Archbishop John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark | CBCEW
Given at the Requiem Mass for Her Majesty The Queen at St George’s Cathedral on Sunday 18 September 2022
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
It is our privilege today to be able to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the happy and peaceful repose of soul of our late Sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Since the sad news of her death was announced on 8 September, Masses and prayers have been offered across the parishes and schools of our Archdiocese and throughout the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Our spiritual solidarity with, and on behalf of, Her Majesty, and her family, is a precious gift we can all make at this time of loss. Her Majesty died on the Feast of Our Lady’s birthday. How fitting then that we ask Blessed Mary, Queen of Heaven, to intercede with us that Queen Elizabeth, such a good and faithful servant of Christ, will be reborn to eternal life and inherit the kingdom prepared for her by the Lord.
During the past week and a half we have experienced a unique outpouring of grief, remembrance and gratitude. So many people – from her own family, from politicians and celebrities, to the man and woman on the street – have shared their personal stories of what the Queen meant to them. She was part of our lives, not least at key moments in our nation’s history. We admired her commitment and dedication to duty as our crowned Head of State. We cherished her example and encouragement. We were uplifted by her witness to the Gospel as a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus. We shall miss Queen Elizabeth terribly. We will miss her gentle maternal humanity, which, even if we never met her, we sensed with real and genuine emotion. In our second reading St Paul advises the young Bishop Timothy that prayers are to be said for monarchs and those in authority. It is right that we pray for our late Queen Elizabeth II, for our King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla, and for all our Royal Family.
Last year I read the striking memoir of the consultant trauma surgeon Dr David Nott entitled ‘War Doctor – Surgery on the Front Line.’ It recounts his experience of serving as a medic in the most desperate theatres of war. Not surprisingly, this work has, at times, taken its personal toll. David describes movingly the impact on himself of treating war causalities in Aleppo. It reduced him to physical and mental exhaustion, necessitating his recuperation back in England.
While home, and somewhat unexpectedly, he was invited to a private lunch at Buckingham Palace. To his amazement, among all the guests, he was seated next to Queen Elizabeth. When the Queen turned to speak to David he struggled to engage in meaningful conversation. Her Majesty asked where he had come from. ‘Aleppo’ he replied. ‘Oh,’ said the Queen, ‘And what was that like?’ He couldn’t find any words to respond. Images of injured bodies flooded his mind as his eyes welled up with tears.
The Queen reached out and touched his hand. She then opened a sliver box in front of her. David saw it was full of biscuits. ‘These are for the dogs,’ said the Queen, breaking one in two and passing half to him. Together they fed the corgis under table while the meal continued. In his words ‘…for the rest of the lunch she took the lead and chatted about her dogs. All the while we were stroking and petting them, and my anxiety and distress drained away.’ He commented: ‘Queen Elizabeth’s instinctive insight into my emotional fragility was remarkable, as was the compassion she showed towards somebody she had never met.’
This is but one snapshot of thousands upon thousands of encounters where people met the deep humanity of our beloved Queen. She engaged whomever she met with outstanding qualities of human and Christian virtue. For some this was by compassionate words and gestures at a time of disaster or suffering. For others she offered congratulations for an achievement, or the joy of her presence at an important celebration or anniversary. She was always gracious, always smiling and always respectful; and often she revealed a self-deprecating humour that lifted the spirit. The portrait artist Juliet Pannett recounted a story told her by the Queen herself who was sitting for a painting at Balmoral. Her Majesty was staying at Sandringham and realised they had run out of cake. She put on her headscarf and went to the local shop. As she came out, an elderly lady said, ‘Good heavens, you look just like the queen.’ Her Majesty replied ‘How reassuring!’
Dear friends we are blessed to have lived some part or all of our lives while Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II reigned as the Queen, as our Queen. For seventy years she has been a sure point of reference in a changing and challenging world. How delighted we all were to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee of Accession to the Throne earlier this year.
Since Her Majesty’s death, people across our United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, in fact across the entire world, have mourned and marked the passing of our treasured Sovereign. An outpouring of love, affection and gratitude has seen carpets of flowers laid up and down our county. Heartfelt entries in books of condolence have been left in every town and city. Queues stretching miles have shown people of all ages and backgrounds waiting to pass by Her Majesty’s mortal remains and pay their respects. In simple words, lovingly captured by Paddington Bear, we all want to say to Her Majesty ‘Thank you’ – ‘Thank you for everything.’
In our Gospel today the Lord Jesus speaks to us with clarity: we can only be trusted in great things if we can show we can be trusted in little things. When it comes to it, in both faith and life, no one can serve two masters. Nothing should take the place which only and properly belongs to God, God who seeks our faithfulness, God who is our true hope for this world and the next. These truths were dear to Queen Elizabeth’s heart throughout her life. She proved by her service that she could be trusted. She demonstrated her fidelity until her death, and essential to this, and to all that made her so great, was her faith in Christ.
In 2002 Her Majesty said: ‘I know how just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God…I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.’
As the years have passed, we have gained increasing insight into the Queen’s faith in the Lord Jesus. ‘For me,’ she said at Christmas in 1984, ‘the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.’ This is a message we need to hear over and again, and put into practice.
The Queen has been as eloquent a preacher as any cleric, perhaps even more so. She helped us make the vital connection between faith and action, between belief, words and deeds. A personal faith in Christ really does mean living and loving like him, or at least trying to each day. In Her Majesty’s words, since it was first proclaimed ‘[Christ’s] simple message of love has been turning the world upside down.’ His commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves means ‘trying to make the most of our abilities…caring for our talents. It is a matter of making the best of ourselves, not just doing the best for ourselves.’ (Christmas 1975) Here is a lesson in conversion and selflessness which the Queen herself lived by, believing that ‘good spreads outwards and every little does help.’ (Christmas 1976) By her Majesty’s word and example we were left in no doubt that her living faith in Christ was underpinned by prayer and nourished by worship. What an extraordinary evangelist she was. How are we playing our part in allowing Christ’s message of love to turn this world upside down?
One of Queen Elizabeth’s great gifts was to gather people together, at celebrations, visits, street parties and, to this day, in queues and at roadsides, many of them strangers who became friends because of her. After 70 years of dedicated service it now falls to us to gather and pray for Her Majesty that she will know the fullness of life promised by Christ through his death and resurrection.
It has been truly inspiring in these days to see King Charles, the Queen Consort, and the Royal Family, even in their grief and loss, reaching out to ‘touch’ and console the nation. As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, the Queen was the best of teachers about what it means to serve with humility and sensitivity. What her children and grandchildren received from Queen Elizabeth, always with the support of Prince Philip, now lives on through them for the good of others, for our good, in the service of unity and peace.
In his First Speech as Monarch, King Charles said: ‘And to my darling Mama, as you begin your last great journey to join my dear late Papa, I want simply to say this: thank you. Thank you for your love and devotion to our family and to the family of nations you have served so diligently all these years. May “flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Our prayers accompany our dear Queen Elizabeth II on her final journey: Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.
God rest the Queen. God save the King.