Queen Elizabeth II, Canada’s head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in British history, and the oldest and longest-serving head of state in the world, died at the age of 96 Thursday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland after a brief illness.
Archbishop J. Michael Miller was at St. Patrick’s Elementary celebrating Mass for the school’s centennial when he learned of the sad news.
He told The B.C. Catholic afterwards, “The faithful of the Archdiocese of Vancouver join all those who mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. As sovereign she carried out her role with dignity, humility and an unmatched dedication to the responsibilities that God placed upon her. She was a bedrock of stability in our restless world. As a woman of unwavering Christian faith, our Queen was a light to the nations. May God’s perpetual light shine upon her.”
Pope Francis in a telegram late Thursday offered his condolences and prayers.
“Deeply saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I offer heartfelt condolences to Your Majesty, the Members of the Royal Family, the People of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth,” the Pope wrote in the Sept. 8 telegram to Britain’s new monarch, King Charles III.
“I willingly join all who mourn her loss in praying for the late Queen’s eternal rest, and in paying tribute to her life of unstinting service to the good of the Nation and the Commonwealth, her example of devotion to duty, her steadfast witness of faith in Jesus Christ and her firm hope in his promises.”
Pope Francis concluded his telegram to the new King by praying for the Queen’s soul.
“Commending her noble soul to the merciful goodness of our Heavenly Father, I assure Your Majesty of my prayers that Almighty God will sustain you with his unfailing grace as you now take up your high responsibilities as King. Upon you and all who cherish the memory of your late mother, I invoke an abundance of divine blessings as a pledge of comfort and strength in the Lord,” the Pontiff wrote.
Canada’s bishops said it was “with profound sadness” that they learned of the Queen’s passing.
In a statement, Bishop Poisson, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he joined with his brother bishops and Canada’s faithful in praying for the repose of the Queen’s soul and in extending sincerest condolences to the members of the Royal Family.
“Generations of Canadians have lived under Queen Elizabeth’s long reign,” said Bishop Poisson. “She will be forever remembered for her remarkable service to the people of our country and the entire Commonwealth. We grieve her loss, with all her subjects, and recall in a special way the Church of England, of which she was Supreme Governor.”
The bishop noted the inspiring life of the Queen. “From the onset of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II vowed to dedicate her life to the service of others. She fulfilled this promise without stint or reservation.”
The Catholic Civil Rights League released a statement noting the Queen’s public witness of her faith.
“Queen Elizabeth II reigned with dignity for over 70 years. She was the Head of the Church of England, and she lived her life as a faithful Christian glorifying God first, ahead of her own earthly kingdom. May other leaders and Heads of State learn from her example.”
Noting the Queen’s death of the feast of the Nativity of Mary, the league said, “As Catholics, we are called to be citizens of two worlds, such that while we acknowledge Mary, Queen of the Universe as our mother, we are also called to respectfully participate in civic life which includes respect for our country and its history.
“It may be helpful to be reminded of our Sovereign’s public witness, as a defender of Christianity, of the importance she placed on her Christian faith during many public statements and messages.”
In June, Pope Francis sent a congratulatory message to the Queen as the U.K marked the 70th anniversary of her reign, presiding over Britain, the Commonwealth, including Canada, for seven decades.
As Queen, Elizabeth served as de facto head of the Anglican Church. Her title “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England” dates to the reign of King Henry VIII. As such, she appointed archbishops, bishops, and deans of the Church of England and presided over the opening of their General Synods.
She was a vocal proponent of the practice of religion, whether it was Anglican or not. She used her Christmas Day message to call for interfaith harmony. On the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee marking the 60th year of her reign in 2012, she and the duke of Edinburgh attended a multi-faith reception at Lambeth Palace hosted by the archbishop of Canterbury.
“Faith plays a key role in the identity of millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action,” the Queen said at the time.
“Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely, and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves,” she said.
In matters of personal faith, the Queen was said to have been deeply religious. The Washington Post reported that, according to Oxford University theology professor Stan Rosenberg, the Queen had “a deep vibrancy of faith,” and “read Scripture daily, attended church weekly, and regularly prayed.”
In 2010, she welcomed then Pope Benedict XVI to the U.K., the first state visit of a pope to the country. St. John Paul II had visited the U.K. and met with the Queen in 1982, but his was a pastoral rather than a state visit.
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, born on April 21, 1926, was the elder daughter of Prince Albert, duke of York, and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. There was little expectation that she would ever become Queen, and she and her younger sister, Margaret, who died in 2002, are said to have lived a carefree, practically “normal” life.
That all changed on Dec. 11, 1936, when her father’s older brother, Edward VII, abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Her father became King George VI, and at 10 years old, Elizabeth became the heir presumptive.
At age 27, Elizabeth ascended to the throne after her father’s death on Feb. 6, 1952. In the course of her 70-year-reign, she served with 15 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill to the newly instated Prime Minister Liz Truss. Following a centuries-old tradition, Elizabeth officially asked Truss to form a new government on Sept. 6, although the ceremony was held at Balmoral Castle rather than Buckingham Palace due to the Queen’s recent mobility issues.
Her extraordinarily long reign, which one observer noted covered 30% of U.S. history, was astonishing in that she remained physically and mentally engaged until her last days. As Head of State of Britain’s constitutional monarchy, she represented Britain and served as a stabilizing and unifying leader and advocate for members of the Commonwealth. Since she became Queen, she made her role as Head of the Commonwealth a priority and saw the number of nations in the Commonwealth grow from eight to 54 today. During her reign, she also met five different Popes.
Beyond her ceremonial functions, she was known for keeping well-informed of issues facing her nation. An avid horsewoman, she reportedly had to stop her beloved pastime last fall. As recently as this June, she was back in the saddle and was seen riding her pony at Windsor Castle.
Elizabeth was preceded in death by her husband, Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh, who died on April 9, 2021. She had four children, eight grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. The eldest son, Charles, prince of Wales, will now become King and his wife, Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, will become Queen Consort.
The Queen’s four children — Charles; Anne, princess royal; Andrew, duke of York, and Edward, earl of Essex — were at the Queen’s bedside before she died.