Service of Remembrance for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II
The Head Master's Address
We gather in this chapel as a whole Oratory community – putting to one side for a few minutes our learning and our duties – to pay our respects to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who died yesterday at the age of 96 after a 70 year reign – the longest of any British monarch.
And it is fitting that we should do so, however inadequate such a gesture is. As well as the prayers we will offer up for the repose of Her Majesty’s soul, at times of change, grief or sadness we want to be with other people, if only to know that we are not alone in our sadness, our upset or our confusion. By being here this morning we are supporting each other through this sad time.
The outpouring of affection and sadness in this country – and from around the world – at Her Majesty’s passing perhaps should not have come as a surprise, but even so I for one was struck by the sheer love that so many held for her, and even those who have no time for the monarchy as an institution displayed respect. All could see that this was a momentous day as the life of a quite remarkable woman, the likes of whom we shall probably never see again, came to its end, peacefully, quietly and surrounded by her loving family.
We talk to you a lot about service, and often quote our Founder, St John Henry Newman’s words about God having created each one of us “for some definite service”. There can be no better example of selfless service than Her Majesty, who dedicated herself to the people of this country and the Commonwealth when she came to the throne at the young age of 26 – with her whole life ahead of her – and saw through her promise to the very end, fulfilling her last royal duty only two days before her death, when she invited the new Prime Minister to form a government.
Perhaps you may feel that there is nothing that surprising about a 96 year old person dying: by anyone’s judgement that is what we call a “good innings”. But I think the shock is because for so many people – and there are very few people alive who can remember having any other monarch than Queen Elizabeth – we never really believed that her reign would end, that God would continue to save the Queen in this life as He had done for so many years. Quite simply, for millions of people Queen Elizabeth was the unchanging rock, the one fixed point in 70 years of war and rapid and startling social and technological change: when everything else seemed mutable, as we say, the Queen would always be there with her kindly care for our nation and those of the Commonwealth. What inspired her to do this “definite service” – as she reflected on more and more as she came towards the end of her life – was her faith in Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life, to which we pray that Her Majesty will be sped by our prayers and those of the saints in heaven, not least our Blessed Lady, Queen of Heaven.
At the end of this service we will sing the National Anthem, the words to which for the first time in 70 years are changed to reflect the fact that we now have a King – King Charles III. It may seem cruel and heartless that immediately upon the death of the Queen Prince Charles became King Charles and we say and sing “God Save The King” but this is how it must be: the crown passes without pause or delay to the next monarch for the continuity of the monarchy and the stability of the nation. Even the most amateur historian will understand the turmoil that has ensued in the past when this has not happened and there has been a gap.
Among the thousands of tributes that came in I thought I would read you that of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, addressed to His Majesty The King, yesterday:
It may be that you are unaffected by this event, but I would ask you please to be mindful as you go about your business at school in the next few days, that many people are upset, and to conduct yourselves in a quiet and respectful way. If you do feel upset or confused you know that there are lots of people you can speak to: housemaster, tutor, housemother, health centre team, senior staff.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace.
God Save The King.