Here is the text of Fr Richard's sermon from this morning's Requiem for Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II:
Every year, just once each year, there is a singular moment of great religious and emotional power in this church, a moment that never fails to move me and which I suspect does not fail to move anyone who happens to be there. This moment does not take place at a Traditional Latin Mass nor at any Mass at all; it involves no beautiful music nor any elaborate ceremonial or symbolism; there are usually very few people present, ten or twenty at the most. The church is empty and bare. It happens in the morning of a busy day that has hardly begun, when one of the Fathers stands up, where I am standing now, to read these words from the Office of Readings, an Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday:
Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.
The King, of course, is Christ the King; the sleep, his three days in the tomb. The sleep is Christ’s death, not a death as the world knows it, a final moment that brings an end to everything, but a death which has in common with sleep the hope of morning, the promise of renewed vigour and a prospect of resurrection and new life.
My intention here is not, of course, blasphemously to compare the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second with the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. My point is, rather, to recognise why the death of a monarch is such a powerful, perhaps the only really appropriate metaphor, for the death of the Son of God; and that what as individuals we are thinking and feeling now, and the response of the country(and indeed the whole world) to the death of our Queen, can lead us to a deeper understanding of important truths about our human condition and some of the consolations of our Catholic faith.
The words are from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. Ancient in the sense that it was written in the fourth century. But ancient, too, because the homily makes use of imagery that is archetypal, prior to the intellectual and rational; prior to what is political and historical; prior even to the personal and emotional. The King is asleep, the father of his people and their leader in battle is no more. The words describe a moment of profound historical change. Men are confused and afraid, rudderless, mourning what is past, uncertain of what is to come, afflicted - or at least affected - at a level of the spirit which it is almost impossible to put into words.
Not that words have been in short supply for the last three days since the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second. There has been very little silence or stillness. That is to be expected. The death of a monarch is an event of personal, political and spiritual significance. Everyone is affected. Everyone has something to say. Everyone has some experience to recount.
We speak when we have something to say; but we also speak to hide the fact that at some level there are no words to express the magnitude of an experience we can hardly begin to grasp or articulate.
Consider a funeral in this church, or in any other church. There are those sitting in the front rows for whom the loss is both personal and deep, the body in the coffin the mortal remains of a spouse or a parent, a sibling, sometimes tragically a child. For these people the grief is raw, rational thought almost impossible – though a great deal of practical business has to be done and many things must be thought of and said. It is right today to pray for King Charles and his sister and brothers, not as figures in a national drama but as sons and a daughter mourning their mother. They have heavy responsibilities and serious decisions to make when they would, no doubt, rather be alone with their grief.
But even further back in the church have their personal recollections of the person who has died, ties of friendship or of work, less than the bonds of family perhaps, but nevertheless still real. Every death marks a shift in our political circumstances our relationships with one another because, in John Donne’s well-known words: No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde.
And at this imagined funeral, every single mourner is affected spiritually, confronted with the reality and the mystery of death. As John Donne goes on to say: Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
There will be those present at this imaginary funeral who are bored by the whole thing, who hardly knew or cared for the person who has died, or who are too young to take in its full meaning; and there will be others who are old enough to understand that the day cannot be far off when they themselves will lie under a funeral pall and that in any case, whoever has died, life goes on mostly unchanged.
How much more true must all this be when it is a monarch who has died? When the person we are mourning has been our Queen for over seventy years? When there are very few of us who can remember anything else?
The politicians the foreign heads of state, the bishops, the generals, the ambassadors and the celebrities all have their memories to share and their stories to tell about Her Majesty the Queen. But so too do those who saw her in the distance as she opened a new hospital or visited their project. Even I have some memories! I remember the Queen’s visit to York in 1971 for the 1900th anniversary of the city when I had my ticket (like every other York schoolchild) for a Spectator’s Seat on the main stand of the Knavesmire. It sounded terribly grand and turned out to be a concrete step a hundred yards away, but I saw her! I remember getting rather nearer the following year and being taught to make a rather awkward bow when Her Majesty walked past my school on the way to the Minster to distribute the Royal Maundy.
