Signs and Symbols of the Faith
The magnificent and moving Funeral of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II last Monday really and truly showed the Christian roots and heritage of our once great Catholic country. The entire day was an outstanding witness to the Christian Faith which Her Majesty held so dear and by which she strived to live. A very brief but inspiring sermon was preached by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby, who before the entire watching world, proclaimed JESUS Christ to be God, and “the Way, the Truth and the Life”, and that death is the door to heavenly glory where we hope we will all meet again. This life is not the end. If only we heard this type of thing more often! The Christian Faith was proclaimed throughout by word and music, but also by signs and symbols which speak to us in a way that words simply cannot.
The muffled tolling bell symbolised our mourning at Her Majesty’s passing. The impeccable military ceremonial and the great respect shown to Her Majesty’s mortal remains, which at Baptism had become a Temple of the Blessed Trinity, shows our belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead. On top of the Imperial Crown was a beautiful cross showing that all kingship, all monarchy derives from Christ the King. Monarchy’s meaning comes from His Kingship, and all royal crowns are His by right, because He is King and Lord of all. The sceptre, a symbol of earthly power, and the orb surmounted by a cross is a reminder to the monarch that their power comes from above. Just before the Committal at St George’s, Windsor, these signs of monarchy were removed from the casket and placed on the altar – a sign that all earthly power comes to an end and that we will all appear naked and without any earthly honours before the Judgement Seat of Almighty God.
Then there were the black vestments worn by the clergy. Black is a colour of mourning and the colour of death, and a reminder that it is something that will come to all of us. However, in a Catholic Church, even when the clergy are vested in black, the tabernacle may never be draped in black because Christ is not dead. He is risen and is truly alive in the Blessed Sacrament, so instead it is draped in purple as a symbol of sorrow at the death of one of His own. The white of the altar cloths symbolise Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension. The four unbleached (amber coloured) candles, as opposed to the customary white ones, which stood around Her Majesty’s coffin at Westminster Abbey and at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, tell us of the light of faith burning in the soul of the Queen throughout her life, and also of the need of purification in Purgatory. They represent the Church Suffering for whom we must offer prayers and Masses for their release.
There is so much rich symbolism in our ceremonies and in our church buildings which must never be lost, because they convey meanings in what they represent and help us to ponder truths we can never fully understand. Think of the simple genuflection we should make to the Blessed Sacrament as we enter every Catholic church. This is a sign of our belief in the Real Presence of JESUS in the tabernacle. I am reminded of the words of St Paul to the Philippians 2:10 “that at the name of JESUS every knee should bow, in Heaven on earth and under the earth.” Making the Sign of the Cross with Holy Water as we enter the church cleanses us of venial sin and makes us worthy of prayer in the presence of God.
So signs and symbols are not just additional decorations added to our worship. They are important, because through them, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the mystery and the beauty of our faith, and thus come to a greater love of God.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC