Royal Wedding Liturgy

royal wedding vows

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.


    1. Was this liturgy to meet the spiritual needs, the likes and dislikes of other 30 somethings, or the royal couple? It was my impression Prince William and his bride chose the service.

      I thought it was the best English liturgy I’ve seen in years. Too bad we can’t seem to find anything approaching it in the Catholic Church.

  1. Sheesh! You are a stick-in-the-mud aren’t you?

    Everyone else in the world seemed to find pleasure and comfort in the royal wedding. But not you. You use it as an occasion to wax ad nauseum about an oppresive “time warp” of traditon and its effect on your blood pressure.

    I’ve hiked Hadrian Wall. Let’s hope its 2,000 years of history doesn’t represent another “time warp” that affects your blood pressure.

    1. Mike, I’m flying to England tonight for just that purpose: two of my sisters, my wife, and I will hike Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle to Bowness in nine days or so. Really looking forward to it!

      1. Jeffrey, if you like history, hiking, beautiful vistas, meeting interesting people, sampling local brew and food, you will love Hadrian’s Wall. I hiked it July 2007 from Corbridge west to Brampton. I assume you are staying at B &Bs? That’s an adventure in itself. I suggest you bring a camera, small binocs and breathable raingear e.g. Gore-Tex. And watch where you step. The Brits like to populate the rolling hills with defecating sheep. (You can get your revenge when you eat mutton at a local pub.) Have fun!

      2. Yes, I like those things. Our walk is arranged through Contours, so yes, we’re staying at B&Bs. We packed all our gear and accessories last week, since my wife and I were out at WMU in Kalamazoo last week for the Int’l Congress on Medieval Studies (where I saw two books written by Dcn. Fritz, by the way).

        I’ll check out your hiking blogs. And now this off-topic digression must end.

  2. Personally I liked the music.

    However I would agree that the wedding was all about the monarchy just as most Catholic international liturgy is about the hierarchy.

    “The monarchy is back” as many commentators said. Not being British, I take no position on that.

    However I did watch the wedding although I have ceased to watch the papal pomp.

    Weddings are something with which I can identify. Even if the “fairy tale” royal wedding like many weddings will likely end in the tragedies of infidelity and divorce. That still seems human. We can all hope for the best in an imperfect world.

    Behind the pomp of the hierarchical liturgy is sexual abuse and its facilitation because of the bishops’ love of money, status and power. It is something that I cannot fathom as being human even when its concealment is wrapped in the familiar sinfulness of money, status and power.

  3. Is there a chance we can hear another perspective, from, say, the bride or groom (not likely, I know), one of the celebrants, or someone else closely connected to the planning and carrying-out of the matrimonial liturgy? What I distill from Fr. Giles’ post is that, with the exception of the marriage of William and Catherine, there was nothing at all good about the liturgy.

    I also would have liked to hear more reasons behind Fr. Giles’ claims. For example, why does a liturgy composed 350 years ago have absolutely nothing to offer the present, in terms of meaningful liturgy? Is it simply the “obscurantist language” (examples?) or is there more?

    As for mixing old and new, there were some new settings: “This is the day which the Lord hath made” composed specially for the wedding, by John Rutter (although it’s clear Fr. Giles did not approve of the use of an older translation); and a new composition of “Ubi caritas” by Paul Mealor, from 2010 (and I am curious if Fr. Giles was disappointed in the use of Latin). But this music was, apparently, neither beautiful nor meaningful.

  4. I think the spoken Word came off a bit better than the musical one.

    I know there are people who are deeply devoted to Rutter and his music. I’ll admit up front as a listener and a singer I just don’t get it.

    I prefer Latin to antiquated English.

    I liked the trees.

    And the statue of Oscar Romero.

    I laughed at the commentators who praised the mix of old and new. The old was liturgy–very safe liturgy without making demands. The new was the bride covering her shoulders and kissing the groom. And the dude katewheeling down the aisle. All the essentials, I guess.

  5. It seemed pretty present-day to me given the context; if there’s no proper room for that in the Abbey for a royal family event, then much’s the pity – I thought Anglicanism was more tolerant than that. Horror of horrors that the family hosting the event might have made some choices; they should go to a liturgical re-education camp, and soon.

    Just waiting for the withering commentaries about the failure to modernize the next royal funeral and coronation.

    1. “a liturgical re-education camp”

      If liturgists had their ways we would be spending a lot of time in such camps.

      But I am willing to meet them halfway, as long as it is on the internet.

      What Giles should give us is some examples of his alternatives, a mini web camp of what a contemporary Anglican wedding might look like.

