By Mark Michael
The Platinum Jubilee Service, held in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on a bright and sunny June 3, was full of royal pageantry, dignified liturgy, and beautiful music, though the absence of the guest of honor, 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, struck a somewhat somber note.
The queen, who has grown increasingly frail in recent months, watched the service that marked the 70th anniversary of her reign on television from Windsor Castle, saying that she had experienced “discomfort” when participating in festivities the day before.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, a stand-in for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who tested positive for COVID a few days earlier, praised Queen Elizabeth’s steadfast commitment to the nation, in an extended nod to her love of horseracing.
“Your Majesty, we’re sorry you’re not with us this morning in person, but you are still in the saddle. And we are all glad that there is still more to come.
“So, thank you for staying the course. Thank you for continuing to be faithful to the pledges you made 70 years ago. Thank you for showing us how service and faithfulness matter. People of all faiths and none can learn from this.”
Cottrell, who chose to write his own sermon on short notice instead of preaching Archbishop Justin Welby’s previously prepared message, took Philippians 4:4-9 as his text, and focused on St. Paul’s model of leadership, which flowed from his own determination to follow Christ faithfully.
“In Her Majesty the Queen we see an example of this kind of service: a staunch constancy and a steadfast consistency; a faithfulness to God; an obedience to a vocation that is the bedrock of her life. No, bedrock isn’t quite the right image. Faith in Jesus Christ is a fountain, and it is a well. It is the well from which we draw deeply and replenish ourselves through all the challenges, joys, and vicissitudes of life. And it is a fountain, overflowing with immense joy,” he said.
Among other ceremonial and symbolic roles, the British monarch is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and is styled “Defender of the Faith.”
The modern-language liturgy used some material from the Church of England’s resources for the Platinum Jubilee. While thanking God for several aspects of the Queen’s leadership, it also had a strong focus on peaceful cooperation and service to others.
In a closing Act of Commitment, young people from countries where the Queen is head of state asked congregants if they would “foster community amongst all people,” “work for peace and justice throughout our world,” and “protect and care for our environment.”
The diversity of the young readers was a reminder that Queen Elizabeth is head of state not just in the United Kingdom, but in 14 others of the British Commonwealth’s 54 nations, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and 10 other island countries.
Military forces from 13 Commonwealth nations also flanked the great doors of St. Paul’s to greet the arrival of the royal family, along with the Lord Mayor of London and, inside the cathedral, several senior bishops and its own clergy, who donned the striking crimson and gold copes which had been commissioned for King George V’s silver jubilee in 1935.
Charles, Prince of Wales and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, together with Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, took the Queen’s place in ceremonial roles in the service. The royal family’s party also included, for their first appearance at a royal occasion since moving to North America, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
There had been considerable debate in recent weeks about whether Prince Andrew, who was implicated in a sexual assault scandal associated with the late Jeffrey Epstein, would appear for the occasion. In the end, the prince, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, who controversially spoke in his defense last week, tested positive for COVID, and needed to remain in quarantine for the occasion.
The choirs of St. Paul’s and the choir of the Chapels Royal sang several anthems, including C.H. Parry’s “I was Glad,” also the introit at the Queen’s 1953 coronation; and “Happy is the One who Finds Wisdom,” a setting of Proverbs 3:13-19 composed for the occasion by Judith Weir, CBE, the Master of The Queen’s Music. Several military bands offered prelude and postlude music, and a four-hour peal of bells was rung after the service, including the repeated sounding of the 16-ton Great Paul, the U.K.’s largest bell.
Four days of celebration mark 70 years of the queen’s reign, and a series of additional events have included a military parade, ceremonial beacons lit across the United Kingdom, a concert at Buckingham Palace headlined by Elton John and Diana Ross, and a “Platinum Pageant” tracing the story of the Queen’s reign, with a cast of 10,000. Over 10 million Britons are expected to participate in local garden parties and barbecues planned as part of a nationwide “Big Jubilee Lunch” events intended to foster “community friendship.” Many churches across the nation are hosting special services to mark the event.
The celebration is the first of its kind in Britain, and marks a nearly unprecedented milestone in modern history. Only two kings are known to have ruled longer than Queen Elizabeth, Louis XIV of France and Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. If she remains queen for another two years, she will be the longest-reigning monarch in recorded history.
Technically, the queen is already a third of the way through her 71st year as monarch. The anniversary of her accession, February 6, was also observed in churches throughout her realm, using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s more traditional service.