By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv., Commentary | Published September 15, 2022 | En Español
On Sept. 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary observed by both the Catholic Church and Anglican Church, we received news that Queen Elizabeth II had died peacefully, with her family by her side.
Having celebrated her Platinum Jubilee this past June, she became increasingly frail and there was speculation about the deterioration of her health. Two days before her death, she received her new British Prime Minister Liz Truss at Balmoral in Scotland. That was the last image of her, dutiful to the very end.
Tributes have been paid to Queen Elizabeth from around the world. One commentator wrote, “As a spiritual mother and grandmother to millions, it seems fitting that she should have passed on the feast of the Nativity of Our Blessed Mother, the Queen of Heaven.” For more than 70 years, she reigned with dignity and integrity, with humility and devotion.
The sudden and untimely death of her father King George VI thrust her onto the world’s stage. In the midst of her own grief, she pledged to the people: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” She fulfilled that promise and her deep sense of service emanated from her Christian faith. She brought stability and unity to a nation and beyond, in good times and in challenging ones. The anchor in her life was her Christian faith, which she both lived and cherished.
Since the Queen’s death, tributes have been pouring in from around the world, as well as messages of condolence and prayers for the new king, Charles III. Each of us would do well to imitate her faith and humble service. In the telegram, sent shortly after the Queen’s death, Pope Francis offered a message.
“I join everyone who mourns her loss in praying for the late Queen’s eternal rest, and in paying tribute to her life of unstinting service to the good of the Nation and the Commonwealth, her example of devotion to duty, her steadfast witness of faith in Jesus Christ and her firm hope in his promises,” said the pope.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher gave a small prayer book to the Queen prior to coronation to help her spiritually prepare. On the day of her coronation, she knelt in prayer before the high altar in Westminster Abbey to pay homage to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. It was a moving moment in which her faith was especially evident.
She understood the sacred dignity of her role in terms of a covenant between God and his people. How appropriate then it was to see several rainbows appear in the skies above two of her residences on the day of her death. We read in Genesis 9:13, “I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” Queen Elizabeth II understood her role of Sovereign in spiritual terms.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols wrote, “Now, seventy-five years later, we are heartbroken in our loss at her death, and so full of admiration for the unfailing way in which she fulfilled that declaration (of service). Even in my sorrow, shared with so many around the world, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude for the gift to the world that has been the life of Queen Elizabeth II … At this time, we pray for the repose of the soul of Her Majesty. We do so with confidence, because the Christian faith marked every day of her life and activity.”
He went on to quote her Millennium Christmas message, in which she said, “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. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
In his statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote, “As a faithful Christian disciple…she lived out her faith every day of her life. Her trust in God and profound love for God was foundational in how she led her life, hour by hour, day by day. In The Late Queen’s life, we saw what it means to receive the gift of life we have been given by God and—through patient, humble, selfless service—share it as a gift to others.”
In her first Christmas Address in 1952, she asked for prayers for her upcoming coronation. “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day…to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve him and you all the days of my life,” said Queen Elizabeth.
Truly, that prayer was answered. In the course of her 70-year reign, she had visits with five popes in Rome, as well as welcoming two of them to Great Britain, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. She was the first British monarch since the great divide to offer to a Catholic bishop the personal gift of the Sovereign—the Order of Merit, which is restricted to a maximum of 24 living recipients from the Commonwealth realms. In this case, it was to Cardinal Basil Hume about whom she spoke of affectionately as “my Cardinal.” Never before had such intimate words been uttered from the mouth of the Head of the Church of England in reference to a leading Catholic prelate.
Soon after Hume’s death, an invitation was swiftly extended by Her Majesty to his successor, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, not only to be a guest at her Sandringham estate but to also preach at morning prayer. She traveled to India to present the Order of Merit to St. Teresa of Kolkata and expressed her appreciation for everything Mother Teresa had done in the service of God and neighbor. This was building spiritual bridges unlike anything previously actioned by the monarchy.
In her Christmas Message of 2002, Queen Elizabeth said, “I know just how much I rely on my own 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. Like others of you who draw inspiration from your own faith, I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.”
And the great lesson of hope is that our good deeds go with us as we go before God. We can truly say of Queen Elizabeth II, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” And now, we pray for the happy repose of her soul, for consolation of her family and nations and for King Charles III that he will know blessing and wisdom in his reign. God save the King!