      Some of our local church musicians give a wedding music concert annually to provide people with an idea of what is possible.

      Maybe Giles could have some influence on Prince Harry?

  6. I think that I heard somewhere that the couple chose the music…if that’s the case, then, good for them. It was beautiful, well done, prayerful, and when appropriate engaged the assembly.
    As a parish musician, I work with couples planning their ceremonies, and for the most part, they are wonderful to work with. Most couples have no clue as to what to choose, or why choose it…and that’s where we pastoral musicians come in, and help them make the best decisions.
    What I am appalled at is the way our congregations don’t participate at the wedding liturgy, as well as the couple and bridal party. As well as other unmentionable things that happen during the ceremony, especially when the couple is introduced…sometimes the smell of alcohol on the breath of the bridal party, gum chewing etc…you get the picture…
    I would hope that our weddings in the U.S. could model themselves on the Royal Wedding which was so dignified.

  7. I wonder if the upset at no recent liturgical revsions in the service is an insider’s complaint. How do we find out if the ordinary churchgoers(if any) and non chruch poeple found the liturgy and its language so off-putting?

    I found it a good example of how, in context, use of the “old” was perfectly fine worship and Christian liturgy.
    Granted it was a wedding, and an almost state one at that, but many Anmeican commentators wondered at how lots of the guests sang the hymns?

  8. There are those of a certain generation who find it utterly incomprehensible that any young people could possibly like or find relevant and meaningful the use of traditional language (either English or Latin) to address God.
    Kind regards,
    John Henley

  9. I experienced the Royal Wedding (as a TV viewer) as superb. It was appropriate liturgy for any age group. I maintain: good, sound liturgical practice is what is needed – not innovations or trite liturgy that we think speaks to young people.
    In my view the Royal Wedding was timeless. It reflected a prayerful spirit, and the participation of the assembly was terrific. It is my hope that young couples will learn from the Royal Wedding, especially where choice of music is concerned.
    I also think the homily merits attention. The Bishop of London spoke of the meaning of marriage in eloquent terms – again, appropriate for any age group.

  10. Is this satire?

    In a grander scheme, more like farce or black comedy (ala Albee) even though had more color and animation than every episode of “The Simpsons.”
    As a platform for waxing on about worship arts-“Are you a good liturgy or a bad liturgy?”-I wonder if some of us realize that by going “there” a critic might as well solve a Schrödinger’s Cat dilemma. Bad manners, besotted best men and, gasp, not singing congregationally as counter examples of Prince Bart, er Harry, joining in the now universal caricature of belting out of JERUSALEM, an exquisite choral interlude of a faux-Whitacre “Ubi caritas” and the rest of the royal what not, seems to me an exercise akin to a walk through the Louvre lined with fun house mirrors while wearing 3D lenses.
    Given the presumed “state of the institution of marriage” in this era, it might have been more intellectually honest if not humble if the only music sung at all weddings was “Stand by your man,” even if by a couple of grey hippies in polyester and chiffon.

  11. “My wife and I chose to take to the hills that day to avoid the brouhaha”

    What a shame for you and your wife!

    In the 10+ years I’ve lived in the UK, that was the most wonderful “national” day (the cartwheeling verger captured how most of the country felt!) far outstripping the joy of any State Visit, election result, royal anniversary or anything else, including the Golden Jubilee of the accession of HM The Queen in 2002.

    Millions of us (a huge majority) stopped silently to watch the entire televised event. Many people had downloaded from the internet (or got free from their morning paper) copies of the Order of Service, and followed it – many praying, and many more singing along with the hymns.

    Afterwards, there were countless social gatherings, in homes and halls, and the peculiarly British “street parties” – I had a spiffing time, as they say round these parts, at one of the latter, the streets festooned with Union Flags and bunting, and I also joined hundreds listening to an afternoon celebratory peal of bells outside a medieval Church on the south coast.

    The parties lasted well into the evening (and some into the next morning!) and all because of what happened in the Abbey that morning.

    If liturgy really is the “work of the people” it was all great liturgy!

  12. I enjoyed it all thoroughly in a British pub here in Tokyo.

    The masterstroke in a perfect day was the absence of Blair.

    He didn’t have his garter, you see.

    How well they drew the line.

    His ghost was laid (even more than the tragic princess’s).

    Britain drew a fresh breath.

    1. “The masterstroke in a perfect day was the absence of Blair. Britain drew a fresh breath.”
      You may have done but I’m not sure you’re in a position to speak for the whole county. Many of us remember the misery of under Thatcher’s rule. And it looks as though the present incumbent will make life just as intolerable as his predecessor did.

