I thoroughly enjoyed watching the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and the coronation of King Charles III, which heightened our awareness of royalty when we recently visited Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The Scandinavian countries have monarchs, but they don't wear crowns and have no coronation ceremonies, as our guides appeared to take pride in telling us.

As a child of the 60's, I was quite familiar with the sentiment, "Why should we get married? We don't need a piece of paper to validate our love!"

Many Protestant Christian churches look askance at liturgy, formality, and ceremony in worship.

Nuns and priests are no longer clearly distinguishable by their clothing.

In languages that distinguish between formal and familiar pronouns (e.g. French vous/tu or German Sie/Du), use of the familiar form has become widespread.

Adults have largely dropped the use of titles with other adults. (Except for doctors, who stubbornly insist on being called "Dr. So-and-So" all the while calling their patients by first name.) When I was young, my parents used Mr., Mrs., and Miss when speaking of or to anyone with whom they would have used the pronoun "vous" had they been speaking French. And even their closest friends retained the titles when they were spoken of in front of children. As the years passed, I watched this dissolve, as most of our own friends specifically did not want any honorific, unless it was the compromise of a non-relational "Aunt" or "Uncle." In some families children even call their parents by first name.

Why? Why this suspicion of anything formal, polite, or respectful? Is it from humility, or more precisely the feeling that others should be humble? Or because we have been taught to see excellence in manners as undemocratic, as C. S. Lewis observed in Screwtape Proposes a Toast? Or perhaps because we believe it hypocritical to honor those whose behavior has demonstrated that they don't deserve our respect?

On the contrary.

We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.

When I first met the man who turned out to be one of my favorite pastors ever, he surprised me by asking us to call him "Father." Years of Evangelical Christian sensibilities were not ready for that. But I liked his explanation: Use of the title was an ever-present reminder that the office of priest—his calling, his vocation—was a higher and better thing than the man filling it.

In the military, you salute the uniform, not the man. A couple in love does not need "a piece of paper" to prove it, but the promises, the ceremony, and the legal standing serve to uphold that love when it is tested and struggling. Maintaining historical liturgy can help keep a church from descending into apostasy even in the hands of a heretical priest. Blurring the line between adults and children opens the door to unhealthy disrespect and even child abuse. And sometimes parents need reminding that it's our turn to be the adults in a relationship, and to act accordingly.

Watching the two recent British ceremonies, knowing the difficulties and just plain terrible behavior that beset the Royal Family, I could almost see them rising to the occasion, becoming better, at least briefly, as they conformed themselves to the customs and expectations of their positions. If I lived under a monarchy, even a constitutional monarchy, I think I'd want my king to be upheld by the traditions and trappings that encourage him to act more wisely and righteously than he is by nature.

We have pomp, ceremony, rituals, oaths, symbols, traditions, and manners not because we deserve them, but because we don't.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 3, 2023 at 9:21 pm | Edit
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