“Have you no ability to be amazed?” – Pope Francis, in speaking recently to a convocation of Church leaders.
What is amazing is some of the responses to the death of the Queen. A Nigerian assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University tweeted that she hoped the last hours of the Queen would be excruciatingly painful. Other American commentators rushed to attach racism and colonialism to her person.
Forgetting she was Head of State not Head of Government, some thought the remarks are nevertheless protected from government interference (school authorities) by the 1st Amendment Free Speech Clause. While the view that Great Britain is a “thieving, raping, genocidal empire” is protected, the personal “I’m wishing her an agonizingly painful death” is not. The President of the University should know the difference.
The attacks aside, the public has been privileged to witness in great detail the amazing ceremony around her death and the accession of King Charles III. Ceremony is the glue that binds the citizens of Great Britain to its Constitutional Monarchy. Great Britain’s Constitution is unwritten, made up of statutes and common law that go back more than a thousand years. So, too, the ritual.
The Death of the Queen began with an announcement:
“The Queen is under medical supervision.” Her immediate family is called to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. At the moment of death, Charles is King – a seamless transition without sentimentality.
The flag at Buckingham Palace is lowered to half-staff as public notification.
A 96-gun salute, for each of the Queen’s years of life, is heard throughout London.
The next day a public Service of Prayer and Reflection is held at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“We give thanks for a life of devotion to God. . . and of devotion to all her people.”
King Charles speaks to the nation as those in the Cathedral listen.
“I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the time God grants me, to uphold the Constitutional principles at the heart of our nation.”
An Accession Council formally proclaims Charles, King.
“We therefore. . .do acknowledge all faith and obedience with humble affection, beseeching God by whom kings and queens do reign to bless his majesty with long and happy years to reign over us.”
The new King takes an Oath to secure the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and to surrender his Crown revenues.
Trumpeters proclaim the Accession of the King. Coldstream Guards lay down their weapons and kneel, only to rise and cheer, bearskin hats removed in a show of respect. A Proclamation is read at the Royal Exchange and other places in the realm. All are attired in ancient and symbolic finery.
What should we, as Americans, make of the elaborate uniforms, of the perfection of pomp, of each and every formality that goes back to the foundations of Western Civilization? Did the American experiment in a written Constitution improve upon the Motherland?
The answer is “yes” and “no.”
America wanted to show the world that our government could be frugal and simple. We rejected the elaborate. George Washington wore a simple brown suit at his inaugural in 1789. In his remarks after taking the Oath of Office, he hoped for “temperate consultations” and “wise measures” for the success of the country.
We wanted to show the world that “ordinary” men and women are equal to a birthright aristocracy. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” There would be no titles of nobility in the federal government or any state. Article I, sections 9 and 10, US Constitution.
In rejecting monarchy and embracing a written Constitution Americans wanted to show that the union of our colonies could be accomplished with greater harmony and more security than that of the union of Scotland and England in 1707. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union. . .” is our first mission. Preamble, US Constitution.
And yet, without the equivalent of the impeccable George Washington, without temperate consultations, wise measures, and a pious people, America has no safety net. America is in a cultural, governmental, and religious free fall of putrefying corruption, evil private practices, political censorship, and vicious canceling.
The ancient ceremonies, the beautiful horses, and the pageantry established over eons of time provide that safety net for the British realm. However bad their Kings and Queens; however corrupt their Prime Ministers; however incompetent their Parliaments; there is hope in their ancient unchanging ceremony.
The Queen, in her dignity and selflessness, indirectly invited her people to follow her lead and feel comfort and safety in the shadow of her restraint. If, however, a King or Queen falls short of her near-perfect example, comfort and safety can still be felt in the changeless traditions.
For America, as our treasures of the past are dismantled by the uninformed and classless, we have only our once-noble intentions and deep faith to save us. Our vaulted written Constitution is now just an abused piece of paper. For many in America:
“Sometimes I feel like a Motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless child
A long ways from home.
Motherless children have such a hard time
Motherless children have a really hard time
Motherless children have such a really hard time
A long ways from home.”
Traditional, from before the Civil War.
We would be amazed, Pope Francis, if someone as fine as Elizabeth II emerged to set an example of leadership for the American people.