Page 7, 14th June 2002

14th June 2002
Page 7
Page 7, 14th June 2002 — The Church, the Royal Anthem and National Unity
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The Church, the Royal Anthem and National Unity

From Mr Anthony Sisley Sir, The recommendation of the Catholic Bishops' Conference to include singing of the National Anthem in every parish at one Mass on 2nd June appears to have been made without adequate preparation and consideration of the implications.

The (original) second verse does not appear in many hymnals, especially those used primarily in Catholic churches, where the third verse appears as the second. In recent editions of Hymns Ancient & Modern — to name but one hymnal associated with the Church of England — the original second verse is included but marked with an asterisk, indicating that it can be omitted.

The words currently constituting this verse are: 0 Lord our God, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall; Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks; On thee our hopes we fix: God save us all.

Those wondering about the need for the asterisk need only investigate the word "knavish", a recent substitution. The original word is "popish".

Needless to say this is profoundly insulting to Catholics, and many informed Anglicans also rightly feel embarrassed at its continued inclusion.

It could be argued that omitting this verse makes the hymn acceptable to Catholics. Certainly not to all, as any song — religious or otherwise — is recognised in association with its original words, and no such cosmetic alteration as exemplified here can change its character, purpose or overall meaning.

The Queen could — and many believe should — very easily use her influence to have this second verse permanently eliminated from all hymnals and issue a statement (possibly including some new words) re-characterising the National Anthem into a hymn acceptable to all believers. Cardinal Murphy O'Connor has praised the Queen for her efforts towards church unity. There is much more to be done, whether under the banner of disestablishment or not, which would require little or no fuss, delay or complication, and which would be seen as significant steps being taken and not mere window-dressing, e.g.: 1. Changing the Coronation Oath to upholding the Christian faith (many are confused as to how the Protestant faith — currently being upheld — differs from other Christian beliefs). This wouldn't be new; George V refused to use the usual words as he was aware that offence to his Catholic subjects would be caused.

2. Relaxing the ban on Prince Charles's attending Mass in Catholic churches, as and when called for, as part of his own contribution towards Christian unity. 3. Abolition of the office of the Silver Stick, a ceremonial function designed to protect the monarch from attacks by Catholics. Highly offensive, many are unaware of this position; all the more reason for its immediate removal.

4. The acceleration of the withdrawal of the Act of Settlement, in which the monarch must adhere to a faith in communion with the Church of England, nor may he/she marry one who is not. Whilst excluding most other Christians, this insulting Act is specifically directed at Catholics.

It is believed that its withdrawal is already on the agenda; the even speedier relaxation of a similar ban on the Lord Chancellor (the only remaining office subject to discrimination) being a Catholic would serve as a useful interim step.

5. The much-publicised re-definition of Fidei Defensor, Defender of the Faith. Originally a papal award granted to Henry VIII as defender of the original (i.e. Catholic) faith against Lutheran assault, this is now recognised as defending the Protestant faith (against Catholics). Prince Charles's preferred all-encompassing substitute "Defender of Faith" is perhaps going a tad too far at this stage, but Defender of the Christian Faith — a suggested alternative — would not be.

Queen Elizabeth II has, like many of her predecessors, fulfilled the expectations of millions of people by having served her country and people with unswerving commitment and great dignity. Full appreciation and recognition of this is undoubtedly due.

Let us, however, in honouring her during the Jubilee year, focus on the personal efforts of this much loved and respected lady and separate them from the structure of the partner institutions which she represents, these being in dire need of reform.

Yours faithfully, ANTONY J. SISLEY Beckenham, Kent BR3 4HY




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