Catholic threads in the coronation

King Charles has always given the impression of a man all too aware of his place in history.

Much has been made about his aspirations to be a defender of faith, rather than the faith. Years ago, the comments caused a stir in the press amid anxieties about a changing Britain. Today, one wonders if they would appear in the press at all.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond told The Scottish Catholic that he supported the decision by the then-Prince of Wales.

“Of course, this is often thought of as an English title but the first king in these isles to be called the Defender of the Faith was King James IV by Pope Julius II, the warrior Pope,” he said.

The comments spotlighted Charles’ focus on ecumenism which have come to the forefront in the lead up to the Coronation.

“Some people think of him as a syncretist, but I don’t think that at all,” historian Charles Coulombe told The Scottish Catholic.

“What I see is that he has to rule over a people of many different religions while maintaining his own,” he said.

Coulombe pointed to the Cold War as having impressed upon the future king’s thinking, growing up in a world divided starkly divided having a place for religious faith and not.

The result has been likely the most Catholic coronation since the reformation.

“Apart from the oath where he will swear he is a Protestant, most of the coronation ceremony and ritual goes back to 1685 to the Anglican rite that was approved by the Pope in Rome for James VII & II to receive,” Coulombe said.

Historically, Catholic kings would be anointed with the oil of catechumens during their coronation as a symbol of the royal priesthood.

“However,” Coulombe said, “successive popes gave five different countries the right to anoint their kings with chrism. Those countries were, France, Sicily, Jerusalem, England, and Scotland.

“What makes it interesting for Catholics this time is that for the first time since 1685, that chrism has been consecrated by a bishop who we believe to be in Holy Orders.

The chrism oil was consecrated in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, alongside its Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum.

The Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols will also play a part in the ceremony, the first Catholic bishop to do so in hundreds of years.

Cardinal Nichols, who will bless King Charles, said that until the sixteenth century, ‘the coronation was Catholic. For the last four hundred years it has been a service of the Church of England and it remains so.’

“But this time many aspects of the event reflect and strengthen the utterly changed relationships between our two churches,” he said.

One significant example is the relic of the True Cross of Christ gifted by Pope Francis to Charles, which, fashioned into a silver cross, will head the procession.

“Most Catholic countries would have their own set of crown jewels and a processional cross was part of the kit, as you might say,” Coulombe said.

“But that was not the case in Britain.”

Known as the Cross of Wales, it was gifted to the king by the Anglican Church in Wales. Its use will be shared with the Catholic Church in another gesture towards ecumenism.

And, in a pro-Celtic move not uncommon from Charles, the Veni Creator will be offered partly in English, Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic.

During the service itself, the Gloria will be recited in Latin, composed by recusant Catholic William Byrd.

“And of course, his taking the name Charles was itself interesting because it was always said that he would take the name George to honour his grandfather,” Coulombe said.

“We know that Charles is a very Stuart, Catholic connotation, but that did not bother him nor did it stop him. They’ve gone a long way to make this coronation more Catholic.”

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