral. Memorial services have been held for William McKinley (1901 in the pro-cathedral), William Howard Taft (1930), Warren G. Harding (1923), Calvin Coolidge (1933), and Harry S. Truman (1973); Bishop Dun presided at the service for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the East Room of the White House (1945).
By Craig W. Stapert. First published in Cathedral Age, Summer 2004.