This week sees a truly historic event taking place in the United Kingdom. For the first time since long before the Reformation National Apostasy, the Sovereign Pontiff will beatify an Englishman who is not a martyr.
The Englishman in question is The Venerable (soon to be The Blessed) John Henry, Cardinal Newman, Cong. Orat.. For reference, the last Englishman so canonised was St Thomas of Hereford, canonised by John XXII in 1320.
The election of His Eminence Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was) as Pope Benedict ⅩⅥ was met with great rejoicing in the Oxford Oratory. Little did we know at that point, that in this week Pope Benedict will be beatifying Cardinal Newman, founder of the Oratory in England, on English soil, and in the Archdiocese of Birmingham where he toiled for so long, and in which the Oxford Oratory lies.
The visit by Pope Benedict is truly historic. It is the first State Visit by a Sovereign Pontiff to the United Kingdom. His Holiness is being welcomed here as a guest of Her Majesty The Queen.
It is probably a bit too optimistic to hope that our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second will kneel before the Sovereign Pontiff and seek the reconciliation of the Realm to full communion with the Holy See. But perhaps there will be announcements from others in the “Church of England” that they will be taking advantage of the very generous offer from His Holiness in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus of last year. It is unlikely, sadly, that our Sovereign Lady will take advantage herself but some of the bishops of this Realm may do.
There is, of course, one particular reason why Her Majesty would find it quite difficult to make that bold step herself. That is the continued existence of the Act of Settlement, which bars any Catholic in communion with the See of Rome, or anyone married to any such person, from the throne, or the line of succession to it. I will leave it for the constitutional lawyers to work out whether or not it would be possible for Her Majesty to repeal the law without recourse to Parliament. The idea of a monarch dissolving Parliament to do such a thing is almost unthinkable in the twenty-first century, but back in the sixteenth century the monarch quite often did rule without recourse to Parliament.
Surely there can be no continued question of the loyalty of Catholic subjects of Her Majesty. His Grace The Duke of Norfolk is Catholic. His Grace as Earl Marshal of England is responsible for the organising of significant State ceremonies including (when there is need of one) the coronation of the Sovereign. I would dare anyone to suggest to His Grace that he is not loyal to our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth.
At a termly dinner of the Oxford Newman Society, held in the Oxford & Cambridge Club, I remember we proposed three toasts:
- To Her Majesty The Queen;
- To The Sovereign Pontiff; and
- To The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, Cong. Orat..
This weekend all three will be coming together in a weekend of historic events. Let us pray for the future canonisation of John Henry Newman and for the return of England (and the rest of the United Kingdom) to communion with the Successor of St Peter, The Sovereign Pontiff, in the person of His Holiness Pope Benedict ⅩⅥ.
Prayer of Preparation for the visit of Pope Benedict ⅩⅥ
God of truth and love, your Son Jesus Christ, stands as the light to all who seek you with a sincere heart.
As we strive with your grace to be faithful in word and deed may we reflect the kindly light of Christ and offer a witness of hope and peace to all.
We pray for Pope Benedict and look forward with joy to his forthcoming visit to our countries. May he be a witness to the unity and hope which is your will for all people.
We make our prayer through our Christ our Lord.
Our Lady, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
St Andrew, pray for us.
St George, pray for us.
St David, pray for us.