Prince Charles and Camilla Step in for Queen Elizabeth at Royal Easter Tradition for the First Time

The Queen, 95, announced last week that she regretfully wouldn't be attending the annual event

Prince Charles and Camila
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are taking part in their first Royal Maundy Service without Queen Elizabeth, after she regretfully couldn't attend the annual Easter tradition.

The royal couple took the helm of the Royal Maundy Service at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle on Thursday. Taking place three days ahead of Easter each year to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with his Apostles, the monarch or another royal family member distributes specially-minted coins known as Maundy money to recognize people over 70 years old for their service to their communities.

This year, there were 192 recipients, one man and one woman for each of the Queen's 96 years (she will celebrate her 96th birthday later this month).

The palace announced last week that the Queen would not attend this year's service. A royal source tells PEOPLE, "It is with regret that she isn't attending."

The source adds that the Queen couldn't commit to attending but knew the order of service was being printed and "was keen that the service was confirmed and all the recipients were aware so as to avoid any misunderstanding or overshadowing of the event on the day."

Prince Charles Prince of Wales
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Samir Hussein/WireImage

Although Queen Elizabeth has continued to undertake light duties and hold virtual audiences from Windsor Castle, her public outings have grown increasingly rare amid a number of health setbacks. Late last month, she did appear in-person at a Service of Thanksgiving honoring her husband Prince Philip, nearly one year after his death at age 99.

The Queen first attended Royal Maundy as Princess Elizabeth in 1935. While she traditionally takes part in the event every year, she has missed the service before during her reign, twice following childbirth and twice because she was traveling to other parts of the Commonwealth.

This marks Prince Charles' first time filling in for the Queen at the Royal Maundy Service, but he has attended with the Queen twice before in 1962 and 1968. The Queen has also been accompanied by other members of the royal family on several occasions, including Prince Philip and granddaughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie.

It will also be the first time Camilla has attended the service. Her appearance will be especially meaningful considering earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth announced her "sincere wish" for Camilla to be known as Queen Consort when Charles takes the throne one day.

Each recipient of Maundy money — one male and one female for every year the Queen has been alive — is given two small leather purses, one red and one white. The first contains a small amount of coinage which symbolizes the monarch's gift for food and clothing. The white purse contains Maundy coins up to the value of the Queen's age.

"It seems to have been the custom as early as the thirteenth century for members of the royal family to take part in Maundy ceremonies, to distribute money and gifts, and to recall Christ's simple act of humility by washing the feet of the poor," according to the Royal Mint.

Early in her reign, the Queen decided Maundy money should not just be distributed to the people of London, so she now traveled to various cathedrals or abbeys to give gifts to local people. The recipients were chosen in recognition of their service to the community. As of 2017, the Queen has visited every Anglican Cathedral in England for the Maundy Service.

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Although the in-person ceremony was canceled the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, Queen Elizabeth still distributed Maundy money by sending the gift along with a letter to each of the recipients.

"Each year, at the Royal Maundy Service, we have an opportunity to recognise, and give thanks for, work done by countless people for the wellbeing of their neighbours; work that has often been taken for granted or hidden," the Queen said in her letter.

"I am sure you will be sad, as I am, that present circumstances make it impossible for that Service to take place," she added. "I hope however that this Maundy Gift will remind you for years to come that your efforts have been truly appreciated."

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