Homily on the death of Queen Elizabeth II

This homily was given at at St Mary’s Shrine Church, Warrington, England on Sunday 11 September 2022.
Click here to listen to the original recording.

Eleven years ago, the heir to the Austrian Holy Roman Empire, Otto von Habsburg, was buried in Vienna. As the ceremonial shows, no matter how high-born or glorious one is on earth, one can access eternal rest only when acknowledging one is a sinner. Thus, the Grand Chamberlain knocks three times with a silver cane on the door of the Capuchin convent which contains the imperial crypt. The Capuchin porter asks, “Who is there?”

The Grand Chamberlain proclaims the name and titles of the deceased Habsburg emperor:

“I am Otto von Habsburg, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Lodomeria, Illyria, and King of Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cracow, Duke of Lorraine, Salzburg, etc. … ”

Upon hearing this, the porter refuses to open the door and says, “I do not know you.”

The Grand Chamberlain knocks on the door again and in answer to the porter’s question “Who is there?” gives just the name of the deceased prince:

“I am Otto von Habsburg, His Majesty the Emperor and the King. ”

The porter again refuses admission, “I do not know you.”

For a third time, the Grand Chamberlain knocks on the door and the porter asks anew, “Who is there?” This time, the Grand Chamberlain simply says:

“I am Otto, a poor mortal and a sinner.”

To this, the Capuchin friar responds, “Come in.” The convent doors open wide and the casket is carried in.*

Dear friends, our country mourns our Queen. Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Friday 8 September. She had sat on the throne for seven decades. Only those among us who have reached about 80 years of age remember a time when they sang and prayed “God save the King,” rather than “God save the Queen.” Over the past few days, how unfamiliar and even strange it sounds when hearing about “King Charles”. 

Queen Elizabeth embodied continuity. As long as she lasted, one felt, England would go on. The country went through many social and economical changes across the past 70 years. But the monarch did not change. And yet, everybody claimed to change. Everybody tried to become more popular and successful through alleged novelties. So did advertisers, politicians, artists, scientists and even churchmen: trying to entice the world with new products, new laws, new artistic styles, new scientific hypotheses, and even new religious habits. Not the Queen though. She remained the same. Not only her person, but her behaviour remained the same. Queen Elizabeth gave a constant example of dignity, kindness, moral strength and principles. While around her, nationwide but also in her immediate surroundings, people she loved lost the sense of fidelity and faithfulness, she remained the same, benefitting all through the example of her family values and the references to her Christian belief, notably in her Christmas messages.

It would be easier and more comfortable to conclude here. The country is still caught in deep emotion, understandably. And yet, this is not a civic tribute but a homily at Holy Mass, given in the Name of the Most Holy Trinity the Sunday following the death of the monarch. From the perspective of Christianity, we cannot fail to mention that the Queen lived and died as the Supreme Head of the Anglican religion. That Christian denomination defined itself five hundred years ago against the tenets of Catholicism, such as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the supreme authority of the Pope, Vicar of Christ, the cult of the saints, of their relics, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the intercession for the dead, priestly celibacy and more. How brutally, how cruelly and tyrannically the shocking novelties of Anglicanism were imposed by the monarch, any objective account of the Protestant reformation in Great Britain and Ireland will tell abundantly. Ask St John Houghton, the Carthusian protomartyr in the Anglican reformation. Ask St Margaret Clitherow, a loyal housewife crushed to death for harbouring priests. Ask St Oliver Plunkett, the faithful Archbishop of Armagh hanged, drawn and quartered as late as 1681. Thus, Queen Elizabeth II stood and lived as the heir and guarantor of this institution. In that respect, Defensor Fidei (“Defender of the Faith”), the title awarded by Pope Leo X to Henry VIII when that monarch was still Catholic, should never have been upheld when he separated himself and his country from Holy Church. Neither should Queen Elizabeth and King Charles claim the title of Defender of the Faith. 

Admittedly, compared with the loss of any Christian belief and values around us over the past 70 years, we can be glad that the Queen abided by her creed. But as Catholics, as souls in love with the Saviour and His Holy Church, eager to have all the means of salvation made available to all men, of course we can only deplore that our Sovereign held to a very shrunken version of Christianity. Furthermore, during her reign, the Anglican religion distanced itself more and more from the law of Christ and nature: allowing female priests, allowing female bishops and, since 2002, allowing divorce. Queen Elizabeth will not see the expected permission for religious homosexual marriage and euthanasia. Reluctantly, one may assume, did Queen Elizabeth sign in law such changes. But she did sign them. 

After her role as head of a religion, what then of her role as head of state? The British monarch has the powers to appoint a new prime minister, dissolve Parliament and give royal assent to bills. Without royal assent, there is no law. Thus, the sovereign bears personal responsibility for all laws passed. What then of the law facilitating divorce; the law authorising abortion and the laws widening access to abortion; the law creating so-called homosexual marriage; the law permitting a same-sex couple to adopt a child and in consequence, the outlawing of Catholic adoption agencies; or the law hindering Catholic education through the Faith Cap on school admissions? 

As expressed in the beginning of this homily, all of us, her loyal subjects, knew Queen Elizabeth to be a kind and principled Christian soul. None of us thinks that she happily signed any such laws. But many assume that there is no contradiction there, although they share our view on natural and religious law. They hope that, provided one’s personal convictions are sound and just, one may lawfully speak and act differently in public. One may abide by a truth in private, they think, and yet act against it in public, if deemed necessary for the common good. Well, King Baudouin of Belgium acted otherwise when he temporarily gave up his throne in 1990, saying that his conscience would not allow him to sign the law legalising abortion. St Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, chose to resign his position rather than sign a decree against his Christian conscience. St John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and life Chancellor of Cambridge University, preferred to lose everything rather than his Catholic faith.

Dear friends, now is not the time to enter into useful considerations about the conditions for lawful cooperation with evil. But what we must bear in mind is that the human person is one. There is not a private me, and a public me. After we die, when we stand before God for judgement, it will be one single self standing there, not two.  How grave the consequences for public leaders! What a huge responsibility weighs on those who govern us, both in the state and in religion. How earnestly we must pray for our leaders, temporal and spiritual: for they will answer before God for the use they will have made of His authority. 

God only knows what the intimate dispositions of a dying soul are. We do not. But we can pray for the dying, that they may regret their failures, negligences and their sins before God. We can also pray for the dead, especially fellow Christians. It is a great consolation of our Catholic faith that our prayer for deceased loved ones does improve their condition — if they have died in the state of grace.

Friends, let us pray for the repose of the soul of her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and for her successor King Charles III, our King. Let us pray the canonised kings and queens in our country, King St David I of Scotland and his mother Queen St Margaret, and King St Malcolm; King St Edmund the Martyr; King St Edgard; King St Edward the Confessor; the saintly kings of Northumbria Oswald and Edwin; and King St Edward the Martyr. May they intercede for our country and lead England and Britain back to full unity with Holy Church, for the glory of God and the salvation of all souls in this realm. And may the Queen of Heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary on whose Nativity Queen Elizabeth left this world, be merciful to her, and to us when our hour comes. 

*Introduction borrowed from an online description of the Habsburg funeral: