The First Oblation

LEST the Sovereign be puffed up with pride upon hearing the triumphant sounds of the Recognition, the Coronation Service had long provided for the Sovereign to perform an act of humility and submission immediately afterwards. This act — called the “First Oblation” to distinguish it from the Second Oblation, which occurs at the Offertory in the Communion Service — sadly fell into disuse with the coronation of Edward VII, and has yet to be restored.

The First Oblation begins in the Liber Regalis as follows:

Archiepiscopo uel episcopo pontificalibus reuestito. predicti duo episcopi videlicit. Dunel-mensus et Bathoniensis uel alii duo episcopi in eorum absencia ut predictum est Regem hinc inde sustentantes ac ceteri episcopi una cum abbate westmonasterii uel alio monacho eiusdem monasterii ut prescriptum est ad hoc electo qui semper lateri regis adherendo presens debet esse dicti Regis informacione in hiis que dicte coronacionis concernunt solempnitatem. ut omnia modo debito peragantur de dicto pulpito usque ad magnam altare honorifice deducent.

Super quod princeps prefatus tenetur tunc offerre pallium unum et unam libram auri eius complendo preceptum qui dixit. Non appareas uacuus in conspectu domini dei tui.

When the Archbishop or Bishop has been revested in pontificals, the Bishops of Durham and of Bath, or, in their absence, two other Bishops, as has been said above, shall support the king on both sides ; and the other Bishops, with the Abbot of Westminster or another monk of the said monastery elected for this purpose, as is above described (who must be always at hand at the king’s side to instruct the king in matters touching the solemnity of coronation, so that everything may be done aright), shall lead the king with honour from the said stage to the high altar.

Then is the prince bound to offer a pall and a pound of gold, fulfilling the commandment of him who said : Thou shalt not appear empty in the sight of the Lord thy God.


The commandment here fulfilled comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, where Moses declared to the Children of Israel the three great feasts they must observe: “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee” (Deut. 16: 16-17). The rubric thus uses the passage in a manner quite divorced from its original context. The scripture speaks of the whole nation gathering thrice-yearly to perform the rites of the Jewish Law, while the rubric speaks of a single person coming once in many years for a Christian coronation. But this evolution of meaning may be well-forgiven, for the latter part of the passage is an admonition fitting for all times and races. We should all give as we are able, according to the blessing of the Lord our God which he has given us.

As the blessing given to the Sovereign is none other than the royal office, he properly renders royal gifts: “a pall and a pound of gold.” One might say that these correspond to the two gifts the God will give the Sovereign later on in the ceremony, for the gold signifies the “crown of pure gold” wherewith God will adorn the Sovereign’s head, and the pall — a cloth used to cover the Sacred Chalice — signifies the Body and Blood of Christ wherewith God will nourish the Sovereign in the Holy Communion.

The Liber Regalis continues:

/Continuoque super pauimentum prius tapetis et quissinis per regios ministros stratum. coram altari dictus rex se prosternat dicatque super illum metropolitanus uel episcopus hanc oracionem.

Deus humilium uisator qui nos sancti spiritus illustracione consolaris : pretende super hunc famulum tuum .N. graciam tuam ut per eum tuum in nobus adesse senciamus aduentum. Per dominum.

 

And immediately thereupon the king shall lie prostrate upon the floor, which has been spread by the king’s ushers with carpets and cushions, and the Metropolitan or Bishop shall say this prayer over him :

O God, which visitest those that are humble, and dost comfort by the light of thy Holy Spirit : send down thy grace upon thy servant N., that by him we may feel thy presence amongst us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Although one has to wonder if “carpets and cushions” are really the best environment for an act of humility, a king with his nose on the floor is a powerful symbol regardless of his physical comfort. The prayer begins as one might expect, asking God to give his grace to the prostrate Sovereign. But the penultimate clause introduces a theme to both challenge and deepen the Sovereign’s humility, when it explains (for the benefit of the congregation, of course, not of the omniscient God), the reason God ought to grant the request. “That by him we may feel thy presence amongst us.” On the one hand, this raises the Sovereign to an exalted, almost divine, position. He is a conduit through which God reveals himself to his people; his commands are “the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13: 2). But at the same time, the clause makes it clear that the Sovereign’s role, noble though it may be, is to perform a service to his inferiors. God raises up kings to fulfill his needs of his people; he does not raise up people to fulfill the needs of his kings.

