In today’s 2nd reading, St Paul encourages prayers “for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority.” This is timely. Tomorrow the late Queen will be laid to rest and already the new King has taken on his duties. We pray for the repose of the soul of Queen Elizabeth and for wisdom and strength for King Charles III.
It was Queen Victoria who made Deeside “royal”. Our late Queen, her great-great granddaughter, shared that love for the northeast of Scotland. We remember her regular visits, her summer stays, and her local presence when she came. It was in Balmoral that she died, passing to the Lord on the feast of the Birthday of our Lady, and it was from Balmoral that her body began the long journey south.
Queen Elizabeth will be remembered for many things. She reigned longer than any British sovereign before her. She was a sign of stability. She showed that a nation is something more than its politics. She brought out much of the best of our country. She was a woman of influence. Though ceremony was preserved, there was a refreshing absence of fuss and posturing about her. She did not grandstand. She was unflaggingly faithful to her duties, great and small. She weathered personal, family and national difficulties and many transitions. As at her death, so during her life, she brought people together. She fostered reconciliation, unity and peace. She combined dignity and charm. As human beings trying to navigate life, we can learn from her sense of duty and spirit of service: “When I was 21, she said in later years, I pledged my life to the service of our people and I asked for God’s help to make good that vow. Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I do not regret, or retract, one word of it.” She proved this to the very end. As Christians especially, we can be inspired by her loyalty to the person of Christ and her trust in the power of his grace. She read Scripture daily, attended church weekly and prayed regularly. While respecting other faiths, she was not ashamed to profess her Christianity.
St Paul asked for prayers for rulers “so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet”. Catholics have not always had an easy relationship with Crown and Government. There is a history of exile, restriction and even martyrdom. This helps us appreciate the freedom of religion we now enjoy, as well as the improved relationships between Christians. The late Queen contributed to this in no small measure. In her time, she met five popes. In 1982, she met St John Paul II and in 2010 welcomed Pope Benedict XVI at Holyrood for the first ever State visit of a Pope. In her time too, full diplomatic relationships were established between the Holy See and the UK Government. Her visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 also helped move beyond old hostilities.
We are blessed as Catholics by our tradition of prayer for the departed. We cannot all file past her coffin or attend her funeral, but we can express our gratitude and respect by praying that Elizabeth, our late Queen, may receive what we too hope to receive: a merciful judgment, and that she may flourish in the joy of eternal life.
May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.
+ Bishop Hugh OSB