We live in portentous times. On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady. Not only did this pick up on the world’s horror at Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine, it represented a working out of the secrets of Fatima. As we enter Mary’s month of May, we are rightly called to acclaim ‘Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, alleluia!’ At the same time, it would be worthwhile reflecting on our own country’s Christian devotion, particularly at this time of jubilee.
We know that England was known in pre-Reformation times as Mary’s Dowry. Unbeknown to many, that status lives on in many of our place names – Bow, Marylebone, Ladywell, and so many more. Even in the post-Reformation period, with all its wanton destruction, we remain immersed in that legacy. At Walsingham, and indeed throughout the churches in the land which are privileged to pass on the Catholic faith, we pray with fervour that our country will return to what we regard as its birthright. The prayer for the conversion of England begins with these words:
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy Dowry and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee.
We shall shortly be enjoying a specially extended bank holiday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee. Never before have we witnessed such an occasion. Her Majesty’s reign has been one of duty and service, and also one of monumental change. The first Elizabeth’s time on the throne saw an outworking of the Reformation; the second has spanned the rebuilding required in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War to the bewildering technological and lifestyle changes in the opening decades of the twenty-first century.
As we celebrate Her Majesty’s life and reign, we should give particular thanks for her public commitment to Christianity. She shares in our mission and witness to this land, and she has spoken regularly and movingly of her faith. That sense of discipleship will doubtless have arisen, at least in part, from Her Majesty being the last crowned monarch alive to have been anointed at their coronation. Queen Elizabeth is already the longest living and reigning monarch in British history; how wonderful that such longevity includes an open and heartfelt profession of Christian faith.
Her Majesty’s public life and our private prayers are deeply entwined; just as our lives and prayers must be too, as Fr Paul Thomas sets out in his article in this month’s edition. There is much to be said for us all being joined together in prayer in this way, in thanksgiving and in dedication. It represents part of what it means to be Catholic, uniting hearts and minds, and acts as a continuation of the Christian witness displayed by Her Majesty at her coronation and in subsequent decades.
Westminster Abbey, the setting of so many royal celebrations and events, is the subject of an article this month by Canon Michael Middleton (the clergyman, and certainly not the father of the Duchess of Cambridge, but quite possibly that father of your Director!). The Abbey is affectionately referred to as the parish church of the nation, once again demonstrating the close links between religious observance and national life. The insights contained in that article will remind many of us of the Walsingham festival which we were fortunate enough to celebrate at the Abbey three years ago.
Royal visits often include churches because they are frequently the place of community engagement and therefore represent other aspects of our civic life. This may take the form of a night shelter, or a forum for dialogue, or a place to gather at times of mourning or thanksgiving. May we give thanks for that witness too.
While the religious legacy of Protestant England is a difficult subject for us in that we recognise its Christianity but deplore its oppression of Catholicism, no such ambiguity is required when it comes to our admiration for Her Majesty as the embodiment of all that is best in our national life in more recent years.
Finally, as we contemplate the world beyond our shores, the dedication of the now desecrated city of Mariupol in Ukraine will not have escaped our attention.
O, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.