COMMENTARY: As a nation, as a culture, our roots are Christian, and none of what is happening makes any sense unless we understand that God is at the core of all of this.
As Britain mourns our monarch, bus stops in London carry illuminated pictures of the Queen, with a tribute from Transport for London. Major railway stations also carry her portrait, as do many shops, banks and other institutions.
In churches, there are pictures with candles, and many people come to pray and add candles of their own.
And in lots of places, there are banks of flowers: at London’s main royal palaces, of course, but also at other designated sites. People keep arriving with more and more bouquets and posies. As I write this, there are news reports of volunteers stripping off the plastic wrapping that florists use today, so that the flowers can simply flourish and then wither naturally, without having the plastic lying around as litter.
London has a sense of unity: Among the great crowds at Buckingham Palace, people chat and share stories and personal memories: “I met the Queen once …” “My son/daughter/mum/friend once saw the Queen …” The railway union has called off its series of strikes.
There is an atmosphere of goodwill at present: vast crowds but no jostling or frustration, and little for the police to do except direct people as appropriate. People tend to linger in St. James Park. Some have traveled longish distances, from Devon, from Manchester, from East Anglia. There are, of course, plenty of tourists; American, Dutch, German and Italian mourners have been among the many with whom I have had brief chats. And every TV station on earth seems to be here. I have been randomly interviewed on Italian and Colombian TV.
People have been following avidly the progress of events of the Queen’s coffin, draped with the Royal Standard, brought from Balmoral to Edinburgh, where it lay in state at her palace at Holyrood yesterday before lying at rest in St. Gile’s Cathedral today; a prayer and thanksgiving service was held there today (at which The Lord’s My Shepherd, one of the Queen’s favorite hymns, was sung), with a vigil with the royal family scheduled, too. And in due course, the Queen’s coffin will travel to London for further honor before the great state funeral at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19.
As Britain mourns the Queen, church has become something normal again, if only briefly: Bishops have been invited to talk to the media, TV cameras show people at prayer and, of course, there is much discussion about the funeral and the rites and hymns and ceremonial. In addition, of course, services and Masses have been held to pray for the repose of the Queen’s soul.
And we hear our national anthem, which is indeed a prayer, and a heartfelt one: God Save the King. He needs our prayers: It is a tough assignment — and not one that can be abandoned or comes on a whim.
God is at the core of all of this: As a nation, as a culture, our roots are Christian, and none of what is happening makes any sense unless we understand this.
Our civilization is rooted in Christianity, and the British monarchy is all about Christian service, Christian faith, an understanding of God’s providence and our need to trust him and serve him, caring for one another and knowing that each of us will one day meet him and be accountable for our actions. That is something that Queen Elizabeth II well understood — and articulated, not least in her annual Christmas message. Our new King understands it, too, and his words and actions so far have shown an acceptance of what this means.
At the requiem Mass for Her Majesty at Westminster Cathedral yesterday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke of this sacred responsibility and how it was manifested in the life of the Queen, including how she welcomed Pope Benedict to Holyroodhouse, whose name means “House of the Holy Cross”:
“How often Her Majesty spoke to us of her enduring faith in our Savior, 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).”
The cardinal also said, quite touchingly:
“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.”
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