A Health Unto Her Majesty

On April 21, 2018, Queen Elizabeth II turned 92. Eleven years older than Queen Victoria at the latter’s death, Her Majesty has exceeded both Victoria’s (reigned 1837 to 1901) and George III’s (1760 to 1820) tenures on the throne, having ascended at the death of her father in 1952. When she came to the throne, Churchill was Prime Minister, Truman president, and Stalin still master of Moscow – while Britain yet laboured under wartime rationing. The British and French Empires yet existed, and the new Queen reigned not only over Great Britain and its many colonies, but Canada, Australia, New Zealand (as she still does, and Pakistan, South Africa, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Elvis was not yet on the scene, there were no hippies, and the American South was still legally segregated. Pius XII was Pope, the Latin Mass reigned unchallenged (even the rites of Holy Week were unaltered), and Anglo-Catholicism appeared to be still on the road to triumph. C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, and Dom Gregory Dix were all alive and working (although the learned Benedictine would die a few months after the accession). In so many ways, Her Majesty is a living link with all that went before – the last grownup, as it were, and the one constant in an age of flux. Alas, desegregation and the advances in medicine are among the few things one can say are truly better to-day. No one much under 65 years old can remember her father.

The day before turning 92, The Queen was given an early birthday gift by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when, in accordance with her publicly expressed wish, the CHOGM confirmed that Prince Charles, already quite active in Commonwealth affairs in his own right, would succeed her as head of that body when he becomes King. Far more of an intellectual than the world’s tabloids would lead one to believe, the publication of the “Black Spider Memos” a few years ago revealed an heir to the throne as informed about the workings of government and concerned for the hapless subjects thereof as he has shown himself to be in regard to education, architecture, the Book of Common Prayer, and sundry other things.

Although her headship of the Church of England is nominal (the Prime Minister handles episcopal appointments and much else in the life of the CofE as he does government in general), and she cannot affect policy therein, her personal chaplain from whom she receives Communion has always been a man. One cannot help but wonder if the de facto separation of the Deanship of the Chapels Royal from the diocese of London (Bishop Chartres has been retained in that post “for the time being ,” since a woman has occupied the episcopal seat of that diocese) may not be a reflection of the Queen’s own views in the matter. At any rate, Her Majesty’s Christmas messages are set apart from those of most modern Heads of State by inevitably mentioning Christ. The Royal Epiphany and Maundy Thursday services are reminders of Catholic times, as are the Orders of Knighthood, with their chapels at Windsor, Edinburgh, Westminster, and once upon a time, Dublin.

Apart from her being de jure hostess of Ordinariate Community of Christ the King in her Royal Chapel of the Mohawks in Tyendinaga, and of another Catholic congregation at the Chapel Royal of Scotland’s Falkland Palace, what has all of this to do with the Ordinariates? Quite a lot, really – and not just that the British, Canadian, and Australian Ordinariate members are her subjects, and pray for her in their liturgy. The Anglican Patrimony was shaped by its connexion with the British/Commonwealth Monarchy, and not merely by Henry VIII’s defection. Such figures as St. Edward the Confessor, St. Margaret of Scotland, and Henry VI, the Coronation Rite at Westminster Abbey, the Royal Peculiars, and the musicians of the Chapels Royal had an enormous effect on both the shape of the Pre-Reformation liturgy in the British Isles and on the ideal relationship between Church and State (to be sure, the same was true in every European country, but two centuries of political revolution and the post Vatican II liturgical changes have obscured that reality for most Catholics in Europe and virtually all in America). After the break with Rome and Queen Mary’s abortive attempt to restore that relationship, Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles II took particular interest in revision of the BCP, and James in the translation of the Bible he commissioned. Charles I did not die only for his refusal to abolish bishops, but also his negotiations with Rome and opposition to the enclosures. Hence veneration of him in Britain and America (The Queen’s cousin, Lord Nicholas Windsor, is a convert and patron of both the Society of King Charles the Martyr and the Friends of the Ordinariate). Those loyal to him became the Caroline Divines in theology and the Cavalier poets in literature.  James II, of course, lost his throne because of his Faith; his supporters, as with his father’s, were High Church Anglicans or Catholics, and demonstrated that sort of practical ecumenism that so many find inspirational today (as in the Royal Stuart Society). Fealty to King George III led to the expulsion of the Loyalists from the United States to Canada – not only marking the separate identity of Anglo-Canadians in general, but creating the political-religious philosophy of Canadian High Toryism, marked in the past by such figures as John Strachan, Stephen Leacock, John Farthing, Eugene Forsey, and George Grant, and in our own time by such as Ron Dart and Gerry Neal.

Nor should it be thought that these United States have been entirely immune to the allure of Her Majesty – as the naming of Queen’s Stroll in New York and the formation of the Queen’s Guard at William and Mary should remind us. Indeed, as the excitement here over the reburial of Richard III shows (to say nothing of the existence of an American branch of the Richard III Society), her predecessors too can excite some interest, as well as the presence in this country of branches of the Royal Society of St. George, the Venerable Order of St. John, the Daughters of the British Empire, and the English-Speaking Union.

So what does that mean for us? As Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. points out in The Realm, the Monarchy is one of the prime remnants of Catholic times in Britain, and so – if, as, and when converted – could serve as an important stepping stone to the evangelisation of Britain, and by extension, the Anglosphere. There is evidence to suggest that Edward VII may have died a Catholic on his deathbed. We should pray loyally for the conversion of the Queen and the Royal Family – not merely for their own spiritual well-being but for that of all English-speaking nations.

As an aid to that devotion, here is the Prayer said in the UK after High Mass on Sundays in Latin Rite Catholic churches:

O Lord, save Elizabeth our Queen.

  1. And hear us in the day when we call upon Thee.

Let us pray.

We beseech Thee, almighty God, that Thy servant Elizabeth our Queen, who has been called by Thy mercy to rule over this kingdom, may also receive from Thee an increase of all virtues. Fittingly adorned with these, may she be able to shun all evildoing, (in time of war: to conquer her enemies) and, finally, being well pleasing before Thee, together with her consort and the royal family, attain unto Thee who art the Way, the Truth and the Life. Through Christ Our Lord.

  1. Amen.

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