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The Future of the Eucharist at the Coronation
Setting the Coronation within the Eucharist is one aspect of the liturgy that gives it a distinctly Christian character. Looking at the order for 1953, after the Recognition and oath, the Communion service begins with introit, Bible readings and concludes with the Creed. Until 1911 there was also a sermon preached (sacrificed in 1937 and 1953 to shorten the service but revived in 2023) and the oath was taken afterwards. The Communion service was concluded at the end of the liturgy. This may give the impression that the Coronation rite is wedded to a celebration of the Eucharist.
However, weaving of the Communion within the whole service is relatively modern and only occurs from 1689 onwards. Prior to that date the Eucharist was celebrated after all the Coronation rites were concluded. As the rubric for the Liber Regalis states: ’Then when all these things have been done, the office of the Mass  for the day’s solemnity shall be begun …’ . Its separation from the Coronation rite can be seen in some accounts of Elizabeth I’s coronation which state the reforming queen withdrew at the time of the consecration rather than witness the Elevation of the Host by the Catholic Bishop of Carlisle – the only bishop prepared to conduct the coronation service. In 1685 the reverse situation arose with the Catholic James II ordering Archbishop Sancroft to remove the Eucharist altogether rather than be present at an Anglican celebration. It has been suggested by Ratcliff  that the main motivation of Bishop Compton in ‘weaving’ the Eucharist into the 1689 Coronation rite was to help prevent any future monarch repeating the exclusion of Communion as in 1685.
In the months before the 1937 Coronation the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr. Barnes, proposed that the Communion service should be separated out from the Coronation service proper. This provoked a fierce attack from the Bishop of Bradford, Dr. Blunt who stated that ‘to agree to [the proposal] would be tantamount to a confession that the grace of the sacrament is not so important as to be needed by the King at this great moment of his inauguration’ . However, the ‘Modern Churchman’ made the observation that the ‘united service [is] too long for the highest level of devotion to be maintained throughout them…’ 
This was the first attempt to ‘weave’ the Communion within the liturgy using material other than the BCP structure. This Coronation used the Common Worship ‘shape’ for the Eucharist – basically using Order One with traditional language using Eucharistic Prayer C in traditional language. So we would expect the liturgy to clearly display the four actions as so eloquently set forth by Gregory Dix that proved such an influence on the liturgical revision since the previous Coronation.
Dix’s great contribution to liturgical revision, it could be argued, was to consider the actual content as secondary to his theory that ‘there is to be found underlying …. a single normal standard structure of the rite as a whole. It is this standard structure which [Dix called] the ‘Shape’ of the Liturgy’ .
He maintained by the early patristic period (possibly even ‘before the first three gospels or I Cor. began to circulate with authority’ ) the ‘Shape’ became four actions:
- ‘The offertory; bread and wine are ‘taken’ and placed on the table together.
- The prayer; the president gives thanks to God over bread and wine together.
- The fraction; the bread is broken.
- The communion; the bread and wine are distributed together ’.
So how did the Coronation we have just witnessed perform the four actions:
- ‘The offertory; as the King moved to St. Edward’s chapel, during the singing of the hymn, passing the high altar, in what almost looked like an afterthought, the paten and flagon were taken from the altar and held out for him to touch. He barely broke his step. The ancient prayer over the gifts taken from the Liber Regalis printed in the order of service was not audible – presumably just uttered by the Archbishop quietly whilst the hymn continued.
- The prayer; In contrast, this was the first time that a Eucharistic prayer/Prayer of Consecration has been heard outside of the Abbey at a Coronation. The two previous Coronations broadcasts (radio in 1937 and television and radio in 1953) did not broadcast this prayer or the words of distribution. I recall that some bishop in 1937 objected on the grounds that it may have been heard in public houses by men with their hats on! Obviously not a consideration for the church in 2023.
- The fraction; this occurred during the Eucharistic prayer as per the BCP rubric but certainly not as per the Common Worship rubric that expects it to be a distinct liturgical act. The words provided at the ‘Breaking of the Bread’ may be omitted other than on Sundays and Principal Holy Days but the action is still separate in silence or during the Agnus Dei .
