While the country celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Edward Lewis reflects on the deep Christian faith that has characterized her reign
We probably take it for granted when the news shows Her Majesty leading members of the Royal Family to worship at Christmas and at Easter, in particular. Yet that simple journey from Sandringham to one of the parish churches, or going to St George’s Chapel Windsor, speaks volumes. It speaks of a deep faith, and personal humility; of an acknowledgement of the power of Almighty God, which has been one of the hallmarks of these sixty years of the reign we now have the joy of celebrating.
Alongside the great State services and thanksgivings there are occasions which are much more personal, away from the spotlight of the camera. Perhaps the most poignant is the annual remembrance of the death of her father. Approaching the first anniversary of the King’s death, Queen Elizabeth, now known as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, had returned to Royal Lodge.
On the actual anniversary she was present at a celebration of Holy Communion at Royal Chapel, as she was each year for the rest of her life. We understand that this Requiem continues today. For people who are always in the public eye and whose every aspect is the cause of commentary and speculation, a quiet service, away from the glare of publicity, must be very significant.
Pomp and humility
What a contrast to Coronation Day:
‘On Coronation Day all the resources, technical and administrative, of our broadcasting corporation will be brought into play in order to transmit a religious service of the Church of England, built entirely around the structure of the Holy Communion… They will see the greatest living monarch in the world, kneeling humbly to acknowledge the suzerainty of God and to receive her earthly majesty from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They will also be told when the most important husband and wife in our great Commonwealth kneel side by side as fellow members of our Church to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.’
These words, written by R.D. Grange-Bennet in June 1953, sum up the reality of the events at the Coronation, that alongside the pomp and panoply which are part of such an occasion, there was that humble act of receiving the Blessed Sacrament.
In the replays of that great Coronation service much is made of the actual coronation, and the heavy seven-pound crown being placed on the monarch’s head. However, we ought not to minimize the vital importance of another act within that service, namely the anointing. After the singing of the Veni Creator, Her Majesty was reminded that in past ages monarchs were anointed with holy oil, to confirm their selection for their high office by Almighty God. God promises to give those called to any special service strength to fulfil their office. So the Archbishop, having anointed the Queen with the oil of Chrism, blesses her and invokes God’s assistance for all her duties. As Shakespeare has it in Richard II, ‘not all the water in the rough, rude sea, can wash the balm from an anointed king.’
Thus in her consecrated person she symbolizes the relationship between Church and State. Her consecration and coronation declare the State to be Christian in constitution and intention. This of course does not exclude those who do not follow the Christian faith (Her Majesty has always been sensitive in her dealings with those of the major world faiths) but the intentions of that service are undeniable. It is from this sacred service that the Queen, though shy, carries out what for her is a vocation, ‘a calling not a privilege, but a calling. If it’s costly, it’s costly’ (Marr, 2011).
The Archbishop of Canterbury says that she was profoundly affected by being given a book of prayers, just before her coronation, which she still uses. ‘For The Queen nothing mattered more than the religious and spiritual heart of the ceremony, still vivid in her mind as an observer from 1937’, writes Andrew Marr. That deep faith has been her sustenance for these sixty years.
Throughout her reign our Queen has talked about the importance of her faith and belief. This is most often detailed in the annual Christmas broadcast, which time and again emphasizes faith and practice. In 1986 there is a clear reference to Blessed Mary and St Joseph as loving and considerate parents, examples we should all emulate.
In 2007, the year of the Diamond Jubilee of her marriage, she reminds her hearers that Our Lord always sought out those in great need and urges us not to ‘pass by on the other side.’ And last year she reminds us of the hope brought by the angels as they announced ‘tidings of great joy’, concluding with this testimony: ‘God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.’ What could be clearer?
Our country has changed profoundly during these last sixty years. Whatever else may have changed, Her Majesty’s commitment and dedication, the daily living out of her vocation to serve has not. In the famous African Speech, she dedicated herself to service and implored the support of her hearers and asked, ‘God help me to make good my vow.’ In her Christmas broadcast before the Coronation she asked for the prayers of her people: ‘I ask you all whatever your religion may be to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me the wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him, and you, all the days of my life.’
Thanks and prayers
For sixty years of faithful service we thank Almighty God and we continue to pray for our Most Sovereign Lady at the Altar and in our daily prayers. Queen Elizabeth I said: ‘Though God has raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves.’ This is surely true of Elizabeth II. ND
O LORD, our heavenly Father, high and mighty,
King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes,
who dost from thy throne
behold all the dwellers upon earth:
Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour
to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady,
and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit,
that she may alway incline to thy will,
and walk in thy way.
Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts;
grant her in health and wealth long to live;
that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies;
and finally after this life
she may attain everlasting joy and felicity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen