With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, and the long-awaited assent of her son to become King Charles III, England has become the focus, once again, of great pageantry and palace intrigue. There is much 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, including 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 surrounding and following Vatican II, some have called for simplifying the ceremonials with the rise of a new monarch. Believing that these services are now antiquated or archaic, 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 others, 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 a 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 been for centuries sources of unity, stability, and even strength. They insist that the grandeur of a kingdom should not be overrun by the need—nay, the desire—to move “forward” to a more simple aesthetic. Kingdoms are societies and there is nothing more charming or real for the citizenry 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 in both. Of course, it should be self-evident that every society has its issues that need to be addressed; no organizations are without its sin, but their place in society holds value, even with their flaws and scars. Notwithstanding the imperfections of any institution, minimizing them through simplification would mean that society as a whole 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 further lose his heritage. For a simple demonstration, one need look only to the Church in chaos to see how simplification, accommodation, and a lack of serious solemnity have harmed her unity and even moral sovereignty.
Kingdoms, however imperfect they may be, should have the look and feel of royalty, for royalty in all of its grandeur elicits respect. The passerby stops in awe when the King’s Court passes, and he should. It is moving, even astounding, to watch 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 monarchy, with its lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, puts 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 TV. The world watched, yes, but those present participated.
The same can be said for liturgy. We are 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 present in person. All of the customs and rituals bespeak the true nature of our heritage, one that was given 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 and the manner in which it is celebrated.
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