- The communion; the bread and wine were only shared by five people (Archbishop, assisting bishops, King and Queen) within a congregation of over 2000. The King and Queen communicating whilst the choir was singing the Agnus Dei. I appreciate that to offer to the wider congregation is not practical in terms of time but it begs the question how appropriate is this if we are following modern eucharistic practice.
The ‘downplaying’ of three of the four actions in the Shape of the Eucharist begs a question. Should a future Coronation revert to the pre-1689 form and leave the Communion to be a separate service – possibly held in St. Edward’s chapel involving only the archbishop, assistant bishops and the king and queen?
- The term ‘Communion’ is used in the English translations of the 17th century – see the Coronation Order for Charles I in Legg, J. Wickham, English Coronation Records (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. 1901). p268
- Translation appearing in Ratcliff The English Coronation Service, p66
- See Ratcliff, E., The English Coronation Service (London: Skeffington & Son 1936), p44
- Reported under heading ‘Coronation service controversy’ in Modern Churchman, 26 no 9 Dec 1936, p 472-473
- Ibid p474
- Dix, G., The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Bloomsbury 2005) introduction to 2005 edition by S. Jones p.xxxiii
- Dix The Shape of the Liturgy p49
- Ibid p48
- Archbishops’ Council, Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England (London: Church House Publishing 2000) note 20 p334
Paul Kingdom 13 May 2023
The blessing of the oil
It might have been reasonable to expect that by the time the Church of England published the ‘Authorised Liturgy for the Coronation Rite…’ less than seven days before the actual service it would have been in the final form. I believe in 1953 Lambeth Palace published the service in March almost three months before the Coronation.
However, the final liturgy used on the day was further amended and presumably these amendments were included in the printed orders of service given to the congregation. They were incorporated in the version of this order available through the Abbey’s and Royal Family’s websites. The CofE also updated its versions.
One change was not a surprise. Following the publication of the liturgy on 29th April it didn’t take long, for various groups on social media and in the mainstream media to provide negative and often misguided and ill-informed comments on the ‘People’s Homage’. It looked at one stage to be possibly overshadowing the whole service.
It would be interesting to know the conversations that went on between Lambeth and Buckingham Palaces but the result was a liturgical change with a new carefully worded introduction involving a polite invitation to ‘those who wish to offer their support…’.
There was another change that was much more surprising, not least because it cannot be said to have been as a result of media pressure – changing the words used as the oil is received.
The original version included the words: ‘By the power of the same Spirit, bless and sanctify this oil, that it may be for thy servant Charles a sign of joy and gladness ….’
In my notes of 1st May I expressed some surprise at the wording. As I said then: ‘The Archbishop proceeds to bless the oil despite it already having been blessed in Jerusalem by the Patriarch. This is a significant departure from earlier coronations of the Reformed church. The blessing of the oil was either done privately before the service or the words were carefully chosen so the blessing was on the sovereign to be anointed rather than the inanimate oil. This theology is followed in the Common Worship chrism-mass. However, the Archbishop now uses the words to ‘bless and sanctify this oil’.’
In 1953 (following earlier coronations) the words used as the Archbishop lay his hand on the ampulla were: ‘Bless and sanctify thy chosen servant ELIZABETH, who by our office and ministry is now to be anointed with this Oil, and consecrated Queen …’
On the day of the 2023 Coronation, and in the revised order of service, the words used were: ‘By the power of the same Spirit, grant that this holy oil may be for thy servant Charles a sign of joy and gladness ….’
This is all very intriguing. Whose decision was it to change the wording used since 1702 to that included in the original authorised liturgy published for 2023? What was the theological reason used for the change? Surely the change wasn’t just something nobody had thought about and discussed.
And then, once those words had been published, from where did the impetus come to make the change within days of the actual coronation? Did the Archbishop get ‘cold theological feet’ in being the first of his office to bless the oil publicly in over 330 years? Or maybe the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, who had already ‘co-consecrated’ (the word used in the CofE commentary) the oil were upset that this apparently was not enough and ABC had to give his own blessing? I note the revised texts now refers to holy oil, maybe to emphasise its existing state of consecration.
Will we ever know?
Paul Kingdom 13th May 2023