If you saw some or all of the coronation rituals for King Charles in England, you were certainly treated to an exceedingly beautiful event but also a “blast from the past.” It is highly significant that this is the first coronation in England in seventy years. Seventy years reaches back, prior to the wreckovation, iconoclasm and rude casting aside of all tradition and formality which occurred in the West in the period of the 1960s and after. Today we are relentlessly casual; we almost never dress up and, practically, nothing is sacred. I have little doubt that, if coronations in England had occurred in the sixties, seventies or eighties, the rituals would have been gutted and cast aside as something hopelessly old and therefore bad by that simple fact. Likely it would have been reduced to a mere swearing in, in a secular venue with everyone in business suits.
Yes, I remember the spirit of that time of the late 1960s and beyond, how proud and scoffing we were to anything “old.” Old was just another word for bad. We were mesmerized by our technology and confused it for the wisdom we sorely lacked. Reverence for elders and our traditions was supplanted by a glorification of youth culture with its trendy ephemeral ideas. Beautiful old buildings were replaced with soulless glass boxes. Churches were wreckovated. Patriotism was dismissed as harmful nationalism and the wisdom of past generations was sullied by the mere emphasis on sins of the past. What did dead white men who may have owned slaves have to say to us!? Worst of all was the steady marginalization of God, biblical wisdom, the worship that is owed to God, and the salutary notion that we will all answer to Him. Today we live in a largely soulless culture devoid of moral bearings or firm foundations. The coronation rites we saw lay dormant in this reckless period and seemed to open a window on the ways things largely were before the cultural revolution that set in during the late sixties.
However, I do not exult them as utterly good and devoid of any problems. Clearly there were anti-Catholic aspects and other notions of kings and kingship that offend against our more democratic American ideals. I know too that rituals can be properly celebrated but be very empty. Frankly, the faith in God constantly expressed in the Coronation rites is something few Anglicans and Episcopalians share today in the “anything-goes” mentality of most of its Western adherents.
Nevertheless, the window that opened on the way we once were is important and if there is a way back, it paints a picture of what we have lost and what we could regain through such edifying rituals. Certain things stood out:
- The constant reference to God and our need to depend on him for everything.
- That a King, or any leader must answer to God and seek to foster and protect the holy Faith for God’s people.
- The modesty of conducting the anointing behind a screen showed the discretion of the past toward sacred things and is an antidote to the modern insistence that everything, even the most sacred, be visible and on open display.
- The liturgies were conducted ad orientem (facing the altar). Which mean that everyone, people, clergy and kings stand before God and face him together. God is the focus, not us.
- The concept that rites and liturgies directed to God should be the best we can offer. The attention to detail, the stately and careful pace, the sense of wonder and awe and that we are before God are concepts that need rediscovery today.
- And finally, tradition is beautiful and deserves to be rediscovered.
Though this reflection is wider than the Catholic Church, it is clear that we are desperately in need of rediscovering many of the things we cast aside. As we prepare to focus on the Eucharist this coming year we do well to ponder if our liturgies reflect our belief. Is it really surprising that belief in the true presence of Jesus is lost on many Catholics given the way we behave at Holy Mass? Does not our widespread casual approach say, “Nothing special here?” What of our own rituals and traditions do we need to rediscover? What will assist most in reviving Eucharistic faith? More on that later.