The Queen’s Obsequies

Tradition is the latest thing but only the upper case variety can unite and heal Western culture

GIVEN that no pope has ever attended the funeral of an English monarch, the current successor of Saint Peter and Vicar of Christ – whose commission is a millennium and a half older than the post-Henrician oaths and undertakings sworn by the late Queen Elizabeth II – offended nobody by not joining other world leaders in Westminster Abbey last Monday. Popes do not attend the funerals of presidents, prime ministers or even sovereigns. Which is a uniquely lamentable pity at this time in history. As the world watched, impressed and enthralled by the formalities, many Catholic lovers of the Vetus Ordo Mass must have been sighing over stupidly squandered opportunities. A liturgy recognisable to my parents’ generation and already a thousand years old when St Peter’s Abbey at Westminster was built (to use its correct name), the ancient Mass was restricted last year by the same Pope Francis to the point of interdiction. In an apostolic letter gas-lit with the sick joke title Traditionis custodes (Guardians of Tradition), the Argentinian Yosemite Sam who hunts orthodox Catholics like so many Bugs Bunnies made the epically foolish decision that there was no spiritual market for hallowed ways. Only a communist could be so dumb.

There are layers of irony and paradox here far thicker than the Pope’s sour decree but, whether a communist or not, his liturgical iconoclasm wasn’t inspired by Marx or Lenin. The ogre who ordered the massacre of the Romanovs to deny the Whites any “live banner to rally around” would, however, recognise his intent. Alarmed by the popularity of the old Mass, Francis wants to obliterate it from history and memory. After the triumph of royal tradition in the UK, this makes the current pope of Rome akin to King Henry VIII and the current King of England akin to Pope Paul III. Nobody saw that role reversal coming. But can gorgeous uniforms, shimmering helmets and equine arrayal replace spirituality? No. Will they inspire a revival of Christian orthodoxy after the dung on the Mall is hosed away? No. Peter Hitchens argues the Queen’s funeral was meaningless to most. “A largely Godless establishment had to sit through the beautiful, severe solemnities – which the Queen loved and they either loathe or simply don’t understand.”

Anyone who has studied the history of the Eastern Orthodox and the Great Schism will know that ‘Byzantine’ has earned its right to be an adjective for maddening complexity. Arguably, you cannot understand Vladimir Putin if you do not understand ‘filioque’. (As far as I know, this f-word hasn’t been mentioned in any of the hundreds of hot, delving takes on the Russian mind). If ‘Anglican’, by contrast, still evokes a notion at all it would be something between elegant restraint and contented befuddlement. Of its beauties and traditions – which are really the vestiges of merrie old Catholic England (but denuded of the sacraments they formerly conveyed) – nobody in our time has written more sublimely than Hitchens. His 2016 panegyric, A Church That Was, is a masterpiece. And yet none of its more than 3000 words on “the beauty of holiness” are “Jesus” or “Christ.” In a country where anti-Catholicism remains institutionally ingrained, high churchmen are still class conscious and scaffold-shy of ‘enthusiasm.’ Aesthetics are much safer.

We loved the pageantry but its requisites were only a marshal, a wardrobe, the will and the Brasso; Anglicanism itself, alas, requires the suspension of disbelief. Owing to the illogical oddities of the monarch’s invented ecclesiastical office and the 1707 Act of Union, the late Queen was at once the Supreme Governor of the Church of England – whose bishops believe themselves to be successors of the Apostles – and a protestant of no lofty rank in Scotland. For that reason, Damian Thompson points out that Elizabeth died at Balmoral a Presbyterian. There is nothing unfortunate about that. Indeed, her tetchy dislike of chasubles, her unwillingness to be seen receiving Communion and her preference for the gloomy Calvinist rites of Crathie Kirk near the castle prove she was low church by disposition. But it does make the far from spare ceremonies attending her farewell incongruous and occasionally silly. A reading by the female ‘Bishop’ of London? The Princess Royal dressed as an ‘admiral’? King Charles the ‘Defender of the Faith?’ Yes, had he been there, Pope Francis could have learned something about tradition as a unifying force for good. Christian Tradition, however, is never founded on falsehoods. Both he and Charles III might have profited by contemplating the difference – as could we all now that the channel has changed.

