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Good and Faithful Servant Queen Elizabeth II

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Cardinal George Basil Hume OSB receiving the Order of Merit (OM) from HM The Queen at Buckingham Palace, 1 June 1999, weeks before his death from cancer. PHOTO: James Parker

‘Her Majesty the Queen’. For all but a few septuagenarians, and those older still, this is the only monarchical phrase we have known. And it is no more.

With two male monarchs lined up to segue King Charles III, these four words are unlikely to be used with reference to a reigning monarch for decades to come. Truly, it is the end of an era – and what an era it has been.

Like thousands of others, I had the opportunity to meet with Her Majesty on several occasions, and each time in a very different role.

The Art of Silver Service

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I first got to be in her presence whilst still a student in the 1980s. I had mastered (and since lost) the art of “silver service”, the practice of serving any and every item of food merely with a spoon and fork. I raced through the ranks and swiftly found myself regularly serving Her Majesty at different functions. My role was always to be unseen. Her role was to see everything – including me, her literal humble and obedient servant.

Although engaged constantly in conversation with one of her neighbouring diners (to do otherwise would have been rude), she had so mastered the art of acquiescence such that she could smile and acknowledge the service given to her with a twinkling glint of deep gratitude in her eye whilst continuing to be wholly attentive to another person. Often, many of the noble and proud at yet another London banquet saw only themselves, their primary focus being upon those who ranked socially above them. Her Majesty had no one to impress. She saw everyone and appreciated everything, all of the time.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, are pictured standing on the balcony of London’s Buckingham Palace June 16, 2001. Prince Philip, the longest-serving consort of any British monarch, died April 9, 2021, at age 99, Buckingham Palace said. (CNS photo/Stephen Hird, Reuters)

 Golden Jubilee

The second occasion our paths crossed was in the library at Windsor Castle on the occasion of her golden jubilee in 2002. Along with my Anglican counterpart, Jonathan Jennings, we had been appointed to oversee the Media aspects of a unique ecumenical declaration which Her Majesty had suggested she sign along with significant Christian leaders from across the United Kingdom in commemoration of her fifty years on the throne. Amidst global pageantry and celebration, this quiet gesture removed from the glare of television cameras, seemed paramount in Her Majesty’s heart.

Although she had only buried her sister, Princess Margaret, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, months earlier, Her Majesty was radiant, excited even at the age of 76, as she entered the castle library flanked as usual by Prince Philip after a service of celebration and thanksgiving before God in St George’s Chapel.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth meets students from Cashel Community School at the Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, in County Tipperary, Ireland, May 20. St. Patrick is said to have baptized King Aenghus there in A.D. 450. The queen’s visit to Ireland was the first by a British monarch in a century. (CNS photo/Reuters) (May 20, 2011)

Enduring Faith

Her Christian faith remained consistent. Although eyes were always on her as Queen, her eyes were on Christ as her King. She was playing her part in uniting Christian leaders within the temporal kingdom assigned to her, in the hope that God’s eternal kingdom would be united. The Servant Queen (yes, sometimes attending up to 400 official engagements a year, and being patron of over 600 charities) sought actively to see the words of Scripture fulfilled, ‘I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one.’ (Gospel of John 17:21).

To some, the signing of an ecumenical declaration may have seemed insignificant. However, Her Majesty The Queen was the first monarch in 500 years, since the bloodied, pain-filled Reformation that still ripples in pockets of British society and across the Commonwealth today, to attempt to unite Christian factions.

Champion for Ecumenism

She was the first British monarch since that 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 George 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 Matins. This was building spiritual bridges unlike anything previously actioned by the monarchy.

The third occasion we met was at her London home, Buckingham Palace, admittedly amidst throngs of other guests at one of her infamous Royal Garden Parties. As a long-serving trustee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, I was honoured to represent this centuries old organisation in the grounds of the monarch’s chief residence surrounded by a plenitude of charities and charitable leaders.

On brief mention to her even of the word ‘Bible’, her face lit up, as though light had increased in her world. In the midst of her duties, she appeared to be drawn back again to the source of her purpose and values, and reminded of the reason behind her existence: God Himself.

Pope Benedict XVI talks with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept. 16. The pope was making a four-day state visit to Great Britain. (CNS photo/Dave Thompson, Reuters) (Sept. 16, 2010) See BRITAIN-ARRIVE Sept. 16, 2010.

Role Model of Reconciliation

Her Majesty’s weekly church visits and her faith in Christ was never more evident than in her Christmas addresses. In the Queen’s Christmas Message of 2014, she said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.

A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” (The book The Servant Queen And The King She Serves contains a foreword written by Her Majesty, and includes personal thoughts on her Christian faith.)

Her Majesty, a stalwart of service the likes of which our world might never see again, with that ever-present glint of gratitude in her eye, with a sense of humour that confidently drew in James Bond and Paddington Bear, with a confidence to proclaim her belief and her trust beyond her realm to a merciful, forgiving and ever-loving God, deserves like few others to hear the voice of God speak upon her as she enters His United Kingdom, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Related:

British Catholics, Pope Francis pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

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