William and Kate’s Anglican ceremony: ‘Every wedding is a royal wedding’
Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at Westminster Abbey in a traditional Anglican ceremony today. And though England is a largely secular country, their wedding was, as we say, “high church.” The Book of Common Prayer dictates what is in the service, though much is optional. The couple chose the simplest form, a ceremony of warmth and intimacy rather than grandeur and pomp.
Every wedding has magic. It is the magic of hope, a belief that there is something higher that we can all attain, if just for a short time, by connecting to someone we truly love.
What makes the Anglican or Episcopal service so magical is the adherence, though it may seem rigid to some, to time-honored ritual. The music, the hymns, the readings, the prayers, the vows.
Today in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, right out of central casting with his robes and long white beard, talked about the “mystical union” between Christ and his church. But he was also talking about the mystical union between two people.
He spoke, early on in the ceremony, of “the first miracle” Jesus wrought in Galilee.
The dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, the Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd II, explained some of the rituals. “That first miracle can be found in the Gospel of John. Jesus was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. When the wine ran out, Jesus took the jugs of water and turned it into wine.”
“That’s called the first miracle” of the wedding, says Lloyd. “The party goes on.”
The Book of Common Prayer instructs the presider to ask, as Archbishop Williams asked of the congregation, “If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now: or else forever hold your peace.”
Lloyd says he has never had anyone speak up when that sentence is raised.
And then, “if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in marriage lawfully, and in accordance with God’s word, you do now confess it.”
“This creates drama,” Lloyd notes. As well it should. “This is a big promise they are making. It reaches back to a time when they called on the community to support the couple. As for the bride and groom, “it is heightening the importance of not taking their vows lightly. It’s clearing the deck. It is underlying the seriousness of what they are going to do. You’re not being asked to feel in love, you’re not promising emotion. You are promising to be there for that person. It is an act of will.”
Lloyd married my son Quinn and his bride Pari at the cathedral in October, so the experience is fresh in my mind.
“I’m an atheist,” I remember one guest telling me after the wedding. “But for that moment in the church I actually think I believed in God.”
At Quinn and Pari’s wedding, Lloyd read a passage from one of the characters in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” (not exactly from the Book of Common Prayer). He said, “I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults and the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage.”
Catherine Middleton did not promise to
William. “That’s out,” Lloyd says. According to Lloyd, it has been since the 1970’s.
William and Kate promised, as is traditional, to love, honor and cherish one another. What is the difference between loving and cherishing in this context? “To love, in the Christian tradition,” Lloyd says. “is an act of will. To cherish is an act of affection. I can will myself to love somebody in a Christian sense. But to cherish is to delight. I can’t will myself to cherish.”
Lloyd knows that marriages don’t always last. In the United States, some studies show that nearly one out of two marriages end in divorce. Even among the royal family only 66 percent make it. “I understand, “ Lloyd says, “that I’m saying those [marriage] words in a culture that works powerfully against that. When I do premarital counseling I’m asking them to promise in their vows, the best that they could hope to be and hope for themselves. Which is God’s intention for a lifetime of faithfulness with all the ups and downs.”
Back in London, the simplicity of the ceremony was evident in the prayer written by the couple -- “God our Father…keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy” -- as well in as the one reading by Kate Middleton’s brother, from Paul’s letters to the Romans, Chapter 12.
The short homily by the Right Reverend and Right Honorable Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, reflected a passage from the Book of Common Prayer. “In a sense, “ he said, “every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them unto the future.”
The actual passage is this: “Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.” This notion comes from the Greek Orthodox tradition: on the day of the wedding, every bride and groom is a king and a queen of the world.
Certainly William and Kate were today.
| Apr 29, 2011 12:20 PM