I RECENTLY read a report which says the British funeral has been transformed. Mourning is out and rejoicing is in. It’s not even called a funeral any longer, but a celebration of life.

Abide With Me has dropped out of the top ten hymns to be replaced with Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side.

Mourners – no, they should rather be called guests or the audience – are encouraged to wear bright clothes and smile.

A survey of 2,000 people revealed that 54 per cent wanted their funeral to be a happy event. Some 48 per cent said they wanted it to incorporate their favourite "hobby, colour, football team or music". Crematoriums - where nearly three-quarters of British funerals now end - are virtually always equipped with audio visual systems that allow video clips to be played.

There is something creepy about this new jollity. As a parish priest for 45 years, I have some acquaintance with funerals. And as a Christian, I firmly believe in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am ye may be also.”

I have seen thousands take comfort from those words, for they know that the promises of Jesus Christ are to be trusted.

So far so encouraging, but there is still plenty to be sad about. You may well believe that Uncle Fred, departed this life, is safely ensconced in heaven. But you’ll still miss your Uncle Fred, who always remembered your birthday and took you in his car to the seaside when you were a kid. And what if the person who has died was closer to you than Uncle Fred? Your wife or husband of 50 years or even – God forbid – your child. What then?

At such times grief and sorrow are not merely natural, they are unavoidable. Furthermore, this grief and this sorrow are necessary.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. But you can only be comforted if first you mourn. Life is life together. And so when someone close drops out of your life, you are bound to feel sorry, to miss one you loved. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t.

The funeral is there to provide the context for your grief and to enable you to receive both the comfort of religion and the condolences of your friends. These are the things that help us cope with our loss. The funeral is not for the deceased, it is for those who are left.

This doesn’t mean we can’t have a lively tune or a joke. I have discovered that all the best jokes happen not at weddings, but at funerals.

But it is madness and folly to pretend that jollifications alone will suffice to help us cope with bereavement. Dr Johnson feared death and he called it “the great removal”. And that’s what it is. If kind Uncle Fred only went as far as Australia, you would quite naturally miss him. Death is more final than Australia.

I have found that the best funerals are both a time for mourning and a celebration of life - the one theme feeds off the other. It is precisely because we have a lot to celebrate in the life of the deceased that we miss him now he’s gone. And afterwards there comes the funeral tea, the wake, the baked meats. “See him off with ham!” These can be very jolly – and rightly so.