With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and the long-awaited ascent of her son to become King Charles III, England has become the focus, once again, of great pageantry and palace intrigue. There is lots to be said for the pomp and circumstance, the great processions of the royal guard and the great solemnity with which it all takes place; it is a kingdom, after all.
Those familiar with Mass in the “usus antiquior” might remember with more or less enthusiasm the pageantry surrounding our sacred rites. The incense, the long processions, harmonious choir, and throngs of people dressed in their Sunday best, along with the “palace intrigue” surrounding the secretive movements around the altar, all demonstrate the high solemnity of the sacred mysteries. It is a heavenly banquet, after all.
But, much like seas of change in society following the Second Vatican Council, many have called for simplifying the ceremonials with the rise of a new monarch. Believing that these services are now antiquated or arcane, they hope that King Charles III might welcome some change and modernization.
With the world in a media frenzy and our daily lives lived through fiber-optic cables and satellite signals at the touch of a button or click of the mouse, some wonder if all this gallant spectacle should remain a thing of the past. Modernization seems to take no prisoners in its desire to cast off the yoke of tradition.
There are some, though, who argue that traditions are more necessary now than ever, if only to remind one of the grandeur of reality. They argue that in the world that often lives vicariously through media apps, nothing is more necessary than the reality of community life, compatriots lining the streets for leaders who have for centuries been sources of unity, stability, and even strength. Some claim that the grandeur of a kingdom should not be overrun by the need, nay the desire, to move “forward” to a simpler aesthetic. Kingdoms are societies and there is nothing more charming or real for the citizenry than to feel a member of that society than to line up to see their sovereign pass them by with a palace wave with all the courtiers behind.
The question here might be stated thus: What would be lost if we rid ourselves of the pomp and solemnity of this moment? Moreover, what would we lose if we dispensed with it? I would think a great deal about both. Society would lose the grandeur of man’s united efforts, and each person would lose their sense of belonging to something grand and majestic. Society would lose the majesty formed by unity, and man would lose his heritage. For a simple demonstration, one need only look to the church in chaos to see how simplification, accommodation, and a lack of serious solemnity has harmed the church’s unity and even moral sovereignty.
Kingdoms should have the look and feel of royalty, for royalty in all of its grandeur demands respect. The lay man or woman passerby stops in awe when the King’s Court passes, and they should. There is nothing more astounding than watching order in the midst of chaos, people dressed in the most regal uniforms to mark the most important occasions, the sights and sounds which offer those in attendance the full measure and weight of any crown. But it doesn’t simply end in spectacle. For the countrymen, the citizens of the royal crown in England share a common head, and with the spectacle find themselves reminded of their common heritage, their familial bonds which have united them all – kingdoms past and present.
The Monarch with his lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses all put forward the simple truth that they are one people, one nation, under a single king: this is their kingdom, their royalty, and the glory of their people on display. Participation unites them in deeper bonds of unity than could ever be manifest from the comforts of their living rooms hovering around a television. The world watched, but those present participated.
The same could be said for the liturgy. We celebrate our Catholic faith through our rites, but we also must experience the full breadth of grandeur in the crown with our ceremonials, which can only be experienced in full when done in person. All of the customs and rituals bespeak the true nature of our heritage, one that was given to us by the King of Kings, our Savior, Christ Jesus. St. Paul says as much in his letter to the Romans: “The Spirit himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are sons of God. But if we are sons, we are heirs also: heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ...” (Rm 8:16-17). Perhaps the change in Monarch in England might cause reflection on our own heavenly heritage so that we might celebrate and participate in the Church’s liturgy with reverence and awe.
Father Nicholas T. Fleming is the pastor of SS. John and James Parish in West Warwick. His editorial was first published Sept. 23 in The Catholic World Report.
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