.- In preparation for the reinterment of the remains of Richard III, a 15th century English king whose body was only recently rediscovered, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster has offered Compline and a Requiem Mass for the late monarch.
“This evening we fulfil a profound and essential Christian duty: that of praying for the dead, for the repose of their eternal souls,” Cardinal Nichols preached during a March 23 Requiem Mass said at Holy Cross Priory in Leicester.
“The prayer we offer for him this evening is the best prayer there is: the offering of the Holy Mass, the prayer of Jesus himself, made complete in the oblation of his body and blood on the altar of the cross, present here for us on this altar.”
Richard III was born in 1452, and reigned over England from 1483-1485, when he died in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York; he was succeeded by Henry VII, founder of the House of Tudor.
His corpse was buried without pomp, and subsequently lost. It was found in 2012 under a parking lot in Leicester, 30 miles south of Nottingham, on the site of Greyfriars, a Franciscan friary dissolved during the English Reformation.
His body has been kept at the University of Leicester, and was processed to Leicester Cathedral, an Anglican church, on Sunday.
That evening, Cardinal Nichols led a Compline service at the cathedral, during which Richard's coffin was sprinkled with holy water, and incensed.
“This sprinkling with holy water is a reminder that King Richard, at the beginning of his life, was baptised,” the cardinal reflected. “He was thereby called to live as a follower of Jesus Christ.”
“The deepest intentions of Richard have always been hard to fathom. Yet that is often true for many of us. Within the depth of his heart, amidst all his fears and ambitions, there surely lay a strong desire to provide his people with stability and improvement.”
Cardinal Nichols noted Richard's achievements, including a development of the presumption of innocence, the concept of blind justice, the practice of granting bail, and translating laws into the vernacular, while adding that “nevertheless his reign was marked by unrest and the fatal seepage of loyalty and support.”
“All of this reminds us, if we need reminding, that baptism does not guarantee holiness of life or saintliness of nature. But it gives a fundamental and enduring shape to a journey through life, in all its struggles and failures.”
He recalled Richard as a man of prayer and “anxious devotion,” who composed a surviving prayer and established chapels.
“We pray that, being brought into the presence of that Divine majesty, Richard may be embraced by God’s merciful love, there to await the final resurrection of all things in the fullness of time.”
Until its reburial, Richard III's body will remain at Leicester Cathedral. More than 20,000 visited the cathedral to view the coffin. The reinterment will be held at the cathedral on Thursday, led by Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.
On Monday, March 23, Cardinal Nichols said a Requiem Mass at Holy Cross Priory, a Dominican parish in Leicester. He wore a chasuble known as the “Westminster Vestment,” which is believed to be from Richard III's own wardrobe. The chasuble's embroidery matches that described from his inventories, and has been dated to the third quarter of the 15th century.
The Mass was attended by several bishops from across England and Wales, as well as by Tim Stevens, the Anglican Bishop of Leicester.
Msgr. Thomas McGovern, administrator of the Diocese of Nottingham – which includes Leicester – commented that “it is fitting that, after 530 years, Richard III’s mortal remains are once again laid to rest, this time in Leicester Cathedral, the mediaeval Catholic parish church of Leicester, not far from where they were first buried by the Franciscan friars after the Battle of Bosworth.”
“Just as Mass would have been offered for the repose of his soul by the priests who buried him, we do him the same service tonight, asking Almighty God to receive him into the kingdom of heaven with his sins forgiven. May he rest in peace.”
Cardinal Nichols remarked during his homily that “during this week, Mass is being offered in many Catholic Churches for the repose of the soul of King Richard III. Rightly so. That is exactly what he would have wished, having himself set up at least one chantry chapel for Masses to be celebrated for the dead of both sides of the Battle of Towton in 1461.”
“This evening we pray that the merciful judgement of our loving God is extended to him in every degree, for we know that it is only the gift of God's mercy that protects us from the demands of God’s justice … We offer this holy Mass that even while his remains are lying in the Cathedral nearby, his soul is united with God in the glory of heaven there to await the final resurrection of all things in Christ.”
“This was the hope he held in his heart. This is the hope we hold for ourselves and our loved ones too. We share this one hope and the faith and love which accompany it. In this grace we pray for this dead King and we pray that the kingship in Christ, given to us all, may truly guide our lives and make us builders of that eternal Kingdom here in our world today.”