The Royal Wedding as act of worship

Mary Ann and I had flirted with the idea of going to Westminster to watch the Royal Wedding, but we ended up joining the millions around the world who tuned in via TV. I must admit I do like a bit of pomp and circumstance, so these sort of occasions are a guilty pleasure.

For me it was interesting to watch the wedding not just as a royal occasion but as an act of worship. Obviously over the years I’ve officiated at a number of weddings, though they have been on a slightly smaller scale than today’s ceremony. How did the wedding stand up as a Christian church service? Here are a few thoughts. (You can find the complete order of service here.)

Firstly, the liturgy followed the traditional language service of the Book of Common Prayer. I had wondered whether the couple might opt for the modern form of the service in Common Worship, but the gravitas of the traditional liturgy is particularly suited to worship in such a grand setting.

The choral music was exquisite and beautifully performed, with particular emphasis on music by British composers. For me the stand out pieces were the processional introit ‘I was glad’ (Parry) and the anthem by John Rutter specially composed for the occasion ‘This is the day’.The music, choral and instrumental, gave the occasion a sense of joy without being ‘happy-clappy’.

Considering William’s connection with Wales, I wonder whether it was simply a coincidence that two of the three hymns were sung to Welsh tunes? The first hymn, ‘Guide me O thou great Redeemer’ is well known as the ‘Welsh Rugby Hymn’, as well as being sung at the funeral of Will’s mother Diana. ‘Love divine’ is the archetypal wedding hymn (we sung it at our own wedding) and an obvious choice, fortunately sung to BLAENWERN rather than LOVE DIVINE. The last hymn was William Blake’s ‘And did those feet’, which with its invocation of English mythology and the industrial revolution has always seemed to me to be a strange choice for a wedding. But it is a patriotic classic, and apparently was sung with gusto by the flag-waving crowds outside the abbey.

There was a single reading – Romans 12:1-2, 9-18 – which was well read by the bride’s brother James Middleton from the New Revised Standard Version. Many would probably have preferred the Authorised Version, but the NRSV is fine by me and the meaning of the text was communcated very clearly.

Leading worship, honours were shared between the Dean of Westminster (who conducted) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (who solemnized). The sermon was preached by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres.

I thought the sermon was a pretty good effort, though it was a bit short on jokes, if you like that sort of thing. It was short, as wedding sermons need to be, it was personal to the couple, and the Gospel was preached, in a gentle way. One or two statements were a bit hard to follow; I’m still trying to figure out the following paragraph (perhaps some punctuation has been omitted):

“It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.”

So a bit of unpacking might have helped. Having said this, that last phrase (“we are committed to the way of generous love”) admirably summarises the message of the Romans passage. Here are a few other ‘quotable quotes’:

“In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation…” (Which reminded me of the Orthodox tradition of crowning bride and groom during the ceremony.)

“We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.”

“Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art.”

And finally, a statement which would make a good topic for discussion:

“As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden.”

(While not disputing the point the bishop was making, is it really true that people look to ‘personal relations alone’ to supply meaning and happiness? I can think of lots of things that people turn to for meaning and happiness.)

Interesting thought: if (as we were told by the media) some 2 billion people around the world were watching the wedding, could this be the most listened-to sermon ever? Considering this, do you think the bishop got it right, or was it a missed opportunity?

And my final thought – at the end of the day, if everything has gone without a hitch, it’s been a successful wedding day. It seems to this outside observer that the Royal Wedding went according to plan, and to the delight of millions, and one can’t ask for better than that.


About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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