James I (25 July 1603)

The First Oblation of James I closely follows the Liber Regalis even quoting directly from the Latin text to indicate the composition of the offering and mention the incipit of the prayer.

The Archbisshop beeing there readie, the King supported by the two Bisshops (as before) and attended by the Abbott of westminster, goeth downe from his Throne to the Aulter.

THE KINGES OFFERING.

There hee maketh his first oblation, which is Pallium vnum & vnu libra auri.

After the King hath offered, hee kneeleth downe at his ffaldstoole.

The Archbisshopp saieth the praier.

DEUS VISITATOR HUMILIUM.

O God which doest visite those that are humble, and doest comforte vs by the light of thy holie spirrit, send downe thy grace vppon this thy servaunt James, that by him wee maie ffeele thy presence amongst vs, through Jesus Christe our Lord. Amen.

Note that the “Abbot of Westminster” still figures in the rubric, though the position had been replaced by the secular Dean of Westminster since the days of Henry VIII, and that James only kneels, instead of lying on the floor.

Charles I (2 Feb 1626)

“Abbot” is now corrected to “Dean.” The Rubric for James I did not specify the posture of the King before his arrival at his fald-stool, but now we see that  “vppon Carpetts and Quishions, the King maketh his first oblation,” so presumably he kneels to offer his pall and ingot. (It is amusing that the physical objects from the Liber Regalis live on, though there is now much less need for them, since the King no longer lies on the floor.) One copy of the Order of Service reads “wch visitest” and “amongst vs” in the Prayer, while another has “who do’st visit” and “among us.”

Charles II (23 April 1661)

The Prayer is in the “which dost” form, as for James I. “The light of” and  “our Lord” are deleted.

O God, which dost visit those that are humble, and dost comfort us with thy Holy Spirit, send down thy Grace upon this thy Servant Charles, that by him we may feel thy Presence amongst us, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

An account of the ceremony from the University of Michigan’s “Eighteenth Century Collections Online” page has an ungrammatical “which doth.” I do hope this is an error of the transcriber, and not a blunder uttered at the actual coronation.

James II (23 April 1685)

For James II, the First Oblation was entirely rewritten, with both the Rubrics and the Prayer rising to unprecedented verbosity. First we see the preparation of the surroundings:

While the Anthem is singing, ye Archbishop goeth down, and before ye Altar revesteth himself with a Cope, and then goeth, and standeth at ye North side of ye Altar : And then /the Bishops, who are to bear any part in ye Office, to also revest themselves. And ye Officers of the Wardrobe, etc., spread Carpets, and Cushions on the Floor, and Steps of ye Altar.

Francis Sanford, one of James II’s heralds, gives us some interesting details about these furnishings in his History of the Coronation: There was a “large Turkey-work Carpet from the Altar down below the Half-Paces thereof, as far as King Edwards Chair,” over which was laid “a rich Carpet of Cloth of Gold” and “Cushions of the same.” Incidentally,  Sanford also reports that the Coronation Banquet later that day featured “Three Turkeys a la Royal, hot,” but I think we can safely assume that the Turkey-work Carpet was made by Oriental craftsmen, not barnyard fowl.

This being done ; ye King supported by ye two Bishops, attended (as allwaies) by ye Dean of Westminster, (ye Lords, yt carry ye Regalia going before him) goeth down to ye Steps of the Altar, and there kneeling down makes his first Oblation ; wch is 1) a pall of Cloth of Gold ; deliverd by ye Mr of ye great Wardrobe to ye great Chamberlain, and by him to ye King ; and 2) an Ingot, or wedge of Gold of a pound Weight ; wch ye Treasurer of ye Houshold delivers to ye great Chamberlain, and he to ye King : Both to be receiv’d by ye Archbishop standing ; in wch posture he is also the receive all other Oblations : ) and then reverently put upon ye Altar.

The Queen likewise supported by 2 Bishops (ye Lords wch carry her Regalia going before her) followeth ye King down to ye Altar ; and kneeling upon ye Cushions, there laid for her on ye left Hand of ye King, maketh her Oblation ; wch is a Pall ; to be receiv’d also by ye Archbishop and laid upon ye Altar.

