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What are Catholics to make of the royal wedding?

Can the upcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle be an opening for a larger discussion of marriage?

Britain's Prince Harry poses with Meghan Markle Nov. 27 in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace in London after announcing their engagement. (CNS photo/Toby Melville, Reuters)

A Catholic friend contacted me a few weeks ago in some indignation. Her parish priest had included a picture of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in a message encouraging young people to think about getting married.  But surely it was all wrong to be appearing to hail the forthcoming royal event in any way? Miss Markle, an American, is a divorcee; the union will be adulterous; there is nothing useful to be said.

Well, Miss Markle’s status is certainly problematic. The Anglican communion has no apparent system for discovering the nullity or otherwise of a marriage, and in any case keeps changing its mind about what really constitutes Christian marriage at all; the latest contribution to the debate has been a CofE Synod decision to allow the formal blessing of same-sex unions. Miss Markle’s three-day beach celebration marking her union with a long-term boyfriend culminated in divorce a couple of years later. Did they mean to marry for life? What vows did they make? If she was validly married to him she certainly cannot marry anyone else. But there has been, apparently, no formal assessment or verdict, so we really do not know.

But the wider question is whether or not it is possible to note the forthcoming Windsor jubilations and use them as a way of opening a discussion about matrimony. For an enormous number of young people in Britain, marriage is alien territory, something entirely outside their experience. Their parents are not married, and nor are the parents of most of their schoolmates. Single parenthood, serial cohabitation, messy divorces, intermittent relationships—these form the social background to life for vast numbers of the rising generation.

A televised royal wedding, with the exchange of solemn vows in formal language, against a background of much pageantry and splendid music, is at least something that will put male/female matrimony on to the public stage. Perhaps it will only be a stage, “and all the men and women merely players”—but it will nevertheless present the notion of marriage as the central act that establishes a new chapter in a family story, and in a nation’s story. Marriage is no mere private event: it writes history. A family’s name, culture, and traditions are shaped by its members—and that shaping also shapes our community.

Of course the superb setting, magnificent music, and glamorous clothes of this wedding will, alas, only add to the current notion that marriage is all about just such trimmings, and is consequently an enormously expensive undertaking with gigantic sums compulsorily spent on lavish costumes and entertainment. The wedding industry has in recent decades played no small part in making matrimony synonymous with money. Many priests will testify to the determination of cohabiting couples insisting that they are “waiting until we can afford a proper wedding” when the question of marriage is brought up.

It is good when priests are courageous enough to preach the truth: that the sacrament of matrimony is central and that sexual union outside this bond wounds us and, until repented, separates the soul from God. And we were not created for that. Marriage is God’s plan and fulfils our deepest needs and desires. The ceremony doesn’t have to be lavish—a simple, beautiful, and touching exchange of vows before the altar with a small gathering of friends and witnesses can be the unforgettable and powerful start to married life and can be followed by a big party on an anniversary later on. That might in fact be a pattern to offer as part of a new evangelization?

So where does that leave Windsor’s forthcoming jamboree? I use the word “Windsor” in terms of the town, from which I have just returned following a family gathering of my own clan, part of which happens to be based in a modest home in a part of the town not far from the Castle. It was rather fun to make my way from the station: the shops crowded with Harry-and-Meghan mugs and flags and hats and umbrellas, everything gearing up for what will certainly be a massive invasion of tourists and enthusiasts this May. During our family meal, there was a certain amount of joking about the possibilities of letting out spare rooms or offering town tours or cream teas at vast prices. And will the town, which is really quite small, be all that comfortable with the vast crowds? There are just two loos (restrooms? whatever Americans call them) at the railway station…

But there is something at the core of all this that gives pause for thought: we are overdue for a real discussion about marriage. Certainly, the royal event will be a grand spectacle—and there are worse things than people enjoying themselves around something which at least purports to be, or seeks to be, a couple exchanging wedding vows promising lifelong union and with the prospect of children. Our tired country is short of the latter—like all of Europe, we have the lowest birthrate ever recorded in our history, an aging population, and an apparent loss of a real sense of confidence in our future.

I am not deeply convinced that this royal event will do much to enhance the value or importance of matrimony in modern Britain. But if it gets the topic put on the agenda—replacing the endless promotion of same-sex unions, people being urged to “self-identify” as something they are not and can never be, the distribution of contraceptives to schoolchildren, and the use of the classroom for crude videos masquerading as “sex education”—then perhaps it may help to move things in the right direction.

