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Monday 4 October 2021

Loyaulte me lie

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Mass was offered for the repose of the soul of King Richard III yesterday. Sir William Walton's Prelude for Richard III  was played as the voluntary. Here is Fr Daniel's sermon:

Sermon – Sunday 3rd October 2021

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Mass for the repose of the soul of King Richard III

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son; and he sent his servants to call them that were invited.”

King Richard III, for whom this Mass is offered, was never able to hold a marriage feast for his son, Edward of Middleham; but the king did hold a splendid investiture for Edward on 8th September 1483, within the Archbishop’s Palace, in what is now the Dean’s Park. Given the magnificence of the occasion (there was a banquet lasting four hours, and the King and Queen wore their crowns throughout) I doubt that anyone refused an invitation – but like all earthly pageants, it must have been a bitter-sweet memory for King Richard to look back on, after the untimely death of Edward, Prince of Wales, the following year, and the death of Anne Neville, the Queen, the year after that. Of course, five months later came the Battle of Bosworth, and the end of Richard’s earthly life, and indeed of the Yorkist cause. On hearing news of Edward’s death, “at Nottingham, where they were then residing, you might have seen his father and mother in a state almost bordering on madness, by reason of their sudden grief.”

Everything passes; nothing endures; but in the words of Richard’s motto, Loyaulte me lie: Loyalty binds me. That remains true more than five centuries later, and always will. Saint Paul tells us, “We are members one of another.”

“Put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth.” It is a great blessing to cling to that when we die and appear before the throne of God, we shall not be judged according to the account of our enemies. King Richard before divine judgement was not accountable to Tudor propagandists or any other human opinion, but only according to the God of justice and truth.

By our baptism we are all conformed to the New Man, and we are already each made in the image and likeness of almighty God. The scriptures frequently describe the Lord as a King, and as such a Christian monarch has the vocation to be especially an icon of the Kingship of Christ. One scholar describes Richard’s visit to York for his son’s investiture in 1483, and how the mystery plays, usually performed at Corpus Christi, were repeated:

“The royal entry of Richard and his wife into the city followed the same procession route as the plays. So, whereas the citizens of York annually witnessed the drama which transformed them into citizens of Jerusalem and their city into a type of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, they could now observe their king, Christ’s representative, the incarnate and temporal representative of the divine order in which the citizens played an important part, tread the same path.”

We can catch a glimpse of the king’s inner religious life in his reading material. Contrary to those who say that the laity knew nothing of the Bible before the Tudors placed chained copies of it in churches, Richard possessed a metrical paraphrase of the Old Testament, influenced by the York Corpus Christi plays.

We know that the king intended that there be a college of one hundred priests at York Minster to offer daily Requiem Masses for his soul – today there is just one priest who is doing so, but we know too that in this Mass we offer the sacrifice of infinite value, which having been offered once for all upon Calvary, is the oblation which takes away the guilt of all our sins, whether those of the sovereign, the sins of the battle field, or the sins of which any of us is guilty. A prayer which King Richard himself seems frequently to have used is as follows:

“Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free me, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed…hear me, in the name of all your goodness, for which I give thanks, and for all the gifts granted to me, because you made me from nothing and redeemed me out of your bounteous love and pity from eternal damnation to promising eternal life.”

So though an earthly life may have ended in failure, we may have hope that the life which really matters was only just beginning. To be betrayed by friends and kinsmen, to know earthly bitterness and woe, to experience calumny and misunderstanding, these too were our Saviour’s lot, and they are often the lot of His friends. Those who are given much in this life will have to answer to a stricter judgment: the anointing of a king signifies that he must rule justly as Christ rules, and judge fairly as the Judge of all will do, and to exercise mercy and charity as the Son of God has shown us.

A tyrant uses his power in order to advance himself, but a just ruler is himself obedient to the law, and uses his strength to protect and serve the weakest. Richard’s concern to rid juries of vested interests, his creation of a system of legal aid in the Court of Requests, his reinforcement of bail as means of protecting tenants from corrupt landlords, and his legislation for fair weights and measures all enabled ordinary English men and women to benefit from the rule of law and to stand equally before it.

While the Queen, Anne Neville, was on her deathbed, King Richard still found time to intervene repeatedly with the Lord Mayor of York over a property in North Street, which had been wrongly appropriated from one poor subject, Katherine Bassingbourne. In the words of the Bishop of St David’s,

“[King Richard] contents the people wherever he goes better than any other prince; for many a poor man that has suffered wrong many days has been relieved and helped by him…God has sent him to us for the benefit of all.”

God has sent him to us for the benefit of all. That must surely be true of all of us: that God has sent us here for the benefit of all. Whether we have the calling of kingship, or indeed of priesthood, or fatherhood, or motherhood, or whatever our station in life may be, we are all here to know, to love and to serve God, who created us from nothing, and to act in charity towards our neighbour. One way of fulfilling this purpose is to pray for the faithful departed, for the souls in Purgatory are also our neighbours and our fellow members of the Church. And also we might draw a lesson from a king long departed: that as citizens of York we are called to build here the kingdom of God, to create here the new and heavenly Jerusalem, whose members we already are by grace.

 O God, whose nature is ever to have mercy and to forgive: receive our humble petition; so that we and all your servants who are tied and bound by the chain of our sins, let yet the pitifulness of Thy great mercy absolve us.

Be merciful to the soul of Thy servant, Richard.