Anointed, Blessed, and Consecrated

King Charles III meets with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the run-up to Coronation Day. |

What we should look for on Coronation Day

In the first of two articles on the Coronation, we look at the structure of the service.

By Peter Eaton

When Queen Victoria was crowned on June 28, 1838, the service was a shambles. Few people knew what they were doing, Even the Archbishop of Canterbury was unsure, at one point trying to jam the coronation ring onto the wrong finger, causing the queen terrible agony. Since then, every coronation has been carefully planned and practiced, and coronations since 1902 have proceeded much more smoothly.

King Charles will be the 40th monarch to be crowned in Westminster Abbey since William the Conqueror in 1066, and Queen Camilla will be the 29th queen consort since William’s queen, Matilda, was crowned there in 1068. The last time there was a coronation of a king and a queen consort together was in 1937, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (who was later so well known as the Queen Mother) were crowned at the Abbey.

While the principal elements of the coronation rite have been consistent down the centuries, each coronation has been unique, and indeed the rite has undergone significant changes over time. Since there will be a great deal of pomp and splendor, it can be hard to discern the important elements of the coronation liturgy.

This rite represents a significant departure from previous coronations in a range of ways, so much so that it can rightly be called a new recension, or revision, or edition, of the coronation rite. There have been six such recensions in the history of the coronation rite, and this must be considered the seventh.

So what should we look for?

It is important to remember that the coronation rite is set within the context of the Eucharist, and this is much clearer in this recension even than in 1953. The sovereign must by law be a communicant member of the Church of England, and so the setting of the coronation within the Eucharist, when the sovereign receives Holy Communion publicly, is of fundamental significance, both legally and spiritually. Because of the complexity of the rite and the necessity of accomplishing some actions within a relatively short time, it can sometimes be hard to see the Eucharistic elements of the rite, but they are clearer in this coronation than ever before.

Here are the elements of the coronation rite that we shall see, set at appropriate points in the liturgy.

  • The Procession
  • The Recognition
  • The Presentation of the Bible
  • The Oath
  • The Anointing
  • The Investiture and Crowning
  • The Enthronement
  • The Homage
  • The Anointing and Crowning of the Queen
  • The Recessional

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the celebrant of the coronation liturgy, and he is assisted by the Dean of Westminster. The Archbishop of York also participates, and by tradition since the coronation of King Richard I in 1189, the Bishops of Durham and Bath and Wells support the king during the service. There has been no tradition of the bishops who support the queen consort, and the choice of these episcopal supporters has been in the gift of the king. In 1937, the last occasion when a queen consort was crowned, the Bishops of Saint Albans (from the Province of Canterbury) and of Blackburn (from the Province of York) supported the queen consort. We shall see the bishop supporters by the side of the king and queen throughout the service, vested in copes.

The changes from previous coronations are evident almost immediately. The service begins with the procession of ecumenical and interreligious leaders, and then comes the procession of the sovereign and the consort. When all are in place there is a greeting, which rightly identifies the vocation to service at the heart of the liturgy.

As in all liturgies in which someone is authorized or commissioned for Christian service, like an ordination, at the beginning of the service there must be a recognition of the person (is this the one whom we intend to ordain or crown?), the making of promises or taking of oaths (the candidate commits publicly to the office), and, in the case of a coronation, the presentation of the Bible (on which the sovereign will make his oath). This recognition is a remnant of the time when the sovereign was elected.

Then the Liturgy of the Word continues familiarly with the Gloria, sung to a Latin setting by William Byrd, a Roman Catholic composer at Queen Elizabeth I’s court. Next come the readings, as we would expect. The traditional readings have been changed, and there is a Gospel Alleluia, rather than a Gradual Anthem, between them. 

A sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury follows, the first sermon at a coronation since the coronation of Queen Victoria, when the Bishop of London preached.

The chrism oil with which the king and the queen consort will be anointed will be contained within the ampulla, made from gold and cast in the form of an eagle with outspread wings. |

Next, the rite of the consecration of the sovereign properly begins. This is the point at which rites of this kind find their place in the liturgy, and we can clearly see the analogy of the rites of ordination here. For centuries the practice was to hold the coronation rite first, and then follow it with a coronation Mass. It was Archbishop Henry Compton who, in 1689 for the coronation of William and Mary as co-sovereigns, placed the consecration of the sovereigns here. This was a happy change, and he was almost certainly influenced by the rite of the ordination of bishops in the Book of Common Prayer.

It is, of course, the anointing, and not the crowning, that is the sacramental heart of the coronation rite, just as the laying on of hands is the heart of the ordination rite, and not the vesting of the new clergyperson. So now this action begins. The great hymn “Come Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire” is sung, and the sovereign, sitting on St. Edward’s Chair, is anointed on the hands, breast, and head. It is unfortunate that this act will be hidden from view.

