I confess – I stayed up and watched the marriage festivities Friday morning of Prince William and Kate Middleton—now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I am no monarchist, but I am a strong supporter of traditional marriage, and I love a good love story.
This month my husband and I will celebrate our thirty-sixth anniversary. We were married young while we were still students at the University of Iowa. I had just finished my sophomore year in college and he had just finished his first year in law school. After we finished school we moved to Des Moines and raised a family of five children. Our youngest will graduate in two weeks from high school and our oldest is married and the mother of our 2-year old grandson.
Marriage is a transformative experience. It is truly an institution ordained by God to bring about the fullness of life. It is a crucible where we learn to give and forgive and work out our salvation by the graces and challenges put before us.
As I watched the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding, I was moved by the signs and symbols that have been handed down through the generations—from the dress to the flowers to wedding ring. Of all the pageantry of the ceremony and all the extravagance of the celebration, what I was moved by most were the vows the couple took and the sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartes, Bishop of London.
Granted this was a high church affair in Westminster Abbey, but in no uncertain terms this wedding was about traditional marriage and living marriage under God’s law.
Shortly after the bride and her father walked down the aisle, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who presided over the vows, asked the intention of the groom, “Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
After William responded, “I will,” the Archbishop, phrased the question for Catherine.
The couple then spoke their vows to each other, promising to live their married life “according to God’s holy law.” The Archbishop asked for God’s blessing on the wedding ring which Catherine will wear, “Bless, O Lord, this ring, and grant that he who gives it and she who shall wear it may remain faithful to each other, and abide in thy peace and favor, and live together in love until their lives’ end. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
William placed the ring on his bride’s finger and, invoking the traditional Trinitarian formula, pledged that “with this ring I thee wed; with my body I thee honor; and all my worldly goods with thee I share: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
As England’s future king, William will one day be the head of the Church of England. The royals have had their share of scandals, indiscretions and failed marriage. Only 66 percent of royal marriages last “until death do us part.” The prince himself is the product of a terribly flawed, failed marriage. Watching as he stood at the altar making his vows before God, family, friends and a viewing audience of millions, he did not appear to be entering lightly into this marriage. Time will tell, but for all intents and purposes, he appeared to be making an act of faith and to be asking for God’s help.
The Archbishop then again called upon God to bless the union and, joining their right hands together, he said, “Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” He then pronounced the couple “man and wife.”
The wording of the vows was decidedly traditional. There was no attempt to soft serve them in order to make them more palatable on modern sensibilities.
Following the exchange of vows, the newly married couple sat and listened to a reading from Romans 12 and a sermon delivered by the Bishop of London. The Bishop began by telling the couple “‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ So said Saint Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.”
There was no ambiguity here. The Bishop was talking about one man and one woman, not about same-sex couples. I couldn’t help but wonder how the Bishop’s words resonated with wedding guests, such as Sir Elton John, and with people listening around the world. Did they think the Bishop was just a fuddy-duddy and dismiss the whole thing as a bunch of royal nonsense? Or did his words resonate—even if they refuse to acknowledge it to themselves or to others—that marriage is about joining a man and a woman for the express purposes of creating a family unit and providing for the offspring.
The Bishop then went on, “In a sense, every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them unto the future.”
He didn’t say a king and a king or a queen and a queen. He said it takes a “bride and a groom as a king and queen of creation” to cooperate with God’s plan so that “life can flow through them unto the future.”
The royal wedding could not have played well with those who have co-opted the language of the Civil Rights movement to advance the same-sex marriage agenda.
The Bishop then spoke of the loss of the transcendent for so many people and its consequences, “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.”
As we have become more secular over the last 60 years, we have seen a rise in the divorce rate. Easy and frequent divorce has degraded the institution of marriage and been detrimental to society. In the U.S. nearly one out of two marriages ends in divorce. Statistically women and children have paid the heaviest burden as they are more likely to experience an increased risk of poverty following divorce. And the emotional scars of a marriage torn in two last a lifetime.
As more and more marriage end in divorce, some people ask if marriage should be harder to enter into in the first place. Others comment that the institution has merely changed with the times. More and more couples delay marriage to begin with, and many have chosen to avoid both religious and civil marriage altogether viewing it as irrelevant in what has almost become a “post-marriage” culture. And some have taken their cases to court demanding that defense of marriage laws be overturned in order to open marriage licensure to same-sex couples in the name of marriage “equity.”
I hope that what happened at Westminster Abby on Friday was not just a Camelot moment. I hope the wedding of William and Kate may help us all to pause and reflect on what the purpose of marriage is in the first place.
Perhaps the Bishop’s words may help us to see marriage not as a right but as a holy rite which is something greater than ourselves, “As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practice and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.”
May God bless William and Kate with every happiness as they begin their married life, may they grow in love and become role models of grace and faith to a generation who needs to see marriage as an institution ordained by God to bring about the fullness of life. And may God bless all marriages with the grace to grow strong through adversity and to know true life-giving joy.
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