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Coronation rite unveiled by Lambeth Palace

29 April 2023

Westminster Abbey service offers a mix of traditional and new elements

Alamy

Painters repaint the lamp-posts outside Westminster Abbey in preparation for the Coronation

Painters repaint the lamp-posts outside Westminster Abbey in preparation for the Coronation

A PRAYER that he will find perfect freedom in the service of God and be “a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction”, will be said by the King at his Coronation in Westminster Abbey next Saturday.

“This is possibly the first time in our history that such a personal prayer has been voiced so publicly by the Sovereign,” suggests a commentary on the order of service issued to the media by Lambeth Palace alongside the publication of the liturgy on Saturday evening. The prayer has been specially written for this Coronation. Its authorship has not been disclosed.

Although the King continues to bear his formal title of Defender of the Faith during the service, this prayer may be thought to echo his well-known comment in 1994 that he wished to be a “defender of faith” more generally.

Predictions months ago of an “hour-long” rite have finally been disposed of as unrealistic by publication of the order of service. For every omission from the last coronation, something new has been added, and an official government website suggests a duration of two hours, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Processions will precede the service, beginning at Buckingham Palace at 10.20, and succeed it, ending back at Buckingham Palace at 1.30 before a balcony appearance and a ceremonial flypast.

The King’s Prayer (see below) is one of many changes from the rite used for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. It is among elements that make explicit in the liturgy the shift in emphasis during her reign towards viewing the monarchy primarily as a monarchy of loving service. This is reflected in a new collect and in new choices of epistle and Gospel. The sermon has been restored, and the Archbishop of Canterbury will use this to expound briefly upon the themes of the service.

At the very start, after Parry’s anthem I was Glad, the King will be greeted by a child, a Chapel Royal chorister, “in the name of the King of Kings”, and the King will reply: “In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served, but to serve.”

Lambeth Palace says that the five elements of the historic English coronation rite are included in their traditional order in the service of holy communion: the Recognition; the Oath; the Anointing; the Investiture and Crowning; and the Enthronement and Homage.

The homage of peers has been replaced by a Homage of the People. The Archbishop will invite people in the Abbey and beyond to swear their allegiance at this point: “a chorus of millions of voice enabled for the first time in history to participate in this solemn and joyful moment”, Lambeth Palace says.

For the first time, but following the precedent of other state occasions, as head of the host nation’s government and not in a personal capacity, the Prime Minister will read the epistle, Colossians 1.9-17. Like the Gospel and other passages of scripture in the service, this will be in the King James (Authorised) Version.

Rishi Sunak, who is a Hindu, is not the only adherent of another faith to take part in the service. As well as historic claimants to presenting items of the regalia, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh peers will present items “which have no Christian meaning or symbolism”.

Also, at the end of the closing procession, before proceeding to the State Coach, the King will be greeted in unison by representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist communities. This is part of the ceremonial proceedings, but not of the service itself. Because Coronation Day is the sabbath, this will, to enable Jewish participation, not be electronically amplified.

The participants have been named as the Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis (Judaism); the Most Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala (Buddhism); Lord Singh of Wimbledon (Sikhism); Radha Mohan das (Hinduism); and Aliya Azam (Islam).

 

As in the ecumenical innovation of 1953, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will present the Bible, near the beginning of the service. But participation from other Christian denominations has been increased. The Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Thyateira & Great Britain, the Moderator of the Free Churches, the Secretary-General of Churches Together in England, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster will be involved in giving an extended blessing after the moment of crowning itself and the consequent fanfares, two minutes of bell-ringing, and gun salutes in the UK, Gibraltar, Bermuda, and from ships at sea.

Women bishops will be taking part in a coronation for the first time: the Bishop of London, reading the Gospel; and the Bishops of Dover and Chelmsford.

There is wider Anglican participation, too. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Archbishop of Wales, and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church will be involved in bringing the orb, sceptre, and rod to be delivered to the King.

The Archbishop in Jerusalem will formally present the oil for the anointing of the King on his hands, breast, and head. The anointing will be done during the singing of Handel’s Zadok the Priest and, as in the past, will be hidden from view beneath a canopy, before the King is vested in the colobium sindonis, supertunica, and girdle. The Archbishop will pray sotto voce at this point in the service, too.

The Queen’s later anointing on the forehead only, however, will be public, and the prayer will be said audibly.

It has been decided on this occasion to preface the Coronation Oath, a legal requirement since the 17th century, with a short paragraph in which the Archbishop reflects that the Church will “seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely”. This is to reflect words of the late Queen at an interfaith reception in Lambeth Palace (News, 17 February 2012).

The language of the rubrics has been modernised, many passages found in the 1953 rite have been excised, and there is no mention of any singing of the Litany before the service begins; but the language of the Prayer Book will still be recognisable in the service.

The 1662 communion service was used in 1953, and its use would have made the present service longer, with the inclusion of the Prayer for the Church Militant, confession, and Comfortable Words. The service is also kept short by the restriction of the number of communicants to five: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of Dover and Chelmsford in order that they can assist with the communion, and then the King and Queen.

This time, the service will follow what a Lambeth Palace spokesperson described as a “contemporary liturgical shape”, with the Kyries (in Welsh) and Gloria (Byrd Mass for Four Voices) at the beginning, and a Eucharistic Prayer that is essentially Prayer C in Common Worship Order One (Traditional) (the fraction will take place during the prayer).

This will incorporate a new proper preface, which will be said, not sung. It adds to the words of the one used in 1953 the petition that “with [Charles our King], we may learn the ways of service, compassion and love, and that the good work which thou hast begun in him this day may be brought to completion in the day of Jesus Christ”.

The service contains a number of new musical compositions (News, 19 April) as well as pieces, such as Walton’s Coronation Te Deum, composed for 1953; and the hymns “Christ is made the sure foundation” and “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven”. The plainsong Veni Creator, sung before the anointing, will include verses in English, Welsh, and Scots and Irish Gaelic (but not Latin).

 

The King’s Prayer

GOD of compassion and mercy whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve, give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth.

Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction, that together we may discover the ways of gentleness and be led into the paths of peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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