Coming from Eastern European peasant stock, I am not too interested in or impressed by things royal. Hence, I had no intention of watching any part of the royal wedding (which already had occupied the majority of news for the past week; at least, we had a reprieve from negative Trump coverage!). However, when I turned on my television for the morning news at seven on Saturday, I discovered that not only my regular channel but seemingly all channels had preempted normal programming to bring us the wedding of the year, live.
The Book of Common Prayer was rather faithfully followed, making for a dignified ceremony. The men and boys’ choir was on their game, as would be expected. The sermon of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States was well done – although I missed a definition of love which would challenge anyone. The piece by the black choir from the States stood out like a sore thumb, producing snickers from many in the congregation; their rendition of other pieces on the steps of the chapel after the ceremony came off as pure tokenism (reminding me of what many dioceses do when they allow the Neo-Catechumenal Way singers to perform their unique brand of music on the steps of the cathedral before and after diocesan events, but not during).
The absence of a Catholic prelate was striking, given that there was an Orthodox bishop and that the late Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster had a part to play in the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton; was Cardinal Nichols invited (and had declined), or was Catholic participation ruled out for some reason? As far as I know, this was the first time that priestesses were in evidence at a royal service. The bride knew her prayers, probably due to her having attended a Catholic high school in Los Angeles.
So much for surface observations. Now, for some substantive considerations.
Last month, Joanna Bogle informed CWR readers of Catholic reactions in England to the impending nuptials. She suggested that, although neither partner would win a prize for an ideal spouse from any objective perspective, the wedding did give people the opportunity to talk about marriage in some way and that not a few priests were seizing the opportunity. This is obviously all to the good. I am going to piggy-back on that presently.
It is more than interesting that in 1936, King Edward VIII declared his intention to marry the American double-divorcee Wallis Simpson. Since the Church of England at that time still held (at least in theory) to the indissolubility of marriage (although its founder, Henry VIII, certainly did not), Edward was faced with a major dilemma: keep the crown or take the divorcee. He abdicated in favor of Mrs. Simpson. In 2018, Prince Harry was also marrying a divorcee, Meghan Markle, with nary a word said about it. Ironically, the Anglican liturgy still quotes Our Lord’s admonition: “What God has joined, let no one put asunder.” Is it kept because it sounds nice or for the sake of “tradition”? Clearly, it has no meaning in the reality of Anglican life.
I was particularly struck by the beautiful lines uttered by the spouses during the exchange of rings: “With my body I honor you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” Truly magnificent, until I recalled that in 1930 at Lambeth, the bishops of the Church of England broke a two-millenial doctrinal commitment by sprinkling holy water on artificial contraception – indeed, the first Christian body to do so – although every major Protestant reformer had condemned the practice to that point.
The gift of self, so extolled by the preacher, must be a total gift: “all that I am. . . all that I have.” “With my body” – my whole body, with nothing held back. That means one’s fertility. One’s whole body, which means – pardon the graphic language – yes, one’s ova and sperm. Nothing held back. When I taught high school, and hormone-raging teenagers would ask why using a condom is wrong, I would ask how they would feel if before being kissed, someone put saran wrap on his lips. They got it.
Father Francis Martin, a great biblical professor of mine at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, commented that the problem with Charles Curran (and his minions) was that he didn’t understand the full meaning of “Jesus is Lord,” that is, that when we say “Jesus is Lord,” we must mean that He is Lord of all of my life or Lord of none: “Jesus is Lord of my heart, of my mind, and, yes, even of my genitals!”
I said to someone recently that it would seem that Prince William and his wife must have missed out on reading the Lambeth Declaration of 1930 since they have had three children in a little over six years. Or perhaps they read the rebuttal to Lambeth from Pope Pius IX in Casti Connubii before year’s end – or Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae in 1968, or John Paul II’s Wednesday audience talks on the theology of the body. Let’s hope so.
Where am I going with all this? Sad to say, in Cardinal Newman’s nineteenth century, the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church were much closer to each other, both doctrinally and morally, than in the would-be halcyon days of ecumenical dialogue. In his time, no Anglican accepted divorce/remarriage (despite their founder’s dalliances), birth control, abortion or priestesses. Even then, Cardinal Newman saw through to the roots and declared, in his Letters and Diaries, Anglicanism “the city of confusion and the house of bondage” (XX, p. 216). What would the blessed Cardinal say today? Catholics need to be grateful to the Anglicans for giving us a powerful object lesson in “paradigm shifts” and incremental “development” which keeps the words, all the while eviscerating them of their meaning.