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Leader comment: Humility at the core of the Coronation

05 May 2023

THE liturgy for the Coronation has been published and discussed. Tomorrow, it will be enacted and watched. Seventy years after the last coronation, it is no surprise that attention has been grabbed by the odd assortment of robes that will adorn the King and the even odder collection of objects that will be brought to him, each with its own medieval significance though largely Restoration manufacture. Less noticed — because not mentioned in the published rubrics and/or performed away from the cameras — is the part where all these objects are taken back, or “redeemed”. Some he gets to touch only briefly. The resplendence of the occasion ought not to obscure the fact that the King has a strange, contingent relationship with these objects of sovereignty. St Edward’s Crown, for example, he will not wear again. He cannot choose to wear it on a whim. If he wishes even to see it, he will have to visit the Tower of London like the rest of us. The late Queen was once allowed to handle it for a television documentary, and we can only imagine the form-filling that was required to obtain permission. Equally the robes, restored and replenished for the new King, will be returned to their display case after Saturday.

This aspect of the Coronation is as eloquent of the nature of material possession as it is of monarchy. Both are best regarded as temporary: gifts of God, not earned. This element of the Coronation is reflected in the largely silent, largely passive part that the King will play in Westminster Abbey. Had not the composers of the liturgy inserted an exchange with a chorister at the start, and a spoken prayer a little way through, all that would be heard from the King is his oath-making. He is silent throughout the vesting, the crowning, and the enthronement. Just as becoming king was a matter of his birth and his mother’s death, the Coronation is something that happens to him. The wording of the oaths and the inserted prayer give voice to his response: a commitment to serving his people. It is a shame that those who were bold enough to suggest a response from the watching public — “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God” — were not a little bolder in the wording to mirror the expression of the King and include an element of service to the nation.

It is not too fanciful to see a parallel with Christ in the King’s passivity during the Coronation. There are questionable aspects about how Christ is depicted as a king in some circles, and any triumphalist theology must be reconciled with the image of a broken God dressed in purple robe and crown of thorns, standing helpless before imperial and religious power. As such, however, Christ provides a model of humble leadership that the King has clearly pledged to follow. We trust that this aspect of faithful humility will not be lost amid the splendour of the Coronation.

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