Now THE OFFICIAL celebrations of the Golden Jubilee of the reign of Her Majesty the Queen are behind us (though the Jubilee year itself continues), it is fitting that we should reflect on the lessons we have learned from its vast success. One of them is that the changes in the nation over which Elizabeth II reigns have been fully understood by Her Majesty, and that if it could once plausibly be claimed by republican malcontents that only an aging — and white, middle-class — part of her subjects still felt the kind of loyalty that had been universal at her Coronation, this is a criticism that can no longer be advanced with any credibility. The sight of a heavily mascaraed Ozzy Osboume (a rock star) gazing wide-eyed with unashamed adoration at the Queen (who smiled kindly back) was a kind of icon of cultural inclusiveness: once, this "Prince of darkness" would have been seen as a figure profoundly politically subversive of everything that monarchy represents.
The Queen has also responded imaginatively to the new religious pluralism of her kingdom. Earlier this week, a large gathering of representatives of many faiths (including the editor of this newspaper) gathered at Buckingham Palace: before the leaders of all the nation's faiths, and on behalf of them all, the Archbishop of Canterbury read out a loyal address to Her Majesty, as Catholics and other Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and others beamed their acquiescence. It is difficult to think of any national institution that could have the same unifying power in such an increasingly pluriform culture as the monarchy very evidently exercises.
Naturally, there have been reservations, even among Catholics, which it is probably as well not to ignore entirely. Today, we publish a letter critical of the bishops' recommendation that two verses of the National Anthem be sung at one Mass on Sunday June 2, in honour of the Queen's Golden Jubilee . We disagree with much of what the letter says; nevertheless, it ably sets out an agenda of issues — constitutional and otherwise — remaining to be resolved (or in some cases, perhaps, perceived as no longer relevant) if the position of Catholics in the UK is to be placed on an equal footing with that of all other citizens. Some of these issues are real, others,we believe, are illusory. In fact, as we all know, most of the constitutional detritus of penal times has been cleared away, and little that has any real effect on our daily lives remains. Certainly, there is a real undercurrent of cultural anti-Catholicism to be coped with, particularly from certain parts of the media; but that is part of the cross we have to bear, and some of it is an inescapable part of our vocation to be signs of contradiction to a secularised culture.
That leaves, nevertheless, certain historical remnants to be dealt with. Here, we would be wise to be patient, and not to see causes of offence where none are intended. Thus, for example, we should not insist on reading texts like the National Anthem within a historical context which no longer applies. Certainly, it is true that the origins of the National, or Royal, Anthem are in a demonstration of loyalty to the house of Hanover in the context of imminent peril from a Jacobite (that is, Catholic) attempt to bring it down.
It is, therefore, understandable that in the second verse, loyal Englishmen once sang "Confound their politics, Frustrate their popish tricks"; but the very fact that this has been changed to "knavish" tricks indicates that different circumstances can fundamentally change meaning and that the present intention is precisely not to give offence to Catholics. A Catholic could surely sing (many have) the present version of verse two with gusto, indicating thereby their hope that the politics of all enemies of the present British monarchy (especially modish media republicans) be confounded.
If we were to demand that the Queen should withdraw this verse (rarely sung today) or even that the anthem should be rewritten, it would indicate to most nonCatholics a degree of paranoia which would surely discredit our more reasonable, and more central requests. The most important of these, the repeal of the Act of Settlement, is under active consideration, and the Cardinal has made it an issue which doubtless he will continue — with all his well-known tact and charm — to press. In the end, this will have its effect. The changing of the Coronation oath, too, is a priority — though not, please God, an urgent one. This will be a matter for Prince Charles, whose understanding of the feelings of his fellow Christians has become clear over the years. Catholics, on the whole, have every reason to be satisfied with progress on the constitutional front. But even when all these historical issues have faded away, we will never quite fit, in a society and a culture which have marginalised not merely the Catholic religion, but all religion. It is inescapable: "Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one that is to come".
That, after all, is what our faith means.