By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook
The official birthday of the sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, is shrouded in mystery for many Australians.
Was that the Queen’s real birthday? What does it mean? And what relevance does the day have for Catholics in the Diocese of Parramatta?
A special connection to the sovereign’s birthday exists for the Diocese in that Fr. James Dixon, the Church’s first Prefect Apostolic for New Holland, was granted a pardon on the King’s Birthday in 1809, after arriving as a convict.
Read more: Fr. James Dixon, Parramatta Pioneer
The Diocese of Parramatta also recently honoured the memory of Fr. James Dixon by naming a clergy retirement complex after him at the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, Harris Park.
Another close connection is that Her Majesty opened then new Parramatta Stadium on 5 March 1986, a few hundred metres from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta.
Moreover, the day celebrates Her Majesty, who is the sovereign of Australia, bearer of the crown, from which all authority in Australian government flows.
The Governor General of Australia is Australia’s Head of State and represents the Sovereign. The current office bearer is an eminent Catholic, His Excellency, Sir Peter Cosgrove.
The system of Government in Australia is known as Constitutional Monarchy, a stable and transparent form of government, which Cardinal Moran called “the most perfect form of republican government” at Federation in 1901.
Thomas Flynn, a western Sydney Catholic and expert on History and Classics, pointed out this tradition of government has given Australia enviable democratic longevity.
“Our country was established 230 years ago, began to achieve self government 160 years ago and almost total independence about 100 years ago. We are, in fact, one of the oldest functioning democracies in the world. So much for being a ‘young country’,” Mr. Flynn said.
The sovereign’s birthday has been continuously celebrated across our country’s history, since the birthday of King George III on 4 June 1788, making it Australia’s oldest public holiday.
The local date for the holiday is determined on a country-by-country basis and Australia celebrates on the second Monday in June, apart from Western Australia and Queensland.
Honours in the Order of Australia are traditionally announced on the Queen’s Birthday and Australia Day. Her Majesty is the Sovereign Head of the Order.
The Saturday prior to the Queen’s Birthday, the Royal Military College – Duntroon had a local celebration of the ceremonial Trooping of the Queen’s Colours on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, which was reviewed by Sir Peter Cosgrove.
This article is about understanding and appreciating Australia’s form of government from a Catholic perspective and not about debates on alternative forms of government, such as separatism, secessionism or abolitionism.
Some object that there are historical wrongs of the United Kingdom against Ireland and that Australia’s history is not relevant today.
Mr. Flynn identified a double standard for reasoning based on historical problems with the Crown, while rejecting the relevance of the historical and continuing benefits of Great Britain’s influence on Australian institutions in government, law and education.
“Not all Catholics are Irish and I am sure Irish Catholics can take the good with the bad. Bearing historical grudges, usually when they have been revived in later generations, is bad for the soul,” Mr. Flynn said.
There is also a distinctive Catholic element about appreciation for Constitutional Monarchy, according to David Flint, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“We have the feast of Christ the King…and Mary is also the Queen of Heaven,” Prof. Flint said.
Christ had a crown of thorns, was mocked for being King of the Jews and wore a robe so valuable that the soldiers cast lots for it rather than divide the material among them.
There is a long list of royals and monarchs in the Catholic Church’s canon of Saints and Beati, including King David of Israel, the Three Kings, Pope St Nicholas the Great, St Ferdinand of Castile, St Louis the French, St Nuno Alvares Pereira, St Stephen of Hungary, Bl Maria Cristina of Savoy and Bl Karl of Austria.
“The coronation is an intensely religious ceremony, particularly the anointing,” Prof. Flint said.
The anointing prayer reads: “Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil: as kings, priests and prophets were anointed. And as Solomon was anointed King by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to rule and govern…”
This conception of the monarch draws on the Old Testament, which gave the monarch responsibility to serve his or her people and also to foster the faith.
One way European monarchs expressed this responsibility was in service to the poor on Maundy Thursday, where they would wash the feet of beggars. James II, the last Catholic King on the British Isles, is considered the last to perform this service.
Today, members of the Royal Family are among the most active charity patrons and fundraisers in the world. Over 3 000 organisations across the Commonwealth list a member of the Royal Family as their patron or president.
Charles, the Prince of Wales, highlighted persecution of Christians in the Middle East in a video message late 2016 for Aid to the Church in Need, a Pontifical Foundation of the Catholic Church.
“He’s working away on many good causes when most men are looking to retire,” Prof. Flint said.
The sovereign embodies Christian and democratic values, keeping them present in the system of government today.
The principles behind this form of government lead to tangible benefits, which Prof. Flint believes make Australia a desirable home for migrants across the world.
Contrastingly, the first attempts to alter early Australia’s relationship with the Crown had racist roots, Prof. Flint said. The Bulletin, an influential journal, published offensive comments on migrants while advocating for a populist severing of relations with the Crown.
History will also come to bear on successive sovereigns, whose choice of name may present interesting historical connections for Catholics.
If the next sovereign keeps the name Charles, he will be King Charles III. This will conjure the memory of King Charles II, a member of the House of Stuart, who converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Charles II’s brother and successor, King James II of England and VII of Scotland, was the last Catholic monarch in the realm, who finally fled the invasion of the Protestant William of Orange.
A new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland is displaying historic items, including objects from the Vatican Museums, related to the Jacobites, as King James’ family and supporters were known.
James II’s grandson was the last direct Stuart heir and a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Henry Benedict Stuart, the Cardinal Duke of York. Cardinal Stuart’s older brother was ‘the Bonnie Prince Charlie’, who almost reclaimed the Crown.
After Bonnie Prince Charlie’s death, Cardinal Stuart was known as Henry IX of England and Ireland, and I of Scotland, within his own entourage, though the Holy See did not recognise Henry as the true heir, as it had recognised his father.
Evidently, the Stuarts had a close relationship with Rome, where they held court-in-exile and are buried in St Peter’s Basilica.