About Joanna Bogle 56 Articles
Joanna Bogle is a journalist in the United Kingdom.

21 Comments

  1. Mrs. Bogle,
    Under the Pontificate of Bergoglio the Catholic Church has lost many of its distinctions on Matrimony, and is in no better shape than Anglicanism. Easy annulments and formal divorce don’t differ much. Not to mention the gradual destruction of sacramental discipline, which has culminated in “Amoris Laetitia”. At present it is as difficult to say in the Catholic Church who is really, really married, as it is in Anglicanism. So what is there to proud of?

  2. Can’t the U.S. offer Britain better than the divorced Wallis Simpson for whom the King abdicated, and now divorced Ms. Markle ? To be honest, I had never heard of her until this Prince Harry thing. I keep calling her Angela Merkel because I can’t think of her name.

  3. I should be interested in the activities of British royals…Why?
    The Windsor men seem to have an attraction to divorced American women. Yaawn, ok fine.
    Now, can we speak on more important topics than “royals”. Thank you.

  4. The question that needs to be asked of them before they undertake marriage: Can two men be married?
    The answer they give is big.

  5. Ms Markle was baptized and confirmed in the CofE within the last few months. Although she had considered herself Christian she was not baptized prior to this. Therefore, as the Church teaches, with baptism using the trinitarian formula and running water the effects of original sin are wiped away and she becomes the daughter by adoption of our Lord (as St. Paul teaches).

    • Your comment seems to be a non sequitur. Yes, baptism washes away all sins, but it does not annul all previous marriages. It obviously does not render all future actions innocent, either. We should rejoice that she was baptized, but this does not mean that we should rejoice in the upcoming ceremonies.

  6. According to Roman Catholicism, if a couple presents themselves to be married, but one person or both persons of the couple have decided to not have children, then the marriage contract undertaken is invalid. No marriage has taken place, no matter how elaborate or not, the ceremony. This may well have been the circumstance during Ms. Merkel’s first ceremony, in which case, this ceremony with Prince Harry will be valid, as the word is that they are planning to have children. God bless, C-Marie

  7. “Did they mean to marry for life? What vows did they make? If she was validly married to him she certainly cannot marry anyone else. But there has been, apparently, no formal assessment or verdict, so we really do not know.”

    Oh come on. This sort of thinking demolishes the credibility of Catholics. The whole point of a ceremony is to make something official. And if you can’t take people at their word when they strand at th altar, when exactly can you take them seriously? I think the whole “valid marriage” nonsense is probably a bigger scandal than the Francis communion and divorce argument, just like the silence on homosexuality as a sin is a bigger scandal than the ‘defense of marriage.’ The prince is marrying a divorceé. Just like the pope is now misleading the faithful. It’s fanciful painting it another way, no matter what a book like Sheed “Nullty of Marriage” may try to say.

  8. Supposed catholic Moralists actually obsessed with the British Royal family and Hollywood. Who cares about this wedding?

    • Well, you, for one, or you wouldn’t be commenting.

      There are British people among the readers of this site, and so the marriage of a member of the British royal family is of interest to them. In addition to which, as Joanna Bogle pointed out, the publicity given to the upcoming wedding provides an opportunity to discuss marriage.

    • I do. I love the British Royal family and like having something in the news that’s actually joyous instead of tragic. The bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice.

  9. Neither Ms. Markle not her first husband were baptized at any point during their marriage. This is a textbook case of the Pauline Privilege.

    • And isn’t her first husband Jewish? And from what I gather their wedding might not have been recognized as legitimate by Jews, either, just to add to the reasons to doubt its validity.

  10. “royal weddings” breakdown along the same lines as the movie “The Piano”. Women lovveddd it and men just threw up!

  11. I am trying to make sense of the author’s claim that she will be ok with what she describes as an “adulterous marriage” if it “advances” her view of what marriage is in the minds of the general public. Whatever happened to the ends not justifying the means? I doubt the author would be equally supportive of a same gender marriage that accomplished the goal of advancing commitment and marriage.

  12. Despite a rather “colorful” marriage history by the English royal family going back at least a millennia, there was some attempt to regularized marriage by parliament. No divorce and remarriage (Henry VIII, George IV excepted) and certain other conditions that appeared to uphold the dignity of the royal family in accordance with the discipline of the Church of England. Needless to say, this has been honored more in the breech than the observance to the point where royals are little better observant than commoners. This coming event is quite a social affair to be sure, but maybe a marriage, not so much.

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