The impending coronation has already been a source of encouragement for many of us in the sense that generous gifts both from our Orthodox friends – in the form of the oil of Chrism to be used for anointing the monarch – and also from our Catholic friends – in the form of a relic of part of the one true Cross to be used in the processional cross – have opened up discussion on ritual and symbolism in a society in which they have tended to play less and less of a role over recent decades.
It should further encourage us that, while there does not appear to be a widespread understanding or a wholesale endorsement of the approach being taken, nor has there been noticeable condemnation. Indeed there appears to be some interest among the population as to what these ecumenical tokens might signify and the nature of the authenticity which they might bring with them.
In an age of projector screens and of PowerPoint presentations, of buzz words and of gimmicks, of quick fixes and of elusive accountability, we would be well placed to consider what opportunities the Coronation might provide to present timeless religious truths to a largely disbelieving populace. And we know that there is no better way to convey those timeless truths than through the beauty of holiness.
I happened to stumble recently upon a tweet from the parish priest of All Saints, Margaret Street in London’s West End wishing us all a Happy Easter. The tweet linked to a piece of music sung in that church at Mass on the morning of Easter Day. The piece of music is Pietro Mascagni’s Easter Hymn and it is still available on the Margaret Street website (at about 50 minutes into the service). Such is the joy conveyed through this beautiful, soaring piece of music is such that, while it could never hope to prove the existence of God, it certainly challenges head-on any listener looking to assert the contrary viewpoint.
Further, we know that Catholic Christianity engages our other senses – not just our hearing but also our sight, smell, touch and taste. The point is that the splendours on display for the coronation are – naturally – heightened for that occasion but also remain available whenever we choose to access them throughout the year. We particularly think of the beauty of our churches and the liturgies they host.
So far so good, but we need to go further in making our argument. Our incarnational religion has more to offer than ritual and symbols, decorative beauty and exquisite music, important though they are. What it has to offer is transformation. The oil of Chrism may have symbolic value but it contains a transformative power once consecrated and used for Christian rites of initiation and ordination through anointing. Similarly, a processional cross has symbolic value but a relic of the one true Cross contains a sacred status such that it can bless, inspire and transform believers in a way that little else can.
I think you may have guessed where I am going next. Our Lord’s injunction to celebrate the Eucharist was not, and is not, intended solely as a commemorative act involving symbols of bread and wine representing the Last Supper but as a means of his real presence being made available to us in line with apostolic faith and practice and as a living out of the Resurrection. Such an assertion is not an attempt to reopen the wounds of the Reformation, nor to score theological points, but to be a statement of what is at the heart of our faith – the bread of life which sustains us in our discipleship.
When we watch the coronation, we shall be watching something more than a very heavily subscribed, televised event, something more than a concert of fine music and something more than a gathering of the upper echelons of society. It will be primarily a religious occasion in which a Christian monarch, King Charles III, is to be anointed to strengthen him in his fulfilment of that office. We pray that the Christian witness of the coronation will act as a beacon to the nation as we acclaim ‘I was glad when they said unto me : We will go into the house of the Lord’.
Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon the king.
And all the people rejoiced and said:
God save the King! Long live the King!
God save the King!
May the King live for ever. Amen. Hallelujah.