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William and Catherine have returned to the monarchy’s Christian origins

This royal wedding was a much more serious occasion than the last one

By on Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Prince William and Catherine Middleton exchange rings in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Prince William and Catherine Middleton exchange rings in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire)

Two days before the royal wedding, the Wall Street Journal, with ill-disguised satisfaction – under the headline “Pope Vies With Prince for Public Eye” and the subheading “Royal Wedding Steals Attention From Late Pontiff John Paul II’s Beatification” – came to the confident conclusion that the effect of the worldwide attention being paid to the royal wedding would seriously affect the numbers attending the beatification two days later:

The May 1 beatification of the late Pope John Paul II is an occasion for the Holy See to bask in the aura of a pontiff widely seen as a modern Catholic hero. But a high-profile event involving another European institution, the House of Windsor, is stealing the Vatican’s thunder. The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London on April 29, two days before the beatification ceremony, is dominating news coverage around the world, leaving less time for the late pope.

Behind closed doors, according to one Vatican “planner” who had, so the paper claimed, been talking to the Wall Street Journal (oh, yeah?), the effect of all this was that he and other “planners” had come to the conclusion that only around 150,000 people would turn up to the beatification. Well, estimates of the crowds who actually came to Rome for the ceremony vary, but they’re all between one and 1.5 million, so sucks to the Wall Street Journal. But the two ceremonies were linked in more people’s minds than one (including my own) if only because they reinforced each other, by anticipating, then recalling, a mood of communal joy and celebration which – to put it no higher – reminded us all in grim times that there’s more to life than the bottom line.

Archbishop Nichols, who attended both ceremonies, made the point that the beatification “is a celebration of the same love that William and Catherine promised to each other – yesterday in marriage, today in service of priest, bishop and Pope – but it’s the same well-spring of love that comes from God that we see on both days… It was very remarkable [that] when Catherine said ‘I will’ there was a great cheer. People recognised the solemnity of the promises that were being made. The second was when the Archbishop of Canterbury said ‘So in the sight of God and these people I now declare you man and wife’ and there was a great cheer.

“There is popular recognition that marriage is a fresh start. That this from now on was something different and it was a profound change in the life of both those young people. And everybody recognises it. I think that gives the lie to the idea that marriage is of little consequence in our society.”

Well, I think there’s more to be said than that, true though it no doubt is. Friday’s royal wedding was in sharp contrast to that of 30 years ago between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. I remember that occasion very well, apart from anything else because I had written the Daily Telegraph’s main leader about the wedding that day; when Bill Deedes commissioned it, he said he wanted my piece to be “the paper’s wedding present”: he wanted an article celebrating the religious and national significance of the occasion.

That wedding itself was, of course, religious enough, it could hardly be otherwise: but what remained in the mind afterwards were irrelevances: Archbishop Runcie’s foolish words, “this is the stuff that fairy tales are made of” (ironic only in retrospect, but just as silly at the time as they seem now), and the showbiz element in the whole thing: Kiri te Kanawa singing “Let the bright seraphim”, the extended drive from the city, that ridiculous puffed-up wedding dress. The BBC got in on the act by showing that wonderful extravaganza “High Society” (Grace Kelly, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby) when they all disappeared into the palace after the balcony appearance: it all seemed to blend somehow into one.

Friday’s marriage was very different, despite the fact that the words of the service were identical. First, the couple seemed (was, indeed, after nearly 10 years) better prepared for the event. Catherine Middleton, despite her splendid sense of humour (which constantly emerged, even during the ceremony) had taken the religious dimension of the event with great seriousness, insisting on being confirmed in good time before the wedding: she was prepared and confirmed by the Bishop of London, who had himself confirmed Prince William, and I have no doubt that that is why it was he (and not the Archbishop of Canterbury, as one might have expected) who preached the homily. The most striking thing in his sermon to me (though hardly mentioned by anyone in the coverage afterwards) was that the couple had composed a prayer for the event, which the bishop ended his homily by praying from the pulpit. It was simple, highly personal and, I found, very moving:

“God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

“In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

“Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Many observers commented on the number of young people in the crowds, and concluded that the couple had brought the monarchy into the 21st century, demonstrating yet again the institution’s capacity constantly to reinvent itself. But that prayer says to me that they have also taken the monarchy back again to its Christian origins: that will ultimately be how it will retain its capacity to survive and flourish anew.

  • Vita

    William please does not waste your time, as far everyone knows the Church of England is promoting New Age and welcome all the pagans’ celebrations into the Church of England.
    Despite all the sinners and their scandals in the Catholic church, all the Saints of the Catholic Church follow Jesus Christ’s teaching that will stand up until the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is why many Anglican and Protestants are converting now into Catholicism.

  • Vita

    Well I agree with you at least they mention the name of Jesus Christ without offend anyone. As you know in this secular society people is not allow to mention God to be politic correct.

  • Ratbag

    Roman Catholics don’t SNEER at Anglicans. If anything,Catholics are more sneered at than Anglicans. For many years, it was considered a mortal sin to enter a Church of England or any protestant church. Pope Paul VI began the path to building bridges with the Church of England…. not the other way round.

    In order for the Armada to be prevented from invading England, Elizabeth I suppressed Ireland because she feared that the Spanish Armada would use the country – with its geographical position – as a stepping stone to invasion.

    Mary I’s mother was Catherine of Aragon and her husband was Philip of Spain. She saw the damage that was done through the way Henry VIII treated her mother and Catholics.