Then, just as in an ordination, the new sovereign is vested and given symbols of office. The coronation vestments consist of versions of an alb, a dalmatic, a stole, and a cope, though the precise origins of some of these vestments are unclear. A coronation ring has traditionally been placed on the ring finger of the right hand, but the rubrics for the new rite seem to indicate that the ring will be presented but not worn. Other symbols of office are given.

A representation of the king’s power and symbolizing the Christian world, the Sovereign’s Orb was made from gold in the 17th century, and is divided into three sections with bands of jewels, for each of the three continents known in the medieval period. |

Traditionally there have been spurs (representing chivalry), a sword, bracelets, the orb, and two scepters. One of the swords that will be on display (but not presented), the so-called Curtana, has a blunt tip, and represents the virtue in the sovereign of mercy. The last symbol of office to be given is the crown, which the Archbishop of Canterbury places on the sovereign’s head. The new sovereign is then blessed by several bishops and other Christian leaders.

Just as a bishop is placed in the bishop’s cathedra, or formal seat, in the cathedral after ordination, so the newly consecrated sovereign is enthroned. After the enthronement, there is the traditional homage. In the past, the Lords Spiritual (the bishops who sit in the House of Lords) have been the first to do their fealty (the bishops do not pay homage — there is a subtle distinction between the acts of fealty and homage), and in 1953 the Duke of Edinburgh led the peers in doing homage after the Archbishop of Canterbury. On this occasion, the archbishop will be first in doing fealty, followed by the Prince of Wales, who will do homage. A new aspect of this rite is the Homage of the People, which replaces the homage of the peers in previous versions of the rite.

At this point the queen consort will be anointed and crowned, clearly and distinctly, but with less ceremony than that of the king, and she will then be enthroned on a throne next to his.

The coronation rite now completed, the Eucharistic action proper resumes with the Offertory. Traditionally the sovereign offers the bread and wine, as well as money (in the form of gold) at this point — the only remnant of a proper Offertory to survive in Anglican liturgy from the time of the first prayer book until the liturgical revision of the last century. The vestige of this offering remains in this service, though the offering of gold will not occur. The Eucharistic Prayer uses a text from Common Worship, with a special preface for the occasion. 

By tradition only the sovereign, the consort (if there is one), the archbishops, the bishops who are participating in the liturgy, and the Dean of Westminster receive Holy Communion at the coronation. This practice could change, and there is no reason except expediency why the congregation cannot be communicated. The Archbishop of Canterbury gives the final blessing of the Eucharistic rite. Then the Te Deum is sung, as it has traditionally been sung at this point in the consecration of Roman Catholic bishops, though it has dropped out of the Anglican rite. During the singing of the Te Deum, the king and queen go to the Chapel of St. Edward behind the high altar of the abbey to change into the garments they will wear out of the church.

After the Te Deum, when the sovereign is ready, the recessional begins and leads all the principal participants out of the abbey. At the doors of the church he will be greeted by faith leaders, as well as by the Governors General of the nations of which he is king. The new sovereign and the consort then make an extended journey through part of London back to Buckingham Palace for the traditional appearance on the balcony. 

We shall hear some favorite music, especially Parry’s anthem “I Was Glad,” and Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” but there will be a great deal of new music. There will be a gospel choir (as there was at the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex), as well as a psalm sung in Greek, a nod to the Orthodox tradition to which the king is devoted. The famous popular composer Andrew Lloyd Webber is setting a text from Psalm 98 to music. While in the past the focus has been on British (which has usually meant English) composers, for this coronation there has been an effort to include composers from around the Commonwealth.

The coronation rite is, then, under all the ceremony of state, a recognizably Anglican liturgy, and is part of the living liturgical tradition not just of Anglicans in Great Britain, but of all of us in the Anglican Communion. There is meaning here for us all, just as there is meaning for all in a confirmation or ordination or marriage service. This version of the coronation wants to stress the concept of service, and we see this at various stages of the rite.

As we watch this service, if we are attentive, we shall see much that is familiar, as well as much that is unique, and much that has the power to renew our own sense of service and commitment. In its essence the coronation rite is the consecration of one (or, in this case, two) people to a particular expression of Christian service, and the living out of what we in the Episcopal Church call the Baptismal Covenant.

The coronation can be an occasion of recommitment for us all, and once again, as billions of people around the world watch it on television and social media, they will see our ancient and noble Anglican tradition, in word, music, and sacramental action, give expression to the virtues of service and sacrifice that still speak to the soul.

The Rt. Rev. Peter Eaton is Bishop of Southeast Florida and is writing a book about the coronation.


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