Message by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
I remember a few years ago, as you would certainly remember, Canon Simon, that on what must have been his last official visit to this pro-cathedral, Prince Philip was introduced to the congregation and we were introduced to him. As we bid farewell, he stopped near me and said, “Shall I tell you a secret? We are all Christians, you know,” and I replied, “Thank God for that.”
I think that is one of his comments that we can actually repeat without causing more trouble. His typical wit will always be remembered but that comment really puts in a nutshell why we are all here today, on this solemn feast of Pentecost – to remember a fateful spouse, Prince Philip, and wish all happiness and long life to Her Majesty the Queen on the platinum jubilee of her reign.
We are all Christians. The name ‘Christians’ adopted by the community in Antioch (placed in Turkey or Türkiye now) came from Christ – Christós. Prince Philip would be one of those persons who appreciate the Greek root of the term Christian or Christ. It means anointed. We are Christians because we are all anointed in the Holy Spirit and we are celebrating Her Majesty who was anointed at her baptism in the Holy Spirit. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, she was anointed at her confirmation in 1942, a very important date for us because it is also the date, actually a few weeks before Malta was awarded the George Gross by her father, and that is the year of her confirmation. She was anointed a third time at her coronation in 1953. Philip also was anointed at his baptism and confirmation, as we all have been, and this anointment means that we are made in the image of Jesus: the priest, the prophet and the king.
“We are all Christians, you know,” and if we look at these two people, His Royal Highness Prince Philip and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, we can appreciate that in the meanderings of life and through so many ways within the context of their human condition – their weaknesses, their limits, but also their skills, their training, their self-discipline – they were an extraordinary example of an anointed person, a true Christian. They were, first of all, people who offered their lives for the service of the nation, the Commonwealth and the common good, also on the international level.
All of us who are Christians are priests, regardless of gender, if our lives are offered for a higher cause. We can see this so clearly in the example of her Majesty. We are always touched when we hear again her solemn promise as Princess Royal, when she said, “My life, whether it be short or long, I will do whatever it takes to give my life to you, to be an offering to you.” This is being a priest in the Christian sense of being anointed, to offer oneself, as Paul the Apostle says, as a living sacrifice, a pure, unblemished sacrifice, to the Lord. Her Majesty and Prince Philip learned to be prophets because the prophet is not only the one who speaks in the name of God, but is the one who witnesses to his principles. In this couple, who we commemorate today, we like to remember people of principles.
They were not perfect. We’re not here to do a canonisation or beatification but we’re here to be grateful and thank God for the witness to resilience, loyalty, fidelity and principled good manners that we have seen in Her Majesty the Queen and her consort. We are grateful for this witness. Leaders around the world need to look, and I’m sure they do, to Her Majesty the Queen to understand what service means and what restraint means.
It has been said and written that Her Majesty has spoken, but she has also witnessed to her silence. She has seen a lot, many people, suffered many prime ministers and she has shown restraint.
Her Majesty is, above all, a servant, because in her reign, she has shown us what loyal duty means, what sticking up to it and going through the different and difficult rituals and trips, and whatever the state needs for the common good means. His Excellency, the President, and Mrs Vella would probably be the two people who would understand exactly what this means.
Her Majesty has been doing this for 70 years, and she started her apprenticeship quite early as Princess Royal, and not only being in the public eye, but being called to witness to a closeness to the people. Pope Francis likes to imagine the values of the Gospels under three important headings: attitudes and virtues; tenderness and compassion; and proximity, closeness to the people.
Now Her Majesty may be a somewhat special image of these three virtues. Is Her Majesty an example of tenderness? Well, I would suggest that we keep remembering wherever we are, and probably forever, that beautiful image of the great-grandmother and Prince Louis on the balcony a few days ago at Buckingham Palace.
Her engagement with her children, grandchildren and her great-grandchildren is an image of a maternal tenderness that is obviously growing in maturity and wisdom, and obviously tolerance and compassion. It is said, when quizzed about the more important virtue of his gracious spouse, Prince Philip said that one of the greatest virtues of Her Majesty is tolerance. I know what I’m talking about. She’s also known to be very tolerant of members of her staff who have indulged in the spirit, not necessarily the Holy Spirit.
Her compassion is also witness to all the country. We always remember her kind words at the height of Covid, ‘We will meet again,’ the way that she was so compassionate to each and every one of us through her simple words that touched our hearts, that gave us hope, and so it is true when they sell posters with her royal crown on them and remember the famous phrase during World War II, which has had so many versions now, ‘Keep calm and carry on’. She’s also a witness to a special proximity to the people. She remains her Majesty the Queen and we would want her to be that. That is a role that nobody envies, and it has been a mainstay for the country, for the United Kingdom, for the Commonwealth and for the world. She has been a person that has through her pilgrimages and trips, blessed our islands by her gracious presence as a young bride. I’m so glad that we have come to appreciate what Villa Guardamangia means to the history of the royal family and to our nation’s history and I would like to thank President Vella for being such a promoter of this initiative to preserve our heritage and the memory of a happy couple before the burdens of the realm were thrust upon a very young Princess Elizabeth, happily married to Philip.
However, she also visited us as queen, she was Queen of Malta from 1964 to 1974, and when reading today’s Gospel, which was read in 1953 at her coronation, one asks, ‘What shall we give to Caesar?’ Well, the due to Caesar, if we’re thinking about Her Majesty, is our gratitude and our admiration, but we will also give loving admiration and gratitude to God for this great gift that we have received in Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth and Philip, her extraordinary and unforgettable consort. May we learn how to serve, because that is the way one leads, by serving. Let us today be very grateful for the example of these two people, human beings, who teach us by their dignity, and their loyalty, and their service, how to love as anointed people, as Christians.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta