Our Christian Queen
Sixty years ago today, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The service was Christian, specifically Protestant-Anglican, which she swore to maintain for the rest of her life, 'to the utmost of (her) power', along with 'the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel'.
People will quibble about her deficiencies in this regard, choosing to highlight their particular interpretation of a literal law, or a particular slant on the Gospel. But, being Protestant - indeed, being the Supreme Governor of her own Church - the Queen is answerable directly to God: for her, there is no mediator other than Christ, her Saviour. To Him is she accountable for her words and actions - personal and constitutional. To Him will she have to give account for every law of man to which she has given her Royal Assent.
Hers is a faith which is profound and sincere. Oh, there are Roman Catholics who pour scorn over the very foundation of the Established Church; and High-Church Anglicans who mock her distinctly Low-Church disposition and liturgical preferences. But she treads a wise via media between the religious extremes - of all faiths and none - reaching out to embrace them as a mother does her children. As she reminded us and the then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace last year:
...we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.When speeches like this are set against her traditional Christmas broadcasts, there is no doubt that the Queen is devout in her faith, and serious about propagating it for the spiritual health of the nation. In her 2011 broadcast, she spoke openly of the gospel of forgiveness, the uniqueness of Jesus the Saviour, the love of God through Christ our Lord. Unlike that of the Prime Minister, her faith does not fade in and out like Magic FM in the Chilterns: she fights the good fight; she runs to win the race; she keeps the faith.
It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.
This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.
Your Grace, the presence of your fellow distinguished religious leaders and the objects on display demonstrate how each of these traditions has contributed distinctively to the history and development of the United Kingdom. Prince Philip and I wish to send our good wishes, through you, to each of your communities, in the hope that – with the assurance of the protection of our established Church – you will continue to flourish and display strength and vision in your relations with each other and the rest of society.
Historically, the Coronation has always been performed in the liturgical context of Holy Communion (with the exception of that of Roman Catholic King James II in 1685). There are doubts that such 'exclusive' traditions can be maintained in a the modern multi-ethnic, multi-faith context. Indeed, Charles Moore, a convert from the Church of England to the Church of Rome, is of the view that Lambeth Palace and the Archbishop of Canterbury are deficient in their consideration of this matter. He writes:
But no committee has yet met to discuss it. The key spiritual mover in this matter is the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the key temporal one is the Duke of Norfolk, the hereditary Earl Marshal. Yet neither has, in fact, moved. If the Queen died tomorrow, there would be no plan for the coronation of her successor.One has got used to the sadly obsessive anti-Anglicanism of the Telegraph, but one has come to expect better from Charles Moore. Presumably, his source for the 'negligence' at Lambeth Palace is his co-religionist the Duke of Norfolk. In fact, it is simply not true. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Westminster could be prepared to crown King Charles III (or George VII, or however he wants to be known) within a matter of months, if necessary. One only has to witness the impeccable attention to detail in unforeseen tragedies like the death of Diana Princess of Wales to appreciate that the Church of England is more than able to deliver on the big occasions of state.
This is not mere negligence. There is an element, almost, of bad taste in getting into detail.
On the next coronation, there will be, as there has been for 1000 years, the singing of psalms - ‘I was glad when they said unto me: We will go into the house of the Lord’. There will be cries of 'Vivat Rex!' and the people will respond ‘God save the King!’ The Sovereign will take the Oath, swearing to govern faithfully with justice and mercy, to uphold the Gospel, and to maintain the doctrine and worship of the Church of England. And a Bible will be presented, just as it was in 1953, ‘To keep your Majesty ever mindful of the Law and Gospel of God as the rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes’.
And there will be Holy Communion, and the Creed, and an invocation to the Holy Spirit. And the Sovereign’s crimson robe will be removed and he will be seated in the Coronation Chair, facing the altar. And the Archbishop of Canterbury will anoint the Sovereign with holy oil, as they have always done. Except this solemn anointing is not likely to be concealed beneath a sacred canopy, as it was in 1953, but visible to the whole world, for the mystery of consecration is no longer reserved to the holy priesthood.
And then the choir will sing Zadok the Priest, the words of which have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973 (though obviously not to Handel's glorious setting, which was written for the coronation of King George II in 1727). And then the Sovereign will be dressed in robes of gold and invested with the the Orb and Sceptre, symbolising kingly power, justice and mercy.
And then the Archbishop will receive St Edward’s Crown from the Dean of Westminster and place it on the Sovereign’s head. Trumpet fanfares will sound and the congregation shall acclaim the Sovereign with loud and repeated shouts. And the newly-crowned Sovereign will receive the homage of the people, performed first by the Lords Spiritual, and then the Lords Temporal. The King will then receive Holy Communion, to Gloria in Excelsis followed by a Te Deum.
This is as it has always been, and under the current Archbishop of Canterbury will most assuredly remain, should he be the one to preside at the next coronation. Of course there will be nuances of adaptation - as there have been in the past: representatives of other faiths will, of necessity, be included in the service, for the Monarch is a symbol of unity in the Kingdom. But make no mistake, the Coronation is a Christian liturgy, and so it must remain. It is the contract the binds the Head of State to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a cornerstone of the Constitution, and the foundation of our liberties. It is not to be tampered with lightly.