Friday 29 April was a happy day for Britain’s royal couple but a sad day for the Church of England.
My wife and I chose to take to the hills that day to avoid the brouhaha, but couldn’t resist turning on the car radio at around 11 am for a little taste as we pulled into a car park on Hadrian’s Wall, ready to begin our walk. That was a big mistake in terms of a peaceful day with low blood pressure.
As soon as the dean of Westminster introduced the ceremony in the obscurantist language of a prayer book composed 349 years ago, it was clear that we would look in vain for an act of worship related to the present day.
The marriage of Prince William to Catherine Middleton was a fairytale event in a troubled world. They are a highly popular young couple and everyone wishes them well. All the more disappointing therefore was the fact that the wedding rite seemed so far adrift from people of their age group, and from the life of the Church as regular worshippers know it.
The baleful influence of the bridegroom’s father (patron of the Prayer Book Society after all) was all too clear. Any hope that the service could reflect the Church’s painstaking work of liturgical renewal over the last 50 years were dashed. Neither was there a glimmer of the blending of old and new which made Princess Diana’s funeral (fourteen years ago in the same building) such a memorable occasion, when Elton John at the piano complemented the ethereal music of the contemporary composer John Tavener.
The hymns chosen on 29 April were all predictable old pot-boilers, and even the anthem by John Rutter composed for the occasion eschewed a modern translation of the biblical text. What a wasted opportunity to showcase contemporary liturgical texts and music of beauty and meaning, and what a dodging of responsibility on the part of those who prepared the couple for their big day.
It would appear that the wedding couple were not helped to consider the many liturgical options available to them nor encouraged to weave into their wedding service music of their own generation. The whole event took place in a time warp indicative of the ivory tower from which the royal house of Windsor looks out on the real world, and the Church allowed it to happen.
In a recent ‘Guardian’ review of a new book on the Tudor period it was succinctly put that “Henry VIII stole the English Church from Rome and put it in his pocket”. On the evidence of 29 April nothing much has changed.