      1. Just look how the readers of the Guardian and the Telegraph responded to two journalists who criticized the Royals’ decision. Britons have had it with the meretricious Blair.

        The Iraqi dead eclipse every other aspect of Blair’s career.

      2. As a matter of state it may have been inappropriate to miss out Blair. For Catholics, like others, many aspects of his time in office may be disputed. Two are clear: his persistent support of abortion and his closure of the Catholic adoption agencies. The Times recently reported on the failure of local authorities to support their adoption work. The Catholic agencies were particularly good at helping “hard to place” children. Their abolition by Blair was simply to give a gesture to homosexuals. The future of innocent children is certainly more important than this sort of gesture. This seems to have been an act of pure evil.

    2. “Britons have had it with the meretricious Blair.” Some Britons might agree with you but please do not speak for all of us.

      Many of us have criticised Blair (and the exercise of the royal prerogative) for Iraq. But his party has been replaced by one which positively delights in taking part in war – legal or otherwise.

      “Their abolition by Blair was simply to give a gesture to homosexuals.”
      I don’t remember Blair abolishing any adoption agencies.

      1. The Sexual Orientations Regulations require any adoption agency to offer an equal service to a homosexual couple. A Catholic adoption agency cannot, as a representative of the Church, endorse such a couple. The recent case of Catholic Care from Leeds illustrates this. An agency cannot be both Catholic and operate in accordance with these rules, one or the other but not both. Blair was responsible for these regulations.
        In a strict sense it is true to say that he did not abolish the agencies. He created conditions in which they cease to be Catholic (Cabrini) or cease to arrange adoptions (Westminster). Either way the children suffer. Nobody gains.

      2. Blair is hated by Britons because he deceived them into an evil war. The rest is irrelevant. To say that Britain hates Blair is as much of a truism as to say that Britain mourned Diana. Look at the press coverage of his Chilcot appearances.

      3. Joe
        You may be right. Certainly his justification for attacking Iraq was not seen as honest. I did not say say that anybody hates Blair.
        His approach to the Catholic adoption agencies is probably of little concern to the population as a whole but should be of concern to Catholics. Why you think it irrelevant to assessing his time in office baffles me.

      4. “Blair is hated by Britons because he deceived them into an evil war.”
        No he didn’t. He entered this evil situation by using the antiquated royal prerogative.

        While we’re having a go at Blair, let’s not forget Thatcher – ready to plough into any country at Reagan’s bidding.

  13. I am a present day young worshipper of the bride and groom’s age group, although I am Catholic. My reaction to this liturgy was completely the opposite of the author’s. It was beautiful, dignified and somehow familiar though I have never attended a wedding in the Church of England, nor prayed from the Book of Common Prayer. Isn’t “predictable” what we want when we solemnly bless the union of bride and groom? I can think of no better way for a liturgy to truly belong to the people than to draw fully from the traditions of the Church. Person touches draw attention away from the communal act of worship toward the couple themselves – their desires and preferences. This post seems more like a reflection of the authors own bitterness at… what exactly?… than a commentary on the royal wedding.

    1. Because.

      Well, the wedding was scheduled for Easter Friday and this year was in close proximity to St George’s Day – the setting and the occasion (not a state occasion properly speaking, unlike Prince Charles’s wedding, but a nearly state occasion) and calendrical proximity, probably augured for it with the full orchestral pomp it was given.

      I doubt it’s because people were remembering the cause of women’s suffrage (which was, IIRC, the occasion for Parry’s composition back during the Ghastly War nearly a century ago).

    2. Blake leaves the myth a question but he expounds a great idea in his poem — let us build up in our nation the kingdom of God.

    1. The consensus existed before the post if I remember the comments from preceding posts on the wedding. Fr Giles just failed in challenging it; he should be given credit for trying.

      Why does the consensus exist?

      Partly because most of us are more complex than the stereotyped arguments sometimes indicate. Some of us can love Latin and Gregorian Chant and support its use in the OF but not be thrilled by the EF. Some of us can love Anglican Chant and the language of the Coverdale Psalter but not be thrilled by poor attempts at elevated language in the New Missal.

      Lets face it. Anglicans have a lot more experience than we Roman Catholics in doing liturgy in English. They have a track record to build upon and are much more likely than we are to come with a liturgy that will resonate in the English speaking world, more particularly a liturgy which will resonate to diverse populations and age groups. The royal wedding might not be what we would chose for ourselves or our parish but it is something that we can easily understand, participate in and fill is appropriate for them.

