Long to reign over us
[ACNS] Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will today become Britain’s longest reigning monarch and, in doing so, will become the longest serving Supreme Governor of the Church of England, when she surpasses the 63 years and 216 days record set by Queen Victoria.
The C of E itself is not officially marking the occasion. A spokesman for Lambeth Palace told the Daily Telegraph that “Buckingham Palace have been clear that they wanted the day to be low-key so there will be no statement.” They have, however, issued two prayers which can be used today: a special collect to be used as part of Book of Common Prayer worship services; and a modern language prayer based on Philippians 2. And many churches across the UK are expected to ring their bells this evening to mark the milestone.
The Queen’s reluctance to celebrate the record is understood to be related to the fact, as a hereditary monarch, she began her reign on the untimely death of her father, King George VI; and that the existing record was set on the death of Queen Victoria.
King George VI passed away in his sleep and so the exact time of his death is not known. As the Telegraph reports, it is “generally accepted that he died at around 1am, meaning the record will be set at approximately 5.30pm, when the Queen will have reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours and around 30 minutes, a few minutes longer than her ancestor.”
The Queen’s official title in the United Kingdom is: “Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”
Her “other realms and territories”, where she is also Queen, are Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu; in addition to 14 British overseas territories, seven Australian external territories, and four New Zealand dependent territories and associated states.
Westminster Abbey is under the direct authority of the Queen rather than the Bishop of London. The Dean, the Very Revd Dr John Hall, told BBC Radio Four’s Sunday programme this weekend that the Queen takes her Anglicanism “very seriously”.
“All the evidence is that she worships very faithfully every Sunday,” he said. “And she does take a very great interest in what the Church is about. She is a devout woman. Not every woman has been as devout as her. Her favourite service is Matins and she is very much a Matins person. She is traditional, very faithful and very learned about the Bible – very knowledgeable.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has written an open letter to the Queen, in which he thanks her for her years of service to the Commonwealth.
“Along with so many others throughout the Commonwealth, Canadians give thanks for your unwavering devotion to your peoples, your holiness of life and all your good works in the interests of the common good and of peace and concord among the nations,” he said.
“With this greeting come our very best wishes and the assurance of our prayers, week by week, for you and all the Royal Family. May God bless and keep you in good health and in all happiness of life.”
Prayers issued by the Church of England
A Collect for use after the Collect of the Day at BCP services
Almighty God, who hast set our gracious sovereign Queen Elizabeth upon the throne of this realm, and given her to surpass all others in the years of her reign: Receive our heartfelt thanks for her service to her people, confirm and encourage her in the continuance of the same, and keep her in thy heavenly wisdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who took the form of a servant for our sake, and reigneth now in glory with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
A modern-language prayer drawing on Philippians 2
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ exchanged the glory of a heavenly throne for the form of a servant, we thank you that you have given Elizabeth our Queen a heart to serve her people, and have kept her devoted in this service beyond all who were before her: encourage us by her example to serve one another, and to seek the common good, until you call us all to reign with Christ in your eternal kingdom.
I am old enough to remember the death of King George VI, and the Accession speech of his elder daughter Elizabeth, who succeeded him as Monarch while on safari in Africa. Her pledge of undying service to her people led to her crowning and sacred anointing in the majestic Westminster Abbey, which we were able to witness on television in the U.K.
The sanctity of that occasion, and the devotedness of the newly crowned Queen, to the service of God and her subjects, was nearly matched by the ascent of Mount Everest by New Zealander Edmund Hilary, both of which occasions made a lasting impression on the world at the time.
Her Majesty’s Oath of Loyalty was rather more impressive than the other kind of oath expressed by her mountain-climbing New Zealand subject; but both were attested to on television on the same day.
Sir Edmund Hilary is now at rest, after his energetic service of the people of Nepal; while Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth goes on to surpass the rule-span of her illustrious ancestor, Queen Victoria. Our Queen’s devotion to God and to her people has not diminished in intensity, not do I expect that she will ever willingly renounce the responsibility she took on in the flower of her youth. May God Bless Her and give her the strength she will need to carry on. (I am not anxious that New Zealand become a republic!)
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand