I had no intention of paying much attention to William and Catherine’s wedding. I knew I would watch a few of the clips online, but expected to see a whole lot of pageantry with very little substance.
I happened upon a clip of the portion of the ceremony from the introduction by the dean of Westminster Abbey through the vows. I can no longer find that particular clip, but it begins at 11:50 of this video, and the transcript is available on page nine here. But this portion of the ceremony gave me an entirely different view of the royal nuptials. I am heartened by what I witnessed.
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here, in the sight of God,” the dean of Westminster Abbey solemnly intoned. Thus began an exquisite, en masse catechesis on the meaning and significance of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
…we are gathered here, in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, instituted of God himself, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle which he wrought, in Cana of Gallilee, and which is commanded in holy writ to be honorable among all men, and therefore it is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, it was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of His holy Name.
Secondly, it was ordained that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are called of God to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.
Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, health, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and in adversity.
The Anglicans may not have valid Orders and therefore no Real Presence, but my goodness: they can do liturgy.
The language of the dean’s introduction bespeaks the nobility of what it was they were gathered together to do. The imagery was spot on: Holy Matrimony as a type of the relationship between (“betwixt” is lovely) Christ and His bride, the Church.
The reasons why God ordained Holy Matrimony are instructive and we would do well to consider them: first, procreation; second, the proper place for intimacy and sexual intercourse; third, mutual support within a covenantal relationship, therefore one not fundamentally subject to the ebbs and flows of friendship but to be the primary relationship in which each spouse enjoys the highs and confronts the lows of life.
“It is not good for man to be alone,” God declared. And so He gave us Holy Matrimony.
Look again at those three reasons articulated by the Anglican cleric. Do they leave any doubt as to the definition of marriage? Or of the nature of the participants who may enter into such a covenant?
Consider the rest of the dean’s introduction and the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury that preceded the vows:
First the dean:
Therefore, if any man can shew any just cause why they may not be lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
And then the archbishop restates the same challenge to the bride and groom, with extra emphasis:
I require and charge you both, as ye will answer on the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.
Again, the language is wonderful. Oh that the new Missal used phrases like “on the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed”!
It’s a solemn charge, with an unmistakable reminder that we all stand in our original nakedness before God, for any and all persons involved to examine if there is any reason, anything at all, that would make the impending vows invalid or impossible to enter into.
If, for instance, one of the intended is previously married, he would be required by this charge to reveal that fact since that situation of marital exclusivity with another party would preclude entering into an exclusive relationship with the present partner.
Or, for instance, if both parties are of the same sex, since that would preclude any possibility of procreation.
Or other conditions that preclude the fact of this special relationship or render invalid the vows of fidelity.
If any impediment exists, “be well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.”
(Note, if you will, no regard at all to what the laws of man might have to say about the matter.)
This sort of thing really isn’t that strange in and of itself. I suppose I found it remarkable because of the showcase of a British royal wedding, attended by nearly 2,000, watched by millions. With the soap opera air that has surrounded the British royal family for so long, and with the general secularization and decay of Western society, centered in so many ways in Britain, I suppose I am surprised, pleasantly, that the new couple would opt for such definite language. Add in the great turmoil that has rocked the Anglican Communion over the past decades, featuring the issue of openly gay clergy and the validity of such relationships, and I am surprised (pleasantly) that the Archbishop of Canterbury would opt for such definite language. Perhaps this is the normal language used in high church Anglican wedding ceremonies and since I don’t frequent such events I am just not accustomed to it. At any rate, it is still not at all what I expected.
Also, I suppose I’m more than a little envious of the definite language on the meaning and purpose of marriage since so many Catholic weddings these days feature clerics taking pains to say lots of words but avoid saying anything of substance lest they make anyone uncomfortable.
But whatever the source of my wonder at what I witnessed in that ceremony, I am happier for the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and for the people of Britain and the realm than I was before. It gives some hope that all is not quite lost, just hidden, and not going away.