      Finally I was struck during the ceremony by the fact that the royal family “owns” the Abbey and in some respects the “Church” as its head. My first reaction was how ‘bizarre.” But on reflection maybe that “ownership” has some good in it. Perhaps if we Roman Catholics owned our parishes there might be a real conversation about the liturgies that take place there. That apparently has seemed to happen with regard to royal weddings and funerals. I did not get the impression the clergy were uncomfortable with the outcome.

      1. I would just note that when my wife and I married, we together greeted our guests at the entrance to the church prior to the wedding. We felt is was appropriate to welcome our friends and family into _our_ church, just as any of us would for guests arriving at the front door of our home. (thanks Paul Covino for the suggestion!)

  14. What I object to is that the couple were married with their BACKS to the congregation and refused to allow the faithful to participate in speaking the wedding vows.

  15. If the wedding liturgy seemed oddly familiar, perhaps because it had the same order of worship as Wedding I in Four Weddings and a Funeral? I had always thought it odd that it was sacrament -then-Word. (Generic “sacrament” as ritual action — please don’t respond that Anglicans don’t count 7 sacraments, or marriage as a sacrament, or some such.)
    In light of the convoluted syntax coming soon to a Roman parish near you, I was conscious of the only-somewhat-archaic-but-still-comprehensible English of the liturgical texts and prayers.

    1. The exchange of vows occurs very early in the Sarum
      marriage rite. I agree with your last sentence.

  16. How about Mealor’s Ubi Caritas? Does this not qualify as contemporary music of beauty and meaning? Perhaps Fr. Giles would have preferred a revised version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”?

    1. I think to be truly contemporary the Rite of Marriage should have been followed by the Rite of Procreation, in which the couple are required publicly to consummate their marriage on the Cosmati Pavement, under the supervision of the Dean of Westminster of course. After all, having sex in public is what the British youth do these days – none of this “polite” and “respectful” behaviour which is hundreds of years old and completely irrelevant, just like the Royal Family itself.

      1. Well, there’s needs to be more FCAP of the congregation in that Rite of Procreation.

  17. The best things in the liturgy were

    (a) the way the bride’s brother read the scripture extract from Romans. Normally, when you hear that the bride’s brother is going to read, your heart sinks. But this was excellent, an object lesson for all lectors the world over (and billions of people watched this — hopefully they took in what they saw and heard). He took his time, nice slow pace; he chopped the sentences up into easily accessible chunks; he sounded as if he meant what he was reading, and I think he probably did; he had large parts of the text semi-memorized and so was able to lift his eyes off the printed page and look at the assembly frequently.

    (b) Richard Chartres’ homily — also excellent and very well delivered. If that does not get him in as Archbishop of Canterbury next time round, I’ll be surprised…. although he probably has more influence as Bishop of London, in fact.

    The least impressive thing about the liturgy: the fact that all the “interesting stuff” takes place right at the beginning, followed by everything else, instead of being the climax of the rite. How do we feel about the Liturgy of the Word following the sacramental act? Not good, I venture to suggest. The whole of the rest of the service was an anticlimax after the exchange of consent had been carried out.

    At the risk of derailing Fritz’s statistic, I personally think Richard Giles has a point about language and hymnody. You could have watched this on TV 100 or even 200 years ago, if TVs had been around then, and much of it would have been the same or had the same flavour. Yes, the Royal Family is steeped in tradition, but yes, the world has moved on. We keep complaining that the Church is no longer relevant to contemporary society, young people, etc, but when it comes to the crunch, we are bewitched by pageantry and fall back into autopilot.

    1. I think Richard’s comparison with Diana’s funeral is valid. Interestingly, that liturgy was put together in a very short space of time, compared with the leisurely preparation of this wedding. And some people criticised it at the time as being too trendy…. You cannot keep everyone happy.

      One factor common to both liturgies was Elton John. It was quite clear at the wedding that he did not know the hymns that were being sung, with the possible exception of Jerusalem. That says something about our present-day society, but I’m not sure what it is!

    2. “We keep complaining that the Church is no longer relevant to contemporary society, young people, etc, but when it comes to the crunch, we are bewitched by pageantry and fall back into autopilot.”

      Interesting. How old are you? How do react do young (or younger) people whose lifestyles are completely modern and contemporary, and yet who find great value in a church which is not bent on capturing the current zeitgeist but which pursues greater, unchanging truths, accessed through the help of great works of art from the past and even, perhaps, the odd bit of bewitching pageantry?

    3. Paul,

      One cannot credibly argue the liturgy of this particular wedding is illustrative of falling back into autopilot. It illustrated deliberate choices all over the place.

