On the morning after the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey, Archbishop Wilson welcomed a large congregation to St George's Cathedral in Southwark for a Mass in Thanksgiving, during which he offered the following homily.
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Coronation
of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla,
Did you watch the historic Coronation Service of King Charles and Queen Camilla in Westminster Abbey yesterday? I suspect that many, if not most of us did; and I wonder what word or image captured, for you, the significance of all that took place? I was moved deeply by the self-evident affection between King Charles and Prince William when, after promising his allegiance, Prince William kissed his father tenderly on the cheek.
The first words spoken at the Coronation Service were a simple, yet amazing, greeting and response. They not only set the context for the ceremony that followed, but for the entirety of his Majesty’s reign. A child, a young chorister from the Chapel Royal, addressed King Charles saying: ‘Your Majesty, as children of the kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.’ It was a greeting in the name of us all, a greeting resonant with the Gospel, a greeting centred on a King and Kingdom not of this world. For sure, the identity of this King of Kings needs no explanation for a disciple. It is Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; the Son of God by whose cross and resurrection humanity has been redeemed.
This King of Kings is the pivotal building block, the keystone at the apex of a soaring arch, supporting all the other stones, giving each its place, and drawing us upwards towards the things of heaven. The Gospels record that, during his time on earth, this King was rejected; and still today many reject him by indifference, even through hostility. But this King of Kings, Jesus Christ, was chosen by God who is our Father and his Father. He is precious to God and precious to us in his Church. United to Christ in baptism, we seek to live through faithful discipleship as living stones today, shaped by Christ and built upon him. Together, we form a spiritual house of faith where Christ is the touchstone and guarantor of holiness. To see Christ is to see the Father. To know Christ is to know the Heavenly Father who sent him.
Every Kingdom, to stand firm and to endure, needs strong foundations. The King of Kings is himself this foundation. He is the living stone on which our existence and everything of value depends. He is the bedrock for everything authentically human and truly divine.
Christ calls out to every person with a loving invitation: ‘Come and follow me, let me share my life with you.’ In Christ, we form a royal priesthood. We are consecrated and set apart for God’s praise. The King of Kings is a victorious King who calls us from the inky darkness of shadows and fear into a light that is happy and glorious, a light of everlasting hope and eternal life. All of this, dear brother and sisters, is captured in those few opening words spoken at the Coronation Service: ‘Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.’
The beauty of that greeting was complemented by the remarkable response of King Charles: ‘In his name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.’ All the pomp and ceremony, all the gold, jewels, crowns, rods, orb, robes, music and carriages, all this, and more, concerning the Coronation, flows from, and only makes sense through, the sacrificial service offered by Christ: Christ who is the Way that leads to the Father; Christ who is the Truth that enlightens our minds; Christ who is the Life that lasts forever.
The dialogue between that child and our King reminded me of His Majesty’s first Christmas Message last year when King Charles recalled a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem which commemorates where the Christ-child was born: ‘There, I went down into the Chapel of the Manger,’ he said ‘and stood in silent reverence by the silver star that is inlaid on the floor and marks the place of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth. It meant more to me than I can possibly express,’ said King Charles, ‘to stand on that spot where, as the Bible tells us, ‘the light that has come into the world’ was born.’
It is in the name of that child, the Son of God and the Light of the World, and after his unique example of service, that our Sovereign Head of State pledged himself to serve. The Lord Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He showed that unquestioning service is the pathway, the highway, for every disciple who wants to live as a child of God’s Kingdom.
A potent moment in the Coronation Service saw King Charles take off the Robe of State to present himself before God in a simple shirt, prepared for anointing as were the ancient Kings of Israel. The rich symbolism signalled that human power and authority only has full meaning when placed humbly into God’s service, when underpinned by God’s commandments, when opened, in faith, to God’s direction and loving-kindness. We look to King Charles, and to Queen Camilla, to continue to witness that Christian service knows no boundaries, admits no divisions, nor imposes any limits. Together, as people of goodwill we can all contribute to the common good of our communities and nations. Each one of us can pledge to serve our neighbour in their need. Humility and generosity are the jewels of our shared life of loving one another without discrimination. Each of us is to be clothed with the gold of charity and the crown of compassion. Anointed with gladness we seek that kingdom of peace and justice where all that is true and good and beautiful receives homage and honour.
Last week, we celebrated the Feast of the English Martyrs. The years following the Reformation were a desperately challenging time for Catholics, with priests, religious and laity persecuted and killed for their faith. It is testament to an incredible journey of reconciliation that six Catholic bishops were present at the Coronation yesterday, including representatives of the Vatican. It is testimony to the journey of reconciliation that Pope Francis should gift a relic of the True Cross to King Charles for the Coronation processional cross, and that an English Cardinal should participate in the ceremony by leading a prayer. Here we are taught an important lesson embedded in the Gospel: reconciliation is possible. It may take time. There may be obstacles on the road. It may not be easy, but we can be reconciled. With effort, patience and prayer, we can find healing - in our lives and families, within our communities and between nations.
When Pope St Paul VI celebrated the canonisation of forty Catholic Martyrs of the Reformation era in Rome on 25 October 1970, he said this: ‘such was the greatness of their spirit that many of them died with prayers on their lips for the country they loved so much [and] for the King or Queen.’ It is deep within our Catholic spirit to love our country and to pray for our Sovereign. King Charles and Queen Camilla have set themselves to be servants after the heart and mind and example of the Lord Jesus. We seek to do the same and to pray for Their Majesties and for our lands.
we pray, that your servant Charles, our King,
who, by your providence has received the governance of this realm,
may continue to grow in every virtue, that, imbued with your heavenly grace, he may be preserved from all that is harmful and evil
and, being blessed with your favour may,
with Queen Camilla and the royal family, come at last into your presence, through Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, who leads us to you and to your House, O loving Father, and who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.