The death of Queen Elizabeth the Second has been a global event as well as a national one. Messages have been sent not only by the Commonwealth countries and by our country’s friends but even by countries and individuals with whom we have what might described as more difficult relationships. No doubt many, if not all of these will send representatives to the State Funeral. There will be mixed feelings in that congregation as there are mixed feelings at any funeral. As Catholics we may have some sympathy with this. We may find that our feelings not entirely in tune with our thoughts.
We are, after all, offering a Requiem Mass for the defender of a faith that is not our own, and will hear, in due course, the new King make a promise to hold inviolate the Protestant faith of this land. We should not, I think, be unduly troubled by this. It can hardly ever be the case that our thoughts and feelings about those who have died are entirely aligned or consistent. I suspect that most of us will, in any case, agree that we have heard the fundamentals of the Christian faith more often and far better expressed by Queen Elizabeth the Second than we have by our own religious leaders.
I remember in the Millennium Year, which the Church celebrated as a Holy Year but which for the world at large seemed to be a festival of domes and other such-like white elephants, the Queen, in her Christmas broadcast, reminded us what this was really all about.
But as this year draws to a close I would like to reflect more directly and more personally on what lies behind all the celebrations of these past twelve months.
Christmas is the traditional, if not the actual, birthday of a man who was destined to change the course of our history. And today we are celebrating the fact that Jesus Christ was born two thousand years ago; this is the true Millennium anniversary.
But his ministry only lasted a few years and he himself never wrote anything down. In his early thirties he was arrested, tortured and crucified with two criminals. His death might have been the end of the story, but then came the resurrection and with it the foundation of the Christian faith.
Even in our very material age the impact of Christ's life is all around us. If you want to see an expression of Christian faith you have only to look at our awe-inspiring cathedrals and abbeys, listen to their music, or look at their stained glass windows, their books and their pictures.
But the true measure of Christ's influence is not only in the lives of the saints but also in the good works quietly done by millions of men and women day in and day out throughout the centuries.
The Queen ended with some words which I think each of us would like to make our own:
To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.
Those final words express so clearly how Her Majesty the Queen understood her office. They help us to grasp the true meaning of the almost unprecedented experience we are living through as a nation. True and effective leadership is never about power alone but about the authority that comes from humility and truth. The monarch is personally accountable - as we all are - before God. The letter Her Majesty wrote only a few months ago on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee was signed Your Servant, Elizabeth.
The cynics will always say that realpolitik, true power, is about the people, or about money, or about military might, or the control of the means of communication.In the short term it may be so. These things have power. But the kind of power that endures and really inspires is always delegated from Almighty God and exercised in imitation of Christ, the Servant King. It is a measure of Queen Elizabeth’s humble and truthful fidelity to her allotted role that now she is gone, each one of us, in our quite individual ways feels personal loss, political uncertainty and spiritual unease. What will come next?
In his essay Equality C.S. Lewis made an eloquent summary of this spiritual need: Where men are forbidden to honour a king, they honour millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
The calm and immediate transfer of royal power from one generation to the next is, among many other blessings, the clearest possible political image for spiritual reality: that true power comes not from the ballot box nor from the bank or from the supply of weapons; that it is not something we make for ourselves; that it is not always exercised by the especially deserving; but that power is on loan to us from God and always given ultimately for the good of His people.
While we thank God for the gift that Queen Elizabeth II was to her family, our country and the world, we also pray for her soul. There is no passing from an earthly to a heavenly throne without the need for forgiveness and mercy. And shortly we will pray for our new King, Charles III, at the end of this Mass in words that will, in time, become familiar.
Domine, salvum fac regem nostrum Carolum et exaudi nos in die qua invocaverimus te.
Or we might, in the ancient words of yesterday’s proclamation at St James’s Palace, pray for Charles III, by the grace of God, King, beseeching God, by whom kings and queens do reign, to bless His Majesty with long and happy years to reign over us.