      As for pageantry: it’s a natural human social expression. One thing we’ve learned in the past 220 years is that, when customary occasions for pageantry are suppressed as outmoded, new ones will fill the void that will often be far less edifying. In other words, be careful what you pray for. Pageantry for the wedding of a future figurehead sovereign strikes me as probably about the most harmless and most socially lubricating pageantry one can imagine; things like this do feed a sense of social connection, one that progressives should in turn value because it’s connections like that which eventually undergird a willingness to engage in sacrifice for the greater good of all. I know there are folks who would prefer than homo sapiens went directly into serving in soup kitchens and omitted frills like this, but the frills turn out in the end to not be as frilly as they imagine in the purity of their righteousness.

      (And Diana’s funeral did list a bit too far in the direction of trendiness and banality. Not overwhelmingly, but still.)

    4. I was particularly gratified to see the reverence paid by the married couple to the Sovereign, as they passed before Her Majesty. While the Abbey houses no tabernacle with the Real Presence (much less the genuflections belonging to the extraordinary form of the Mass) it was striking and very pleasing to see due reverence paid to the Lord’s annointed at least in the temporal sphere.

    5. “How do we feel about the Liturgy of the Word following the sacramental act?”

      I actually liked it better. I think it’s neat that they got to hear the Word of God and homily as a married couple rather than having to wait. Having the vows right away is also an aspect of the EF that I think is vastly superior. Having the rite of marriage prior to Mass should at least be an option in the OF, IMO.

  18. The charge that “society has moved on” or that “times have changed” as a justification for more modernity in liturgy strike me as… um… funny(?).

    Diana’s funeral, in 1997, brought us “contemporary music” (if by contemporary, you mean new words to a secular song written 24 years earlier). The much loved Princess’ funeral rites were clearly an expression of their time.

    14 years later, Diana’s son and his bride were married in decidedly traditional ceremony, which was much-loved by all the people who were supposed to love it much. Also, clearly, an expression of their times.

    I would say that, yes, the world has changed.

    1. Debates about liturgy often remind me of the sorts of debates I encountered when I used to participate in architecture discussion boards. Whenever a prominent new building was designed in too traditional a style there would always be a few stick-in-the-mid types who would lament that it was “a missed opportunity to create something of our time.” It didn’t seem to matter if the building was of good quality and design and was liked and appreciated by modern people – it was still not relevant to our time because it wasn’t unique to our time or didn’t build upon 20th Century modernism.

      The notion that we must always reinvent and never look back in order to make things relevant to modern people strikes me as being an outdated mid 20th century idea.

  19. Actually I thought the service from the deposited book was a bit too modern. I should have enjoyed hearing the language of the 1549 Booke.

    Who cares about what I think? It was the royal couple’s day and their choice of service that made it so special.

    Multos annos!

    1. Brian, we all care what you think. You are such a wonderfully valuable product of your two greatest teachers, Father Reginaldus Foster and Professor Xavier Rindfleisch.

      We all long for the first Royal Wedding after your appointment as Dean of Westminster, as the then about-to-be Duchess of Brixton vows

      I N., take thee, N. to my weddyd husbonde, to have et to holde for bettur, for wurs, for richere, for porer, in sykenesse and in helthe, to be bonowre et buxum, in bed et at bord, tyll deth us departe, if holy chirche wol it ordeyne: et there to I plyche te my troute.

      All of us, that is, of course, except Allan McDonald, who will no doubt, along with his famed “very probati” still be championing the literary excellence of the translation in the Maryknoll Missal.

      1. You really do have a bizarre obsession with Fr Allan.

        The Maryknoll translation was pretty darn good – not Anglican Prayer Book quality, but better than both the 1973/1998 ICEL and the 2010 Missal.

  20. Yes how obscure, those six one syllable words ‘with this ring I thee wed’; why not ‘I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage’!?!* Not a very good sign mind, if you need to explain it.

  21. Thank you Jack, and Paul, for tempering the alleged consensus. The more predictable comments left me grateful to the Emperor Hadrian and to Tony Blair for creating diversions.
    Yes, it was a joy to see such a happy and loving couple before the altar of God. Just a pity that the Church didn’t rise fully to the occasion.
    And yes, the Lord in the tabernacle is present in the Abbey, but very discreetly, in true Anglican fashion.

  22. What, pray tell, was there about it to be displeased at? Other than the fact that it wasn’t mass, it was a quite proper and beautiful nuptial office. I, for one, had been afraid that, as at Diana’s funeral, we would be subjected to the crooning of some famous pop singer. Deo gratias! We were treated to what ought to have been done, and to what ought to be normal liturgics and music. (And, I seriously doubt that those who would have preferred more ‘modern’ music would really have been at all pleased if the music had been REAL modern music – I don’t think that is what they would have had in mind.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *