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“God Save the Queen...
...I mean it man”
In this article, I would like to highlight the importance of ritual and therefore liturgy. There is right now a great example of liturgy going on in London with Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. Though she is not Catholic the liturgy surrounding her death is extremely rare and important in this day and age.
I will, for the sake of argument, assume a few things about God. That God exists and Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God.
Because what I want to explain is not the existence of God, but the importance of why and how we worship Him.
A Defense of Ritual
No one, perhaps, but a sociologist can see whether General Booth's housing scheme is right. But any healthy person can see that banging brass cymbals together must be right. A page of statistics, a plan of model dwellings, anything which is rational, is always difficult for the lay mind. But the thing which is irrational any one can understand.
—Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton
There is a belief, or rather opinion, among certain people (especially Evangelical Christians) that the highly “ritualistic” form of worship among Catholics leads to a self-centered, empty, “not-caring” form of worship. While this can be true in some cases (you can get too caught up in ritual), a defense needs to be set up for the other side. In this essay I would like to offer a defense of rituals.
If I ever were to have the extreme privilege of meeting one of you in the street, the first thing I would do was grasp your hand, firmly, palm to palm, and shake vigorously.
Weird, huh? Why did I do this?
Watch the handshake in the first few seconds of this video. Trump is a master at hand shaking.
I did not seem to get any sort of benefit from this act. If aliens saw me, they would say “what the heck is that ignorant earthling doing?”
But, as I am sure you know, I got an enormous benefit from it. Not physical, but mental.
We just acknowledged each other’s presences. Seriously, I have kept friendships for years using this one act.
This act can also be called a ritual. It is a useless, unnecessary act that has meaning.
Another example of a ritual is dinner. We go to enormous lengths just for the undignified pleasure of shoving foreign substances through a hole in our head!
‘ “In a world without humour,” he said, “the only thing to do is to eat. And how perfect an exception! How can these people strike dignified attitudes, and pretend that things matter, when the total ludicrousness of life is proved by the very method by which it is supported? A man strikes the lyre, and says, 'Life is real, life is earnest,' and then goes into a room and stuffs alien substances into a hole in his head. I think Nature was indeed a little broad in her humour in these matters.” ’
—The Napoleon of Notting Hill, by G.K. Chesterton
To those who think I am being silly or vulgar, my point is not necessarily that man is stupid.But, can you think of anything more poetic than stuffing alien substances into a hole in your head?
More seriously, the broader point I am making is that, the way we do things (whether ridiculous or not) is important. The fact that we perform such an undignified ceremony as eating in such a formal, dignified way testifies to the fact that it is extremely important.
Most modern secular heroes would not consider standing in front of a crowd of people in colorful vestments (from head to toe), and subject themselves to being covered in scented smoke as being a natural and dignified thing to do.
On the other hand, most Catholics see the types of men pictured as participating in a supernatural action that is worth imitating.
"It is absurd to say that a man is ready to toil and die for his convictions when he is not even ready to wear a wreath round his head for them. "
—Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton
We go to great lengths to convey meaning and life through basic actions—fork on one side, knife on the other.
However, the most important thing we do is Worship. If God is God, then we really need to Worship Him! It is actually the only proper response to that fact!
But we are not perfect. How do we know what to say when we Worship? How do we demonstrate that we care?
You could say that God “just knows” we care. That is true—until it isn’t. If we just sat around and said that, we would not care.
We then have to show we care by setting Worship apart. We dress differently, use only the best articles, and use elevated language. We light candles, play music, and make sweet smelling smoke.
When we perform ceremonies and rituals for God, we call it Liturgy.
Liturgy is not only for God, but for us. We need the worship God, because God is our Creator.
You want to know why Catholics have so many “smells and bells”?
It is because we care about Worship.
The Napoleon of Notting Hill
This book by G.K. Chesterton is one that I have already quoted a lot. In case you have not noticed, I am a huge fan, not only because he is so funny, but also that his critique of mankind is so deep. You may read a quote of his, and your head will explode, thinking that what he says does not make sense, and then you will realize that the quote is true, so true that your mind explodes the other way.
Returning to the book, it was G.K. Chesterton’s first. It was futuristic, and took place in 1984in an England that had departed from any sort of ritual. They chose the King at random, thinking that that was about as chancy as hoping the King would bring up his successor well. There was no revolt, for people thought that that would not make any good change. There was nothing but cosmopolitan shills in government, the King being a sort of universal secretary. The England of this universe is stagnant.
That is, until a young man named Auberon Quin is named King. Quin sees everything as being meant as a joke. He takes nothing seriously. Since he gets a kick out of it, he divides boroughs of London up all the into tiny little fiefdoms, with lesser-kings (called Provosts) in charge. Each borough has a wall, with gates that are closed at sunset, and a small army dressed in special uniforms. Basically, he enforced Medieval England on 1984 London by law.