    The reason why she burned people at the stake instead of fining them was that, in those days, heretics were burned at the stake. She was not the only monarch in Europe to use this method of execution. She saw these English protestants as heretics and she punished them as such. Yes, it was horrid and un-Christian but that was the way people were dealt with in those days. Treason was punished by beheading and other god-awful means of execution. Catholics were regarded as treasonous in England because they refused to regard Henry VIII as head of the church instead of The Pope. Therefore, they suffered and died just as horribly.

    Up until the Coronation of Edward VII, it was part of the Coronation oath to – in modern parlance – ‘diss’ every dogma that the Roman Catholic Church believes in. Edward VII muttered it half-heartedly.

    No.

    If Henry VIII, in your view, did not found the Church of England, then who did? He set the keystone for it. That’s what we were taught at school and college by secular teachers – not monks and nuns.

    Well. Enlighten us.

  • Dcruz

    If one looks at both events very seriously, the deceased Pope J.P.11 had a better response considering that people tend to forget a person when he / she dies.

  • In Our Times

    “…he shockingly stated that family was the best model in society, hence upsetting the one parent family brigade….”.

    What a very disrespectful stereotype. The only thing I find upsetting personally; are comments such as those. Phrases such as Great Christian Witness seem bandied about rather loosly these days, I find.

  • In Our Times

    There is really nothing to forgive. I am merely drawing attention to the utter absurdities of esoteric tribalism & ‘superiority complexes’, along with defensiveness etc… & highlighting the damage it can do. We only hurt ourselves & everyone else in the process.
    “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions…” Kung on global ethic etc… Christians can’t even agree amongst themselves half the time. The Witches Seive springs to mind. The ego sees only that which it permits itself to see etc…

  • http://catholiclane.com Mary Kochan — Catholic Lane
  • Michaelanthony1

    Mmmmmmn, what about the Anglican Catholics , particularly Forward In Faith and Society Of St Wilfred

  • Chas. Pooter

    William Oddie quotes Archbishop Nichols on having heard  ‘great cheers’ in Westminster Abbey. Observing the service on  telly I heard neither clapping nor cheering  [DG].  The present Dean of Westminster, quite rightly, discourages both.  Is the Archbishop hearing things ?

    Chas. Pooter

  • Tomleo

     Our Lord was present in the Word, the Assembly, the Sacrament, and in the presence of the Achbishop.

  • Anonymous

    You say that and yet, as an Anglican, your head of Church happens to be the reigning English Monarch who can hardly be said to be living in squalour and poverty at Buckingham Palace (as well as the fact that she is not even on the throne rightfully and no English Monarch has been since James II.) Also you seemed to have failed to notice that the two most recent Popes (John Paul II and Benedict XVI) have travelled among the poor and dispirited as well as revitalising their faith around Europe which is more than can be said for the so-called Queen Elizabeth II.

    As for the alledged nonsense spoken by the Pope most of it was recently shared by all (absolute opposition to contraception was only dropped by the Church of England in the middle of the last century.) The difference in doctrine between our Churches does not come from the Roman Catholic Church being nonsense but from it being willing to stand up for itself in the modern world.

  • Anonymous

     You are certainly right about the religious persecution under Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I but the difference is that, in England Mary’s was the last Catholic persecution and later Kings (Charles II and James II) were surpressed because they tried to have Catholics tolerated (James II and his heirs lost their thrones because of it.) This has carried on to today: the Act of Settlement was passed by the usurper William III to keep the rightful (Catholic) kings off the throne because he and the English were afraid of Catholicism; the same legacy exists today.

    I am also surprised that you say Henry VIII did not found the Church of England. We all know the story of Catherine of Aragon and Henry’s actions were what founded the Church of England; he declared himself head of the Church because he did not want to obey the Pope and since then the British have feared Rome as a foreign influence and subsequently surpressed it. Henry VIII broke with the Church; such is history and denying it does not help anything.

  • AgingPapist

    Her Royal Highness’ train was truly magnificent, but I don’t think it is as long as cardinal Pell’s or cardinal Burke’s.  However,  the two churchmen may decide to go to her dress designer to see if she can make one just like it for them.

  • Anonymous

    You call Roman Catholics hypocritical despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest practicing denomination in Britain (per head.) The reason we feel fit to comment on a so-called Anglican society (which is really a far more secular society anyway) is that the topic of the artical (marriage) is something the Anglican Church has bent over backwards on (among many other things) whereas Catholicism still stands up for it. In other words the Catholic Church still believes in something.

  • Richard Grand

    At the tie, Archbishop Runcie’s words were intended to be ironic, as you can see when you put them into the context of the whole sermon. When you take that line on it’s own, you forget than it was followed by his words that this is not true and that appearances are deceiving. Please go and check what he really said. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IOVRPZGM3Y7XNEE4IJIY2RDV3A Vivian

    Why bother about the New York  Times.It is a baiter of the Catholic Church and all that it holds dear.As is normal  none of the secular papers reported the prayer the young couple had penned and which was recited at their wedding.
    It was strange that the NYT journalist was not privy to this scoop.How much longer must  one have to stomach  this self proclaimed joker of the NYT speak  about  the Vatican insiders confessing at his confessional?The best joke of the year.  

  • Gofourth

    A beautiful prayer at the service does not erase the years that they lived together without the benefit of marriage.  Not a good Christian example