One guest at the royal wedding was the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. Even when she became queen, Mary of Teck never forgot the assassination attempt on the royal couple that day by the anarchist Mateu Morrai. Many in the procession were killed or mutilated and the bride’s gown was splattered with blood. It had a sobering effect on the wedding banquet, but the Princess Victoria lived until 1969. In fact she was a neighbor in Switzerland of a former parishioner of mine, sharing their compound with Charlie Chaplin.
A year before that wedding, my maternal grandmother set foot from England on the shores of Manhattan for the first time. There still were wooden houses along the Battery then, and suddenly the second floor window of one of them opened and a black man looked out. My grandmother had never seen anyone before who was not white, and in her confusion she burst into tears.
The Atlantic was not a pond then: it was the distance between Earth and Mars. Today in Westminster Cathedral, the processional cross was carried by a stately young black man. This whole papal trip has not been, as one commentator fatuously commented, the end of Empire. It has been the fulfillment of Empire, and the Pope has reminded an entire people that his throne and the keys he carries are more ancient than any dynasty and are “ever ancient ever new.”
Scenes in London have been like the vision of Robert Hugh Benson in “The Dawn of All.” Satan had his innings and now the Lord enters. To contrast the solemn splendor of today’s liturgy in Westminster Cathedral, with the previous papal Mass there in 1982 is to witness a measure of the vast change Benedict XVI has already wrought in the heart of the Church. The rites have become a more vivid visual and aesthetic catechesis for a culture whose thirst for the integral beauty of truth is in equal measure with its deprivation of it. I noticed the presence of my own former Ordinary, Cardinal Egan,in the procession and I hope that what the Pope is doing, and most importantly the message he is giving in beatifying Newman, will spread from London to the nations, including my own.