There are many facets to the book that are riveting. There are battles, intrigue, and bravery. But the main point is this: at the end of the book, London has changed. The people love the city, are proud of their heritage, and will die for both.
“Fools, you go about and see the kingdoms of the earth, and are liberal and wise and cosmopolitan, which is all that the devil can give you—all that he could offer to Christ, only to be spurned away. I am doing what the truly wise do. When a child goes out into the garden and takes hold of a tree, saying, 'Let this tree be all I have,' that moment its roots take hold on hell and its branches on the stars. The joy I have is what the lover knows when a woman is everything. It is what a savage knows when his idol is everything. It is what I know when Notting Hill is everything. I have a city. Let it stand or fall.”
—Book V, Chapter II
What happened, really, is that London discovered ritual.
But how does this relate to now?
Bear with me…
“God Save the Queen, I really mean it man”
It only occurred to me lately what the expression “The King is dead, long live the King” meant. It acknowledges that the old King (or Queen) is dead, and that another King is now here (in this case King Charles III). Now it makes sense.
At the time of this writing, the Queen’s coffin is placed on a catafalque in Westminster Hall (the same hall where Thomas More was tried). Some people (and I would guess most), do not realize that they are participating in a liturgical event that has been in place for a millennium.
Those of you who go to the Ordinariate form of the Catholic Mass might recognize some of the patrimony in this clip.
The closest event like this that we have come to in this country is Kennedy’s Funeral. If only we could do the same now.
Some people see the death of the Queen as the passing of an era, and that Charles will be nothing like his mother. Others say that Elizabeth was a globalist and so is Charles, so at least one is out of the way. I am not informed on Elizabeth’s political opinions. I hope that she converted in her last moments, but I don’t know. However the Queen’s death and burial ritual is as important now as Saul’s death and burial.
Recall that Saul was the first King of Israel and he died persecuting David. David mourned Saul’s death and insisted that Saul was deserving of a proper funeral fit for a king. This was not because he was a good person or a good king, but because God had called him. It was important what they did to him.
There is one thing I do know about the Queen, though. While her body is not being “Requiem-ed” in the Catholic Church, there is a very deep respect being shown for her body. This body is inanimate, not quickened, without a soul, but it is still her body.
In other words, the ceremonies that are being gone through are those of centuries before. There might be some things that I don’t agree with in the Church of England (it not being Catholic, for one), but they are trying to do something, and in doing this something they are acknowledging that there is life after death.
If you thought that after your death there was just… nothing… you would not do these things. The thought of someone in nothing is not a pleasant one. But if there is life after death (either in heaven or… the other way) then there is a lot to do! We need to pray this person into heaven.
I did not initially realize that the Vigil of the Princes was a thing (also the vigil of the grandchildren). I could not believe that Charles III would stand vigil like that! Trust me, I am an Altar Server, and standing this long, with nothing to lean against, is not easy.
I would like to ask anyone who has gone to, or who will go to, anything relating to the Queen’s death, mourning, and burial (especially the Royals themselves) what do they think they are doing? Are they mourning a tragedy? Are they rejoicing at someone else ascending to the Throne?
What is all this about?
Maybe… just maybe… it is about something more than just emotion: Liturgy, Resurrection, and God.
“Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”
—1 Corinthians 15:12-14
You can see why, if someone doesn’t think there is anything after death (especially a Resurrection), they would default to cremation.
Michael Knowles on his show from the Daily Wire lays out the Catholic objection to cremation (though recently, the Church has allowed it - this link starts at the spot). He basically says that it mocks the Resurrection of the Body. Since our body and soul are inextricably linked, our body and soul will be reunited in Heaven. There we will be complete again. While it is said that we are “made from dust and to dust we shall return”, that does not mean we should jump the gun and make ourselves dust. By honoring the integrity of the body, we acknowledge that it will be reunited with their soul at the resurrection.
Therefore, I think that the pomp and circumstance around the Queen is actually a prime example of the importance of liturgy. If there is nothing after death, why bother? But if there is not only anything after death, but something after death, we better get bothering!
These statements made about God and his Church have not been evaluated by Heaven or The Catholic Church. They were made by an 18-year old young man who likes to write. They are not guaranteed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any spiritual condition or disease, nor are they guaranteed to be worded in the best and most accurate way. Please consult with your own priest, the Catechism, or God himself regarding the statements and analogies made in this article.
Man is not, any number of men might be.
A young English writer was once given a chance to write in Chesterton’s paper G.K. Weekly. His name was Eric Arthur Blair. He later went on to write another science fiction book that takes place in 1984 under the pen name George Orwell.
I here put in a note, as any good Scot should, that Charles should be Charles IV, because Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) should have been Charles III. Alas, Bonnie Prince Charlie is dead, had never ascended to the throne, and is buried in the Vatican, so I guess we cannot really count him.