Then ye Lords, who carry ye Regalia both of ye King and Queen come in Order near to ye Altar, and Present every one, what he carries (except ye 4 swords) to ye Archbishop and ye Dean of Westminster, ) to be by them placed upon ye Altar) and then retire to ye Seats, appointed for them.

Is is interesting to note that the King and Queen still offer their Palls although this is the one Coronation to lack a Communion, Their Majesties being unwilling to receive the Sacrament from a Protestant prelate.

¶ The King and Queen having thus offer’d, and so fulfill’d his Command, who said, Thou shalt not appear before ye Lord thy God empty ; go to their Faldstools, set for them before yr Chairs upon ye South side of ye Altar, kneeling down there : And ye Archbishop saith this praier :

“/O God, who dwellest in ye high, and holy place, wth them also, who are of an humble Spirit ;

While perhaps not as elegant as the form in the Liber Regalis, the new Prayer is profuse with biblical allusions.  The opening invocation comes from the prophet Isaiah: “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57: 15).

Look down graciously upon these thy Servants, James Our King, and Mary Our Queen here prostrate before thee at thy Foot-stool…

The reference to the foot-stool, while perhaps only a description of the scene unfolding in the Abbey, might call to mind more of the prophet’s words: “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?” (Isa. 66: 1). This connection becomes especially interesting when we consider that the above verse serves in Isaiah to open a denunciation of unworthy worship; two verses later the prophet warns us that “He that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol” (Isa. 66: 3). 

and mercifully receive these Oblations, wch in humble Acknowledgement of thy Soveraingty over All, and thy Bounty to them in particular they have now offerd up unto thee : Thine, O Lord, is ye power, and ye Glory, and ye Majestie : Thine is ye Kingdom ; and thou art exalted, as Head above All. Both Riches, and Honour and all things come of thee ; and of thine Own have they given thee.

How, then, can the King and Queen know their Ingot and Pall will not be scorned as swine’s blood? If the prayer speaks truth when it says they offer “in humble acknowledgement of [God’s] sovereignty over all,” God will receive their gift with blessing. Recalling one such acknowledgement from biblical history, the prayer then echoes King Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the Temple in Jerusalem: “Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all… Both riches and honour come of thee… all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” (I Chron. 29: 11, 12, 14).

Accept, we beseech thee, this their Freewill-Offering ;

The phrase “free-will offering” appears a number of times in the Old Testament: most notably for our purposes, in Deuteronomy, only a few verses before the famous line of the rubric. “Thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand.” (Deut. 17: 10). In the New Testament, St. Paul tells explains succinctly why we ought to give in such a way: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (II Cor. 9: 7).

and let it be an Odour of a sweet smell, as Sacrifice acceptable, and well pleasing unto thee,

The Prayer’s rich description of this “free-will offering” comes from the same Apostle’s words on the gifts of the Philippians : “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God” (Phil. 4: 18).

through ye Merits, and Intercession of Jesus Christ, Our only Mediator, and Advocate. Amen. 

Finally, the Prayer’s conclusion, while ultimately tracing back to “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Tim. 2: 5), is more directly taken from the conclusion of the Prayer in the prayer-book Communion Service.

William III & Mary II (11 April 1689)

As the First Oblation of James II is performed by both Sovereign and Consort, and both parties are mentioned in the Prayer thereof, there is little in the First Oblation of William III and Mary II to show that the latter is a Sovereign in her own right. However, while James II offered both Pall and Ingot and his Mary offered only a Pall, William III and Mary II each offer both gifts. As for their Prayer, it swaps the adjectives in “look down graciously” and “mercifully receive,” replaces “prostrate” with the more accurate “humbling themselves,” and loses two segments near the end, to produce the following:

O God who dwellest in the high, and holy place, with them also who are of an humble Spirit ; Look down mercifully upon these thy Servants William Our King and Marie Our Queen, here humbling themselves before thee at thy Footstool ; and graciously receive their Oblations, which in humble acknowledgement of thy Soverainty over All, and thy great Bounty to them in particular, they have now offerd up unto thee. Accept, We beseech thee, this their Freewill-Offering, through Jesus Christ Our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

Perhaps Dr. Compton simply aimed  to reduce the oration to more manageable proportions, but one can see a possible theological motive, since “let it be an odour of a sweet smell, as sacrifice acceptable, and well pleasing unto thee” might remind one of the Papistical use of incense, while “merits and intercessions” might remind one of the Papistical use of such words in the worship of saints.

