Despite the massive wave of sorrow that followed the death of Queen Elizabeth, many people in this country continue to attack the whole idea of monarchy as being out of place in a 21st Century democracy. If the King wields any power, runs the argument, it is deplorable that a hereditary and unelected individual should be allowed to do so; and, if he does not wield power, then he is an expensive irrelevance.

That argument misses the point, and it does so because it sees our society, and the British Monarchy within it, simply in terms of politics. But society is about much, much more than that. Our society is made up of individuals, each of us a product not only of our DNA but also of our upbringing, education, moral formation, and of our personal experience of the world and of our own place in it. All of these factors make us who we are and key to this is our understanding of the society in which we live and of its history.

Our national story, as we know all too well, has often been marred by injustice, cruelty and other evils, both within our borders and beyond, something in which, as a nation, we are not alone. But while not wishing to downplay these wrongs, I would say that the tendency throughout our history, within both our society and our political system, has been towards accepting the need for change as circumstances change, but with a crucial underlying principle: embrace change when it is needed but do not change what does not need to be changed. This is what has happened within the British monarchy down the centuries just as it has in wider society. The pattern has been of development based on compromise and pragmatism, but driven also by the readiness of people here to let go of unworthy prejudices and to encompass compassion and justice. Britain has long been renowned for its readiness to seek ‘the middle way’, and while we have sometimes veered away from that path, it has always been something of a national guiding principle, one of its major benefits being that it makes for stability and cohesion across wider society. Here it is worth noting, perhaps, that the countries of Europe that have retained and adapted their monarchies (rather than getting rid of them as outmoded) are generally among the most stable. This cohesion through change has been evident, in this country, throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth. To look at just one area of national life, the matter of race and racism: when I was a boy, Jews were fair game for racial sneers and I myself saw those notices about ‘No Blacks, No Irish’; marriage across ‘racial boundaries’ was widely deplored and, only fifty years ago, Enoch Powell made his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech.

But that was then, and this is now. A few years ago, the two main contenders in the election of the Mayor of the nation’s capital were a Jew and a Muslim. 10% of the House of Commons is now comprised of men and women from ethnic minorities (two thirds of what it might be if the Commons was truly representative, but a massive advance in recent years) and, as we all know, the new Prime Minister is of Indian background while recent cabinets have been as racially diverse as you will find anywhere. Not many countries can match that sort of development in the way we embrace and govern ourselves.

Of course, we have a long way to go in making our institutions more fit for purpose and in making our society fairer and more just, and we have tremendous economic problems ahead of us. But if we hold firm to the blend of continuity and change, driven by compassion and justice, that has marked our national story, we can continue to hope that, by God’s grace, we will be able to continue in our pursuit of making ours a yet better country in which to live. The institution of the monarchy stands at the head of our nation, representing us as a people and as a mystical embodiment of those qualities we have long aspired to as a nation. I for one am glad of that.

Deacon Seán

Next Saturday morning, 5th November, at 10 o’ clock, Fr Stephen will celebrate a Mass at Saint Edmund’s for King Charles and the Royal family and including prayers for the late Queen. Rosie’s Choir will sing for us. There will be refreshments in the hall afterwards. We were not able, as a parish, to provide a fitting tribute to Her Late Majesty after she died and we warmly invite you to join us for this Mass for her family and for the repose of her soul.