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Leader comment: Royal faith, passed to the next generation

16 September 2022

A CHANCE remark about the late Queen, among the many millions made during the past week, contained more theological truth than perhaps the speaker reckoned. “We’d got used to thinking she was immortal.” For many church people, the moment when the Queen’s death changed from being a news story to something more personal was on Sunday morning. The change in the prayers from “thy chosen servant Elizabeth” to “thy chosen servant Charles”, however expected intellectually, could not but be a shock. Although there were other prayers for the late Queen and her family, the timeless relationship through regular prayer for the Queen at the start of communion turned out to be temporary after all, and there was a strong sense of a close bond broken.

Not everyone these days worships with the Book of Common Prayer, of course. The Queen, however, schooled in Cranmer’s language and spirituality, would have been familiar with the Tudor Archbishop’s focus on the border between earth and heaven. In his hands, it was fixed and yet transparent. He speaks in the collects of “heavenly promises”, “heavenly treasure”, “the things eternal”, of providence that “ordereth all things both in heaven and earth”, and, for All Saints’ Day, frames the petition “that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which thou has prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee”. Thus the Queen, through the prayers learnt from childhood, and with the increased insight granted by long life and the loss of a loved companion, was simultaneously inhabiting both mortality and immortality, and has now moved seamlessly from one to the next.

And her love of God was clearly unfeigned. Respectful of her privacy during her life, the King has felt able this week to speak of his mother’s faith. In Hillsborough Castle, in Northern Ireland, he said that the late Queen had “never ceased to pray for the best of times for this place and its people”. The Archbishop of Canterbury, similarly reticent about his Supreme Governor during her lifetime, said in Canterbury on Sunday: “Her Late Majesty taught as much, if not more, about God and grace, both in words and the actions that reinforced them, than any other contemporary figure.”

The United Kingdom continues to be blessed with a monarch who relies on God’s guidance and provision. The King, in the first public address made after his accession, spoke of “the Sovereign’s particular relationship and responsibility towards the Church of England — the Church in which my own faith is so deeply rooted.” He had been brought up in that faith, he said “to cherish a sense of duty to others”. Perhaps the Queen’s most enduring legacy, then, will prove to be the faith that she instilled and inspired in her successor. “The merciful goodness of the Lord endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear him: and his righteousness upon children’s children.”

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