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12 Responses to The Queen’s Obsequies

  1. NoFixedAddress says:

    An impressive ‘sweep’ of history C.L.

    Much appreciated and thank you.

  2. Entropy says:

    At least anglicans and Presbyterians don’t pray to dead idols.

  3. Entropy says:

    But you are correct on the big picture, just couldn’t resist the snark.

  4. Not Trampis says:

    Alas there is no one vicar of Christ. Every Christian (saint) is a vicar of christ.
    The funeral was anything but calvinist and she directed how things were to go.

  5. C.L. says:

    I didn’t say the funeral was Calvinist.
    I said the rites at Crathie Kirk were.

    The funeral was anything but calvinist and she directed how things were to go.

    She did not “direct” the rites for her funeral service at Westminster Abbey (where the Church of Scotland obviously has no say). She left directions for the ceremonies attending her coffin’s carriage. As Thompson points out, the monarch ‘becomes’ a protestant in the north and an Anglican again in the south. It makes no sense whatsoever but that is the pretense necessitated by the Act of Union.

  6. Franx says:

    Thank you for the piece, CL, from which I am led to think that I’m not sure the service was a matter of tradition if tradition is about knowing that others have given to what is the ongoing. It was a fine, pointedly Protestant service, with, eg, only English musical composers, and Vera Lynn as the muse in the sermon. But perhaps Welby was constrained by royal command. Not the slightest hint of anything, anywhere that was in any way, dare I say, Latin, or even from the early church fathers. The Scriptural readings were a study in dramatic presentation. The sung Psalms, though, were calls to prayer for a passing soul, especially if the congregants had the words in their order of service to speak of the soul, like a deer that longs for running streams, longing for God. So not Godless, then. I can’t recall a cross anywhere, but maybe there was. Even so, the Pope would not have been at home in the place and its event. Perhaps if he watched it all he might come to see the difference between tradition and other forms of repetitive enactments.

  7. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “As Thompson points out, the monarch ‘becomes’ a protestant in the north and an Anglican again in the south. It makes no sense whatsoever but that is the pretense necessitated by the Act of Union.”

    Correct. It’s an oddity.

  8. Entropy says:

    Although she wasn’t Hindu when she visited India.

  9. rosie says:

    Who prays to dead idols?

  10. C.L. says:

    Entropy, it wasn’t my intention to offend Anglicans. They are not responsible for a historical tragedy centuries ago. I have written of my admiration for the Queen many times and that I regarded her as a very fine Christian woman. The denominations and all people of good will in the Judeo-Christian family of cultures should grow in unity to transform a world in thrall to evil as never before. Certainly, as a Catholic I have my own beliefs about what unification entails in salvation history.

    Perhaps if he watched it all he might come to see the difference between tradition and other forms of repetitive enactments.

    Franx, I don’t think tradition is anything other than “repetitive enactments” – which can be efficacious and uplifting (or not). What I’m interested in here is differentiating the tradition you’re referring to from Sacred Tradition. The intersection of both is prayer (or worship), according to the old maxim lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of what is prayed is the law of what is believed. If belief is sundered from Sacred Tradition, the rites of worship will cease to be authentic and catholic – however aesthetically pleasing they may be.

  11. Franx says:

    Tradition is a living and lived experience and no mere reenactment of a past. Tradition is an entering into the event, although no doubt there are far more informed ways of expressing it all. Yet Pope Francis seems to see tradition as something of a backward step and a mere reenactment of past practice – which is why I thought perhaps if he had a mind to think about the Queen’s funeral he might come to see the difference between the two, noting the ways in which tradition as reenactment and is neither authentic tradition nor sacred, lived tradition enabling of hierophanies – the latter form of tradition being one he has to date found displeasing, when really, he has only spoken of it as if it were the former.

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