‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’ With these words from Hamlet, echoing the Requiem Mass, King Charles concluded his first address to the nation, praying for his departed Mother, with a love for all to see.
‘May the angels lead you into paradise. May the martyrs welcome you at your coming and lead you to the holy City of Jerusalem. May the choir of angels greet you and with Lazarus, once poor, may you have eternal rest.’
Today this is our prayer, too, as we mourn the loss of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II and commend her soul to our merciful Father.
So much has happened since Thursday 8 September, the day on which we celebrated the birthday of Our Blessed Lady, the day on which the Lord called Her Majesty to her heavenly home. Suddenly, since that day, all has changed. Yet we have also witnessed great continuity. Yesterday’s ceremony, at the Accession Council, brought together those elements which underpin our institutional stability: the Crown, Parliamentary democracy and the military. This ancient process of succession, underpinned by Christian faith in God, provides a pathway into the future and safety from any chasm of uncertainty.
Continuity and change. Life and death.
Yes, we mourn the death of our Sovereign. Our loss is profound and our sorrow immense. But we also know that her life continues, it is changed not ended. For as this earthly dwelling slowly turns to dust, we pray that she will gain an everlasting dwelling in heaven, where nothing of her great goodness is lost but rather brought to its fulfilment. In the words of St Paul, those who are baptised in Christ ‘went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’ (Rom. 6:4).
Today the earthly remains of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth are being taken to lie in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh. It was there, in 2010, that she welcomed Pope Benedict on his visit to these countries. It was wonderful to see how two great leaders, both in their 86th year, greeted each other with such warmth and empathy. In his address, Pope Benedict alluded to the name of Holyroodhouse, saying that it recalls the Holy Cross of our Blessed Lord, the instrument of our salvation. Today, as Her Majesty’s body lies in this House of the Holy Cross may we all be filled with the words of Jesus we have just heard: ‘Come to me all you who labour and our overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls’ (Mt. 11:28-30).
How often Her Majesty spoke to us of her enduring faith in our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Year after year, in those Christmas messages, she did so, explaining that her faith was the foundation and guide for her life of service, how from that faith she drew stability, openness to all, comfort in sorrow and strength in crisis. The soul of this virtuous lady is now in the hands of God and no further trouble can ever touch her… she is at peace (Wisdom 3.1).
But for us who remain there is a burden of grief to be borne and these days of mourning to fulfil. In doing so we too turn to our loving Lord, for in him alone is the fulness of love that overcomes every grief. At this moment I recall words of our late Cardinal, Cardinal Hume. He wrote:
‘It is the love of God, warm and true, which will touch the grieving heart and heal it. …He came among us to learn about grief, and much else too, this Man of Sorrows. He knows. He understands.’
Yes, it is to him that we turn, with our sorrows, and with our prayers for our Sovereign Lady. It is right to remember, to recall, to ponder again and again, to celebrate the wonders of the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Yet our particular calling, as the Catholic community, is to pray for her, to pray for the dead. I imagine that every bouquet of flowers placed to honour our late Queen, or as is often said, to ‘pay her our last respects’ is, at heart, a silent prayer for the repose of her soul. With the great gift of clear and steadfast faith, we can make explicit those silent prayers of so many and in doing so make our humble contribution to these days of mourning and sadness.
This burden of grief falls most sharply on those whose love is closest and most strong: her family. We pray today also for the Royal family, for its many members, that each will know the comfort of family love and that troubles and tensions may be resolved in the enduring light of a grandmother’s shining example and selflessness. As Pope Francis is fond of saying to young people: ‘If you want to be a sign of hope for the future, always talk to your Grandma.’
From this ‘grandmother to us all’, now taken from among us, we still have so much to learn.
Most especially we pray today for our new Sovereign, King Charles III, as he takes on the burdens of this office. We pray:
O God, to whom every human power is subject,
Grant to your servant His Majesty King Charles
wisdom in the exercise of his high office,
so that, always revering you and striving to please you,
he may constantly secure and preserve
for the people entrusted to his care
the freedom that comes from unity and peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.
(Image © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk)