President of the Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, celebrated a Requiem Mass for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Cathedral two days after her death. He paid a heartfelt tribute and highlighted four of the Queen’s many qualities that will be greatly missed: faithfulness, kindness, steadfastness in adversity, and a delight in life.
Requiem Mass for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
9 September 2022, 5:30pm
Today we are a community and a nation in mourning. And that will endure for these next ten days or so, as we reflect on the life and blessings of Queen Elizabeth II, and as we come to terms with our sense of loss, and as we commend her soul to God.
This sense of mourning spreads far and wide. The media today and yesterday were full of tributes from every corner of the world. And yet it is also full of very deeply personal emotions. So many people, who might never have met Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, have expressed a personal sense of loss simply because they have had a sense of her presence and of the gifts that she brought to her years of service.
It was on 21 April 1947, on her 21st birthday, that Princess Elizabeth said these words:
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
Seventy-five years later, we recognise the way in which she kept to that declaration. We are heartbroken by our loss, at her death.
Many qualities of Queen Elizabeth are being highlighted in these days. Let me mention four:
The first and most obviously was her faithfulness. Her faithful fulfilling of that promise, day by day, year by year, to the last. It is remarkable that on Tuesday she was fulfilling her duties faithfully. And, on Thursday, she went to the Lord. Her faithfulness has been such a rock for us all. And, as one national leader said, in her death we have lost an example of moral faithfulness.
The second quality of which people speak, and which I recognise, was her kindness. The ability to welcome people and make them feel at ease. And to give her full attention and time, even for the briefest of moments.
I can recall standing next to her when the priest who was with me wanted to tell her of his memories, as a ten-year-old, of playing a recorder for her, in his Welsh school. She listened with total attention and entered into the pleasure of that memory in a way that the narrator, the young priest, will never forget.
A third quality about which people speak, and which was so evident, was her ability to be steadfast in adversity. We all know, and can list, the tragedies and the traumas that she faced, especially within her own family circle. We heard reflections today about the death of Princess Diana, the difficulties faced by her different children, and the death of her husband Prince Philip. But in all of these, and on so many other occasions, there was a steadfastness in her that was both remarkable and inspirational.
A fourth quality that I would like to highlight, and which is being highlighted today, was the joy she took in life. Her sense of humour, her pleasure and sheer delight in so many things: in her grandchildren in her horses, her racing, in just humour and teasing – having tea with Paddington Bear! In the newspapers today, I read that one of her companions at lunch on Sunday said she was full of laughter, and full of memories, sharp-minded, and very entertaining in the joy she took from so much.
Now qualities such as these – faithfulness, kindness, steadfastness in adversity, and a delight in life – spring from deep sources. They do not come naturally and endure naturally. They need to be fed from a well spring. They need to have an inner life that renews them constantly. In fact, we cannot have those strengths and virtues without there being an origin and source.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, in her lifetime, told us so often what the source of her life truly was. She told us what guided and the shaped her life. She said these words, for example:
To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me, the teachings of Christ, and my own personal accountability before God, provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, took great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.
That is the key dimension of the life that today we treasure. We must do our utmost to ensure that it is not forgotten. After all, there is no fruit on a tree unless it has deep roots. Ignore the roots and the fruit will fade.
Queen Elizabeth took so many opportunities to explain her faith, gently yet directly, especially in almost every public Christmas message that she gave. The words of St. Paul we have just heard reminded me of that. She saw, as he did, that it was her duty to proclaim her faith in Jesus Christ. And, she said, among the treasures that flowed from that faith was her readiness not to judge others, to treat people with respect and without unnecessary criticism, to make them welcome.
In this she was exactly reflecting the message of the Gospel passage that we heard this evening: never to concentrate on the splinter in another’s eye. In contrast, she was always ready to see the good in everyone she met. In an age in which we rush so quickly to close people down, to ‘cancel’ them, her example is crucially important.
In all of this, as we gather now and over these next few days, I think we have one duty. We owe it to her to pray for her. We owe her our prayers. Yes, we express our love. Yes, we express our respect for her. Yes, we express our determination to follow her example. But mostly, in these days, let us make for her an offering of our prayers. Privately, in this Mass, and in all the ceremonies that will follow, our prayer is simple:
May our merciful Father welcome her home, and unite her again with her beloved husband, Prince Philip. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
And, at this point too, there is one other person for whom we must pray: His Majesty King Charles III. Even now, at this very moment, he takes up the awesome responsibility of his role.
May God bless and save our King.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster