Alcuin Club

The Alcuin Club

Promoting the Study of Liturgy

The Alcuin Club

Promoting the Study of Liturgy

The Coronation Liturgy

The Alcuin Club is launching a new research blog. Contributions are welcome, either in response to this post, or other current projects and concerns. Please email [email protected].

Following the publication of the The Authorised Liturgy for the Coronation Rite of His Majesty King Charles III on 29 April, The Rev Paul Kingdom has written this initial reflection on the liturgy, 2023 Coronation liturgy – a Seventh Recension?

I set down some initial thoughts following a first reading of the liturgy for the forthcoming coronation. I do so not as an expert but has someone interested in the subject. They are just my initial ramblings and jottings and not fully researched. The intention is to provoke or start comments and discussions.

Of course, liturgy is far more than just words and rubric. It will be fascinating to see these words brought to life in the space and movements within the Abbey and enriched with the sounds of music and singing on the day.

Until then, here are some comments:

  1. There is no reference to the litany being said or sung in the Abbey prior to the service. Until 1911 this was part of the service providing a prayerful time near the beginning of the service.
  2. The actual service begins again with Parry’s setting of Psalm 122 with the usual acclamation by the scholars of Westminster School. However, there is a new greeting by a junior scholar to set the scene of ‘the one who comes to serve’ – possibly derived from the greeting in use for a new Archbishop as they arrive at the West Door of Canterbury Cathedral.
  3. The Archbishop begins with the Easter acclamation and a new greeting/bidding. This is beginning to look like a Common Worship rite.
  4. Kyries are then sung representing the only penitential rite within this new service. They are sung in Welsh which could possibly be the first time since the coronation of Elizabeth I that a language other than English has been used (apart from the use of Latin in the coronation of George I as he couldn’t understand English). It is interesting to note that other languages from the home nations will be used later.
  5. The same words are to be used for the Recognition as in 1953 apart from the omission of the opening ‘Sirs’. It is important to acknowledge that this is the first coronation in which women play an active part in the liturgy other than, of course, being the sovereign or a consort.

The repetition of the Recognition at the four sides of the theatre, previously said by the Archbishop of Canterbury, is now undertaken by others, thereby giving greater inclusion and diversity. Another central theme of this rite.

  1. The Presentation of the Bible is something introduced in 1689 and its position has moved again in this service to before the oath. The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland again fulfils this role as his predecessor did in 1953 – being then the first and only ecumenical involvement. He is now permitted to say all the words of presentation!
  2. The Oath follows the Coronation Oath Act 1688. I think it is the only part of the liturgy enacted by Parliament. As announced in Parliament recently, it is identical to those in the coronations of 1937 and 1953, although the names of the Commonwealth realms are now omitted – presumably because they currently number fifteen compared to the six in 1953. A lot has been written about the relevance, or lack of it, of the oath as relating to the society of 21st century Britain. The role of the Church of England within the oath is now set in context with new words spoken by the Archbishop as he invites the King to take the oath These words follow the late Queen Elizabeth’s spoken understanding of the role of the established church.
  3. The anthem that follows is one of the BCP collects to be used to conclude a service of ante-communion. Another of those collects will be used as a post communion prayer.
  4. We next have another innovation with the King himself praying aloud the new King’s Prayer picking up the themes of service, diversity and inclusion.
  5. The Gloria follows in the position we would expect it in Common Worship. This is to be sung in Latin. Another departure from an exclusively English said and sung service. In 1953 an introit to the communion service was sung at this point.
  6. The Archbishop prays a Collect specially written for this service but in traditional language. It follows the theme of loving service which runs through the whole liturgy and could be thought of as a legacy from the late Queen as the direction in which she led the monarchy during her long reign. This prayer is said using traditional language which seems to predominate in the liturgy, despite the structure being within a Common Worship framework.
  7. There are new choices for both the Epistle and Gospel readings reflecting the underlying theme. The Epistle is now read by the Prime Minister rather than a Bishop or Archbishop. This seems to be a role for the PM of the day at non-marriage royal services – at least since the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (excluding the Queen Mother’s funeral).

For the Gospel there are Common Worship acclamations and responses – but again in traditional language and verses from Psalm 47 are sung as a gradual and after the Gospel reading.

The readings are taken from the King James Bible. It is interesting to note the Bible version used on state and other royal occasions. In recent decades NRSV has been used for royal weddings and jubilee thanksgiving services. However, the King James Bible has remained for funerals or memorial services. One exception was the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh which took place under COVID restrictions in 2021 – the first reading in that service was from the New English Bible (at least I think it was but it was taken from the apocrypha and I don’t have NEB version of the apocrypha) and the second lesson from the Revised Standard Version. Is this the only time translations other than the KJB or NRSV have been used on a royal occasion?

  1. A Sermon returns for the first time since 1911. Probably a useful opportunity to help set some context to the day for the many millions that will be bewildered by the elaborate rite. I think in 1937, like the Litany, it was removed to reduce the length of the whole service. This new service certainly won’t be short.
  2. The Anointing begins with the singing of Veni Creator but not just in English but in all the languages of the home nations.

The Archbishop then 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’. See 16 below about the Crown.

The choir will be singing the anthem drawn from 1 Kings 1 – Zadok the priest – to the setting composed for George II’s coronation in 1727 by Handel – probably the best known of the coronation music. It is interesting to note that a setting of these words was first used at the coronation of king Edgar in 973.

In this age of intrusive large photo lenses used by the media and mobile phone cameras recording practically every incident private and public, this part of the service, a supremely intimate moment between sovereign and God, is to be made even more private with the introduction of new screens. These will shield on three sides and only be open in the direction towards the high altar so the Archbishop can anoint. He does so with the same prayer as used in 1953 although with reference to the Holy Spirit rather than Ghost.

  1. The Investiture of regalia following is an opportunity to involve people of other faiths where items do not have a particular Christian significance. For the spurs and sword, the prayers used are basically the same as in 1953 – some of the wording has changed – no longer for the ‘terror and punishment of evildoers’ but ‘resist evil and defend the good’ but some have not: e.g. ‘defend widows and orphans’ (would ‘protect the vulnerable and powerless’ be better?). To the words ‘protect the holy Church of God’ has been added ‘and all people of goodwill’ as a nod to other faiths.

During the exchange of swords Psalm 71 is sung in Greek – recognising the King’s paternal heritage.

Although the diversity of people presenting various items has changed, all the words are still spoken by the Archbishop. Some words are changed necessary for incorporating other faiths. It is also interesting to note that some individual words are omitted such as ‘Imperial’ Although in this context it has nothing to do with the British Empire but is an important understanding of the King’s sovereignty and not owing allegiance to other temporal rulers. Similarly, the ‘empire’ of Christ is now referred to the ‘kingdom’ of Christ.

The regalia with Christian symbols are presented by other Anglicans from the British nations i.e. the orb by the Archbishop of Armagh and the sceptre and rod by the Archbishop of Wales and the Primus of Scotland.

  1. Crowning: the blessing of the crown was a change in the 1953 coronation – refer to my earlier to comments about the Reformed Church and the blessing of inanimate objects. Prior to 1953 the blessing was on the sovereign rather than the crown. The words now used are similar to 1953. I would like to know who made the change in 1953 and why?
  2. Following the crowning there is an ecumenical opportunity with the Blessing of the new sovereign. This blessing has been rewritten for this occasion.
  3. The words at the Enthroning omit reference to this being at the hands of the church and also exclude the word ‘imperial’ despite, as mentioned above, it having its important and what should be non-controversial, mediaeval meaning.
  4. Much has been made of the changes to the This is now restricted to the Archbishop on behalf of the church and the Prince of Wales on behalf of ‘Royal blood’. Non-royal lay homage being restricted solely to the hereditary peerage was an anachronism in 1937 and 1953 and would have been absurd in 2023. The decision that all should be invited to participate in a ‘Homage of the People’ whether inside the Abbey or by electronic means anywhere in the world maybe an innovation suggested by the use of virtual worship during the COVID pandemic.

It is interesting to note that, following the enthroning, the coronation itself is strictly at an end. The homage was added in the 14th century in the Liber Regalis. There is no reason that the homage could not take place at another time or in another location. That was the case for the coronations of Richard I John and Henry III, acknowledging that this is a secular act which was then done by the nobles some days after the coronation in Westminster Hall. This could have been an opportunity to directly involve leaders of other faiths, politicians, civic leaders, leaders of industry, trade unionists, representative of health workers and other public services etc.

  1. The Coronation of the Queen then follows as it did in 1937 and before. Simple words of anointing are used and this is in public. Some words used during this act have been amended as they are out of date – praying that a person should be ‘an example of virtue and piety’ just because of their gender may have been appropriate to mediaeval society but not in 2023.
  2. The Communion service follows or rather continues – the Service of the Word having already been incorporated in the earlier part of the rite. This is now the Common Worship ‘shape’ using basically Order One with traditional language. Of course, this extensively draws on BCP particularly as it uses Eucharistic prayer C in traditional language – that being basically the BCP prayer of consecration with the addition of the words ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’ as an epiclesis and adding the BCP post communion prayer of oblation.

There is no Creed (following the Gospel), no confession (the Kyries at the start of the service presumably being sufficient), no ‘Prayers for the church militant’ or any other prayers of intercession and no prayer of humble access. All emphasising this is not BCP.

The prayer over the gifts is ancient being taken from the Liber Regalis. The Sanctus is sung but there is no Benedictus – following BCP. The Lord’s Prayer is printed in updated traditional form with an invitation for all to pray it in their own language and tradition.

Only five people receive communion being the King, Queen, Archbishop and two assisting bishops. The words of administration are those from the 1662 prayer book. As previously noted the post communion prayer is one of the collects printed in BCP for use to conclude a service of ante-communion.

  1. The Final Blessing by the Archbishop is written for this service. There follows another congregational hymn – there are now two congregational hymns compared to the one introduced in 1953.
  2. The Te Deum written by Walton for 1953 is sung whilst the King and Queen are in St Edward’s Chapel changing for the Recession. There then follows the national anthem. The service is now concluded but there is an important interfaith moment as the King departs. He receives greetings from a number of faith leaders. They do this by saying set words in unison. On the day we will not be able to hear these words. It would be inappropriate for the Chief Rabbi to have his words electronically amplified on the Jewish Sabbath.

In conclusion, I think there is little doubt that this is a new recension of the English coronation rite. It will be the seventh. Historically, major recensions seem to occur every three to four hundred years – if we think of the major recensions being Dunstan’s order 973, the Liber Regalis of the early 14th century and the ‘modern’ service from the 1680s. Therefore, we could say that a new recension is now due. Will it last for the next 300 years?

Paul Kingdom
1 May 2023