Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Ciampino airport in Rome April 3, 2014. The Queen marked 65 years upon the throne Feb. 6. CNS photo/Angelo Carconi, pool via Reuters)

Opinion: The Queen's sapphire jubilee reminds us of her quiet fidelity

By 
  • February 8, 2017

On Feb. 6, Queen Elizabeth II marked 65 years on the throne. It’s the “sapphire” jubilee, a designation which I did not know; 65th anniversaries are rare enough, but welcome as reminders that enduring fidelity is possible. The anniversary, not marked with any great festivity given the celebrations of the Queen’s 90th birthday last year, also has something of a reminder of the liturgical seasons.

In January 1952 then Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh had set out on a global Commonwealth tour, and were in Kenya when King George VI died at Sandringham, the royal estate in Norfolk. Immediately acceding to the throne upon his death, Elizabeth became queen in Kenya, and returned home to be greeted at the airport by her first prime minister, Winston Churchill, and the cabinet.

Ever since, accession day — Feb. 6 — has been kept by the Queen in private, a day to respect the memory of her late father. The Queen has the custom of going up to Sandringham for Christmas, where she is joined by the rest of the royal family. They return to their homes soon after, but Her Majesty remains until February, spending the anniversary of George VI’s death and her own accession in the same house where her father died.

Some years ago, I took note of a report in the Daily Mail of the arrangements during her extended stay: “Bizarrely, the Christmas decorations stay up throughout that time, at her insistence.”

Bizarre? Contrary to current commercial practice, where the Christmas season begins shortly after Hallowe’en and ends with the early dawn opening of the first store on Boxing Day, the Queen is observing an older tradition. That traditional liturgical season begins on Christmas and extends for a biblical 40 days until the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple, Feb. 2. Now the Christmas seasons ends with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, just after Epiphany.

The older, extended sense of the Christmas season is reflected in the Marian antiphon sung at compline, the night prayer of the Church. The Alma Redemptoris Mater, the antiphon for Advent and Christmas, is sung through until the feast of the Presentation.

The larger-than-life nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square traditionally was also kept up until Feb. 2. This year though, it was taken down after the feast of the Baptism in January. Given that this year the nativity scene was a gift from the archdiocese and government of Malta, perhaps its early dismantling reflected the various Maltese tempests in the Church!

It may be that Her Majesty prefers to prepare for her anniversary remembering that she who inherited the crown is but a servant of the newborn King. In any case, the Queen’s anniversary at Sandringham does reflect her piety; filial piety toward her late father, George VI, and her Christian piety too.

This coming November the Queen and Prince Philip will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. It’s not as rare as 65 years on the throne, but may be a more-needed witness today. As longevity improves, there are more couples who are living long enough to reach their 50th, 60th and even 70th anniversaries.

There was a nice moment at the Super Bowl last Sunday, as George and Barbara Bush did the ceremonial coin toss in their home city of Houston. They got a grand welcome, especially as President Bush had been hospitalized just a few weeks earlier. More notably though, the Bushes celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary on Jan. 6 — they married in 1945 soon after George got back from the Pacific theatre, where he was a decorated navy fighter pilot, the youngest at the time.

Mere longevity, of course, is not enough. The scourge of divorce has meant that those milestone anniversaries are not celebrated in many families. All the more reason to celebrate those who have made promises and, by God’s grace, been able to keep them.

About Queen Elizabeth, I like to point out that she has been to Moose Jaw more times than Manhattan. As Queen of Canada, duty means visiting places like Moose Jaw. The celebrity world of New York glitz is not what she has sought. Moose Jaw for official tours, and the quiet of Sandringham while at home.

For an inescapably public life, the Queen marks her sapphire jubilee as she as conducted her long reign, with quiet fidelity.

God save the Queen!

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ont.)

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