Matters arising: Requiem for Prince Philip?

Rev. Nicholas Mary, C.Ss.R.

Fr Nicholas Mary, C.Ss.R. answers topical questions in the light of moral theology and canon law.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols offered a public Requiem Mass for the Prince Philip on 10 April. How is it possible that a non-Catholic and avowed Freemason like the late prince consort can have a Catholic Requiem?

We live in times of great confusion and diabolical disorientation. These ecumenical gestures on the part of the hierarchy only add to that confusion. The traditional practice of the Church is summed here by Fr Gihr:

Mass may not be publicly offered for those who died outside the fold of the Church: for deceased pagans, heretics, schismatics and excommunicated persons. For all these, Mass may be offered privately if no scandal is given. The Church makes this distinction to impress upon her children, as well as upon those not in communion with her, the remarkable privileges enjoyed even after death by those who are in visible communion with that stream of life-giving grace that flows from the cross of Christ through His Church.1

Here what makes the offering of the Mass public or private is not the celebration of the Mass itself (which may happen to be attended by a large congregation, for example), but whether or not the public prayer of the Church is made for the deceased, and the manner in which, and the extent to which the intention of the Mass is publicised.

That being said, it is true that the Church prescribes public prayers for rulers, including those who are non-Catholic. In the Preces or prayers of the Divine Office recited during Lauds and Vespers during Lent and Advent, the versicle and response Domine salvum fac regem ("God save the King") etc. constitute precisely such a public prayer. The text was further used for a motet traditionally sung during Mass for the kings of France; this practice in turn made its way via formerly French Quebec to the British Empire, and in favour of its non-Catholic rulers—hence the singing of this prayer after Sunday High Masses in England and Wales up until Vatican II, a custom retained in traditional circles.2 Here is a translation of the prayer:

Lord, save our Queen Elizabeth, and graciously hear us in the day in which we call upon Thee. Let us pray.


Almighty God, we pray that Thy servant our Queen Elizabeth, who by Thy mercy has undertaken the government of this realm, may receive increase of all the virtues, so, fittingly adorned, may she be enabled to avoid all foul temptations, (in time of war: overcome her enemies), and with her prince consort and the Royal family, may she at the last be welcomed by Thee, who art the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Church has permitted this and other public prayers for those who are objectively in heresy not only for their conversion (as she prays, for example, for heretics and schismatics on Good Friday), but out of respect and pastoral concern for them as the bearers of public office. In the past, however, care was taken not to give scandal by favouring religious indifferentism (the idea that all religions or even Christian denominations lead to salvation).

On the death of King Edward VII in 1910, for example, special services to pray for the monarch's repose were arranged by the Catholic hierarchies throughout the United Kingdom. When George VI died in 1952, the bishops of Scotland prescribed certain prayers to be said during Sunday Mass for his repose, as well as the public recitation of the rosary for the new queen.3

For England and Wales, Cardinal Griffin decreed:

In view of the fact that it has pleased Almighty God to call our late beloved Sovereign from his vast responsibilities, I ask your earnest prayers that God in His mercy may console the Royal Family, in their intimate personal sorrow and that He may watch over the whole nation in this moment of universal grief. In order that our people may associate themselves with their fellow-countrymen in begging Almighty God to sustain and console the Royal Family in its bereavement, and in order to implore the Divine guidance for the new Ruler. We direct that, at a time most convenient to the faithful, the Blessed Sacrament be exposed and psalm Miserere, ending with the Gloria Patri be said or sung, followed by the prayer, Pro quacumque tribulatione (No. 13 in the Missals). Then the response Domine salvam fac, followed by the usual prayer naming the new Queen will be said or sung as circumstances permit. After Benediction the National Anthem should be played on the organ.4

Cardinal Nichols deviates doubly from the path of his predecessor. In reciting not merely public prayers for the repose of a non-Catholic inasmuch as he has been a holder of public office, but rather in specifically offering a public Mass of Requiem for him without any further clarification or distinction, he has created the impression that the differences between the True Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the man-made denominations of heretics are of no consequence. And in stating in his homily that “we are strong in our faith that [Prince Philip] will rise to the life of glory in the presence of God, the glory for which he has been created,”5 he reinforces that impression (and also does the deceased the disservice) of assuming that he is saved. On the contrary, if any non-Catholic dies in the state of grace, and is saved by being united to the True Church, even at the moment of death and perhaps without any visible external sign (something which cannot be merely assumed by us, and which is known only to God), then that will be because we have prayed ardently for their conversion, and not rashly presumed upon it.

See also 'Matters Arising: Requiem for the the Queen', Ite Missa Est (Nov-Dec 2022)

View all the articles from Ite Missa Est

1. Rev. Dr Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained (B. Herder, St Louis, 1949) p. 209.

2. Claudio Salvucci, ‘Rempublicam Nostram: A Patriotic Text for the Latin Mass’ in Liturgical Arts Journal (January 28, 2019).

3. The Standard, Ireland (15 February 1952).

4. Catholic Herald (8 February 1952).

5. ‘Cardinal’s Homily at Requiem Mass for Prince Philip', Diocese of Westminster website (10 April 2021).

  • 1Rev. Dr Nicholas Gihr, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Dogmatically, Liturgically, and Ascetically Explained (B. Herder, St Louis, 1949) p. 209.
  • 2Claudio Salvucci, ‘Rempublicam Nostram: A Patriotic Text for the Latin Mass’ in Liturgical Arts Journal (January 28, 2019).
  • 3The Standard, Ireland (15 February 1952)
  • 4Catholic Herald (8 February 1952).
  • 5‘Cardinal’s Homily at Requiem Mass for Prince Philip', Diocese of Westminster website (10 April 2021).