Sermon for Requiem for HM the Queen: Sunday 11 September 2022
A sermon preached at a Requiem for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
“For this has been handed down by the fathers, and is observed by the whole church, that prayer should be made for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated at the Eucharist in their own place, and that it should be mentioned that the sacrifice is offered for them.’
Those words of Saint Augustine from the 4th Century show us that from the earliest times, Christians have offered the Eucharist for their departed.
In doing that now for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we are simply doing something that comes naturally to us. We offer the Mass day in day out, for ourselves, for the world in which we live, for people experiencing difficulty, and in joyful thanksgiving for God’s blessings. Why shouldn’t we, therefore offer it also for those who have died?
As we look back on the life of our beloved Queen, there is so much to give thanks for. A life consecrated to the service of others in a way that we see very seldom now. A Head of State who saw her life-long role as a vocation, as a calling from God. A point of stability and unity through 70 years – 7 decades in which so much in our national life has risked sewing seeds of disunity and strife. A kind, good person, always resilient, always faithful, always there.
As we bring those thanksgivings to God, we also do something else when we celebrate a Mass of Requiem. For through her long life as our Monarch, the Queen did so much for us. Now she has died, it is our turn to do something for her. It is our turn to pray for her and assist her with that prayer as she now makes her way to God.
The process whereby God makes us ready for heaven after we die is why we celebrate the Mass for the departed.
For at the point of our death, each and every one of us is in need of the forgiveness and purification and cleansing that only God can give. Every life, no matter how exemplary, will have its mistakes, its regrets, its burdens and its sins.
But God’s gift to us is that he takes those things from us. He makes us ready to share in the life of his heavenly Kingdom. We don’t earn our place there through our own merits. What’s more, we know the only reason life with God in heaven is possible for us is the Cross of Christ, the great mystery at the heart of the Mass.
We pray in this Requiem that the power of that great sacrifice may open the gates of eternal life to Her Majesty the Queen.
And in receiving communion ourselves, we are joined through time, space and eternity with all those who have died, by being united with Christ. That is the reason we can feel close to the Queen we mourn by drawing close to Christ.
It’s also important to remember that human beings don’t think and reflect and pray in the abstract. We do so with all our emotions and senses, through the tangible, the visible and the tactile. That is why it has been the tradition of the church at times like these to erect a catafalque – that’s the name of the large coffin like construction in front of you. It symbolizes in a way that little else I know can the presence of the departed with us.
Yes, self evidently, the Queen’s remains are not here. Her coffin is making its way to Edinburgh as we speak. And yet, the catafalque gives us a tangible focus for our prayers and devotion. We can feel close to the departed. Those feelings of shock, incredulity and denial of reality can be left behind. The catafalque confronts us with the reality of our human mortality.
In honoring the catafalque with incense and holy water, we honour the Queen, and in leaving the catafalque erected over the coming days, we give to those who visit this church a powerful focus for their prayer, and a comfort in their grief.
Let us follow St Augustine’s instructions today and offer the sacrifice of the Mass for Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. As we gather at the Lord’s altar, let us bring our thanksgivings to God for all our nation received from her: for all she represented that was good and noble; for her personal faith; for her individual commitment to service; and for the love and kindness she showed to all.
Let us pray for her family, and for our new King, asking for God’s guidance and strength.
And let us ask that the Queen’s sins will be forgiven – that trusting in the power of Christ’s Cross, she may be given the reward of her labours as she now sees face to face the one from whom all kingship, monarchy and authority truly comes, Christ the Lord.
Fr Peter Anthony