The Royal Wedding: A Quick Liturgical Review

by Michael Sean Winters

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The first images from inside Westminster Abbey were not encouraging. In the nave, interspersed among the seats were small trees. I am not a fan of trees inside where they do not belong. It called to mind the atrium of a 1970’s-era, John Portman-designed Hyatt hotel. It was just weird and I suspect it was the result of consulting a “wedding planner,” the most bizarre professions to emerge on the planet. I thought that you asked friends to help plan one’s wedding, not a professional.

Fortunately, the music became the focus and here the real professionals took over. The bride marched down the aisle to Hubert Parry’s “I was glad,” a magnificent piece of music composed as a coronation anthem but entirely suitable for the occasion. Then came the first hymn, “Guide me Thou, O Great Redeemer.” This is one of my favorite hymns. The tune is an old Welsh drinking song. I am sure the original words of the chorus were: “Live for beer, live for beer, drink and drink until you drop.” Now, they have been replaced with “Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore.” It is a beautiful piece of music, with a great bass line and extraordinarily Christ-centric words, although I thought those words worked better as the first hymn at my mother’s funeral than it did at a wedding. Still, it was beautiful.

I am not much of a fan of the Anglican wedding service: It seems they jump into the vows a little too quickly. Of course, I am not a fan of the Catholic nuptial Mass either which seems to constantly trying to balance the Mass’s integral focus on Christ with a wedding’s focus on the bride. Nonetheless, the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer are extraordinarily beautiful. How often do you get to hear the word “betwixt”? The sermon from Bishop Chartres of London began with a quote from Saint Catherine of Siena, which is not a bad way to start. There was an original composition, sung by the choir, and that was lovely.

The inter-religious dimension that was so present at the wedding of Charles and Diana was not present here, and it was missed. Archbishop Nichols, the Catholic Primate, had a seat in the choirstalls, but Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Conner was stuck in the nave with a not very good seat. I think Elton John had a better spot. Back at the wedding of Charles and Diana, Cardinal Hume led one of the prayers as did representatives of other churches. Today, it was all Anglicans all the time.

So, good luck to the new couple. And, if Prince Harry decides to get married soon, and he needs a wedding planner who will not put tress inside where they don’t belong, I am available.

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