Ruth Gledhill reports that the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace will host the first Catholic service since the 1550s:

Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Nichols will celebrate Vespers and the Bishop of London, Dean of the Chapel Royal, will preach in Henry VIII’s chapel, built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century but taken from Wolsey by the King and rebuilt.

Henry VIII broke with Rome and established the Church of England after Wolsey failed to secure his annulment from Catherine of Aragon. …

A spokesman described it as “an unprecedented coming together of the Catholic and Anglican churches on such an historically important site”.

The Vespers will be dedicated to St John the Baptist, remembering the origins of the chapel as built by Cardinal Wolsey on the site of a former chapel of the Knights of St John Hospitaller. Members of the public will be able to take part in a ballot for a stall or boxed pew at the service.

The music will be performed by Harry Christophers and his ensembles The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen and will include Thomas Tallis’ Magnificat, William Cornysh’s Salve Regina and John Taverner’s “Leroy” Kyrie.

Before the service, Cardinal and Dean will take part in a “conversation” on “Faith and the Crown” in the Great Hall at Hampton Court. They will debate the role of the Chapel Royal in maintaining elements of Catholic worship to the present day.

I remember the Queen and Pope Benedict XVI being friendly, and some speculation about what that might mean about a decade ago. Mark Woods wrote a few years ago that the Church of England is “lucky to have a believer at its head:”

At its head is the Queen, the many-times-removed successor of Henry VIII in that role. He was recently named as Britain’s worst ever monarch by a panel of historians; she, because of the near-faultless way in which she has navigated her role in a democratic society blown every which way by the winds of social change, has some claim to be regarded as the best.

We have all been lucky to have her. The Church of England, though, has been particularly fortunate. Previous monarchs have been murderers, adulterers, meddlers and fools. Their attitude to religion has sometimes been sincere enough, as long as it didn’t inconvenience them too much.

In Queen Elizabeth, however, the Church has someone at its head for whom the Christian faith is not another layer of ceremony but a living reality.

In recent years she has worn her faith more openly, as we have seen in the Christmas broadcasts in which she speaks directly to the nation. Last year she said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.” In 2012 she said: “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.”

The previous year she said: “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general…but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.” Forgiveness, she said, “lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”

Today, Queen Elizabeth passes Victoria’s record as our longest-serving monarch. We should be glad of her example of loyal service, and glad that she is not ashamed of the gospel. What sort of spirituality her successors will bring to their role is open to question…

The Catholic Anglicanism that the Queen demonstrates seems unlikely to survive her reign. I imagine that it goes against every instinct of hers to even imagine it, but if there is going to be English monarch in the modern era who could initiate a return to Rome, it seems like it would have to be her.