The anointing of a king
This is Coronation Weekend, the first in England in seventy years, and we keep King Charles in our prayers. None of us can imagine the immensity of the burden he assumed upon the death of his mother, our late Queen Elizabeth II, but we can help lighten the weight not just by our support of him, but most importantly by our prayers. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols on 9th March assured His Majesty “of the support and prayers of the Catholic people of England and Wales.” Our 10.30am Mass on Monday morning will be a Votive Mass of St Augustine of Canterbury at which we will be asking for God’s blessing on our King, the same Mass as was celebrated on the eve of the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
I am writing this on Tuesday afternoon, so by the time most of you read this, the King would have already been crowned. All but three coronations since the time of William the Conqueror in 1066 have been performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey, and many of the ceremonies of the coronation are Catholic in origin. The most sacred part of the rite, even more so than the actual crowning itself, is the anointing which goes back to the Middle Ages. It was seen as a renewal of the anointing by Samuel of King David in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 16:13). For our Catholic ancestors, this was more than a sign. It was a sacramental and gave them a participation in the Kingship of Christ, thus giving the Monarch authority to rule. Apparently the anointing of most monarchs was done with the Oil of Catechumens (used at Baptisms), but by special Papal permission, the Monarchs of England, Scotland, France, Sicily and Jerusalem were anointed with the Oil of Chrism (the same oil used in Confirmation and in Ordinations of bishops and priests). What is particularly significant about the Oil of Chrism which will be used in the anointing of King Charles is that it was very recently consecrated in Jerusalem by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem assisted by the Anglican Archbishop of the same city. This means that for the first time since the Coronation of James II in 1685, the Chrism used to anoint the King of Great Britain will have been consecrated by a Bishop with the Apostolic Succession. The Apostolic Succession was lost by the Anglican Communion after the Reformation. So this will mean that the anointing of Charles III will be a true sacramental which has certain graces attached to it. The King will be anointed on the hands, breast, and head by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and so sacred is this moment that it will be done behind an embroidered screen (formerly a canopy was used), and will be hidden from public view and the TV cameras. As the Archbishop anoints the King, he will say, “Be thy head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests and prophets were anointed. And as Solomon was anointed by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated King over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to govern.” Many commentators have said that so similar is this to the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick or Extreme Unction, that it’s a bit like an eighth sacrament!
So let us all do our best to support King Charles and Queen Camilla especially at this time of the Coronation. In the words of the old prayer for the Sovereign traditionally sung at the end of High Mass: “O Lord, save Charles our King, now by Thy mercy reigning over us. Adorn Him yet more with every virtue. Remove all evil from his path. Amen.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC