Monday, 6 February 2012

Domine, salvam fac reginam nostram Elizabeth

I don't think that we could say anything better than this.  Here is Fr Colven's parish note for this week.  We did indeed sing the chant to Domine Salvam Fac Reginam Nostram Elizabeth at the end of Mass yesterday, and what a treat it was.  Fr Colven's introduction gives us an excuse to include a picture of His Late Majesty King Edward VII, as well as of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  If you continue reading all the way to the end of this past, you will see how it also gives us an excuse to mention the Emperor Napoleon.

On 8th February 1908 a Requiem Mass was celebrated here at Saint James’s for the assassinated King of Portugal, Don Carlos, and Crown Prince Manuel, “in the presence of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and other members of the Royal Family. The King, dressed as a Portuguese Colonel, became the first British monarch to officially attend a Catholic Mass since James 11”. Thus Spanish Place had a small but not insignificant part to play in the re- emergence of Catholicism into the national life of this country - a process furthered by the acceptance by Queen Elizabeth II of an invitation from Cardinal Hume (“my Cardinal”) to attend Vespers at Westminster Cathedral in 1995. St Paul writing to his disciple Timothy says; “there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgivings – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet” (2:2): we have a clear duty of intercession for the leaders of civil society, for, as the Catechism reminds us (in rather quaint language): ”the love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good requires citizens to fulfil their roles in the life of the political community”.

Monday (6th February) marks the 60th Anniversary of the Queen’s Accession and the 6pm Mass will be offered for her intention. It is clear that Elizabeth II is motivated by a deep Christian faith (which was expressed very clearly in her most recent Christmas broadcast) and that the anointing she received at her coronation has, in her own mind, established a sacramental bond of lifelong service to Britain and the nations of the Commonwealth. It would be naive though to gloss over the sensitivities which are still felt by some over the chequered history between the British monarchy and the Catholic Church – and the realisation that the Catholic constituency (through new waves of immigration) has a complex view of national loyalties. In this context, the symbolic value of last year’s state visit to Ireland cannot be overemphasised; the part that the Queen has played in the healing of memories should be recognised and applauded. Until 1964 it was the proud custom in English Catholic churches to sing the "Domine salvum fac" at the end of the principal Mass on a Sunday (something that we will revive for this Sunday closest to the date of the Accession): this prayer for the reigning monarch would seem to trace its history back to Louis XIV of France and the chapel at Versailles – and was often set to glorious music - but, by a strange quirk, in 1759 the Catholics of Quebec began to substitute the name of the then British king George III for Louis XV and the rest, as they say, is history.

Love for country and a right respect for its leaders must not though be confused with a narrow nationalism or blind acceptance of whatever rulers or governments may determine. The Catechism reminds us: “The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person”. We must neverforget that although we are called to share in building the Kingdom here on earth – and this hopefully will involve many lay Catholics in the political process for the betterment of society - its completion is more than the fruit of human imagination. “There is no eternal city for us in this life, but we look for one in the life to come. (Hebrews 13:14): souls and bodies both need feeding, and it is the Church’s task to hold that delicate balance between the things of this life while proclaiming those of the next. Every time we pray "thy Kingdom come" we are asking for justice in this life in the expectation of its promised fulfilment in the eternity of God.
Christopher Colven

Domine, salvam fac reginam nostram Elizabeth
Et exaudi nos in die, qua invocaverimus te.

Lord, save Elizabeth, our Queen
And heed us when we call on Thee

Almighty God, we pray for your servant Elizabeth our Queen, now by your mercy reigning over us. Adorn her yet more with every virtue and remove all evil from her path: that with her consort and all the royal family she may come at last in grace to you, who are the way, the truth and the life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

To follow Fr Colven's text, the most obvious piece of music to include is the very popular O Lord, Make Thy Servant Elizabeth, by William Byrd. 

Having included that loyal piece of music, it is probably just about permissible to include something that might otherwise lead one to be sent to the Tower, at least on a day like today.  Fr Colven's text referred to the Domine Salvum Fac having had a particular association with the French court before the Catholics of Québec had the bright idea of amending it to pray for King George III.  It was indeed sung at the end of every liturgy in the French Chapel Royal, as fine settings such as those by Couperin and Lully demonstrate (clicking on those links will take you to a youtube performance of those composers' settings).

Long-time readers of this blog might just remember that discussion of Doctor Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London, once led us to talk of the Emperor Napoleon.  Therefore, it seems just about excusable to include the Gounod setting of Domine Salvum Fac, being Domine Salvum Fac Imperatorem Nostrum Napoleonem.  It's a rather fun piece.

Despite that sortie into matters French, happy Accession Day one and all, and best wishes for this Jubilee Year.

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