Anne (23 April 1702)

The First Oblation is that of William and Mary, save for the necessary changes of sex, name, and number. Male consorts are not said to share in their spouse’s royalty as do female consorts, so Anne’s husband Prince George of Denmark has no part here.

O God, who dwellest in the high and holy place, with them also who are of an humble spirit, Look down mercifully upon this thy Servant Anne, our Queen, here humbling herself before thee, at thy footstool, and graciously these oblations, which in humble acknowledgement of thy Sovereignty over all, and thy great bounty to her in particular, she hath now offered up to thee, accept we beseech thee this her free-will offering, through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

George I (20 Oct 1714)

The Prayer in the only Order of Service available to me simply reads “O God who Dwelleſt, &c.,” so I sadly cannot further comment.

George II (11 Oct 1727)

The Prayer is in the plural, for the King and his consort Caroline of Ansbach. As with the First Oblation of James II, the King offers Pall and Ingot, while the Queen offers only a Pall.

George III (22 Sep 1761)

The King’s consort, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, offers a Pall, so presumably she is named in the Prayer, but the text is unavailable.

George IV (19 July 1821)

“Look down mercifully” is whimsically flipped to “mercifully look down,” “servant” is expanded to “humble servant” (as three mentions of humility did not suffice), and  the “free-will offerings” clause is removed.

O God, who dwellest in the high and holy Place, with them also who are of an humble spirit ; mercifully look down upon this thy humble Servant, George our King, here humbling himself before thee at thy Footstool, and graciously receive these oblations which, in humble acknowledgement of thy sovereignty over all, and of thy great bounty to him in particular, he hath now offered up unto thee, through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

William IV (8 Sep 1831)

The first two of George IV’s alterations are ignored  we again read “Look down mercifully,”  and William and Adelaide are simply “servants”  but his precedent is followed in the third, and the “free-will offerings” do not return.

O God, who dwellest in the high and holy Place, with them also who are of an humble Spirit, Look down mercifully upon these Thy Servants, WILLIAM our King, and ADELAIDE our Queen, here humbling Themselves before Thee at Thy Footstool, and graciously receive these Oblations, which in humble Acknowledgement of Thy Sovereignty over all, and of Thy great Bounty to Them in particular, They have now offered up unto Thee, through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

Victoria (28 June 1838)

None but the obvious changes of sex, name, and number differentiate Victoria’s First Oblation from that of William IV, so rather than reproduce aught from her Order of Service, I will supply an excerpt from a poem by Charles Gregory Sharpley commemorating the young Queen’s coronation. Little suspecting it would be the last, he ponders the mystery of the First Oblation thus: 

But soft!let pleasure’s lip be mute ;
She lowly kneels at the Altar’s foot.
Two regal Gifts her fingers hold
Of textile and of beaten gold.
And through the scarcely ruffled air,
Clear swells the solemn voice of prayer,
“That He, who dwells in the vast of space
Would look from the High and Holy place
On a Queen’s Oblation, who would now
Thus humbly before His footstool bow.”

May He someday look on one again.

Epitaph

The Coronation of Edward VII saw the end of the First Oblation, but its passing did not go unnoticed. Douglas Macleane, Canon of Salisbury Cathedral, called it “a great loss to the solemnity,” while James Cooper, president of the Aberdeen Ecclesiastical Society, reflected that

Abbreviation of the service was no doubt necessary, but many will regret the omission of a rite which expressed so beautifully the duty of a Christian king toward the Church of God, which is expressly prescribed in prophecy (Ps. lxxii. 10, 15 ; Isa. lx. 9), and was exemplified by the Wise men at our Lord’s Nativity (S. Matt. iii. 11). We can hope that if their Majesties lay it aside on an occasion when the ceremonies are very numerous, they may see fit, perhaps in their own persons, to perform it some time at the Feast of the Epiphany, where as sort of ghost of it still survives.

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