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Catholic lessons from an Anglican royal wedding

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.

St. George's Chapel Choir rehearses in Windsor, England, May 14 before the May 19 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. (CNS photo/Steve Parsons, pool via Reuters)

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.

About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 72 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

21 Comments

  1. “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 it could just mean they used contraception briefly between babies to ensure the babies were born 2 years apart, rather than 12-18 months. Or it could mean that some form of contraception “failed” at some point. Or it could mean they practiced periodic (or even long-term) continence to put some space between babies (ecological breastfeeding as the cause of spacing is unlikely because it requires taking the baby everywhere with you and allowing him/her to suckle on demand 24/7, which would be pretty tough to manage while performing royal duties).

    You can’t really gauge how much a couple adheres to HV by the number of children they have–or even how closely/far away they are spaced. A couple who never uses artificial contraception may have only 1-2 children in their lives (either because of low fertility or because of exercising continence in their marriage), and a couple who has 6, 8, or 10 children may well have used contraception at some point to space children or even to stop having them altogether. I myself know more than a few couples who had 4, 5, 6 more more children who eventually chose to sterilize themselves.

    I bristle when people speculate whether couples adhere to HV or not based on the number of children they do or don’t have. The truth is, unless a couple specifically tells us how they are spacing/planning their families, none of us has a clue what is (or is not) going on in other people’s bedrooms.

    • I hope most readers understand that my comment about Prince William and wife was tongue in cheek! Sometimes we need a bit of a sense of humor, no?

      • I apologize for not catching the humor.

        You might find that more than a few Catholic women will miss it, though, or find the humor in poor form. This can be a very sensitive topic for Catholic women who suffer from infertility, repeated miscarriages, serious health issues that make further pregnancies imprudent, etc. It’s not unusual for orthodox Catholics to make insensitive comments or even to judge couples as not adhering to HV due to the small number of children in their family.

        Meanwhile, that couple with 6 kids in the pews gets praised as a “good” Catholic family, while one of the spouses had themselves sterilized once they had reached what they felt they could handle.

        So, while I am sorry if I was both too harsh and lacking in an appreciation for humor in my response, I do think it is important to push back against those who (even jokingly) contribute (however unintentionally) to the tendency of orthodox Catholics to judge the faithfulness of couples by the number of living children they have.

  2. Thank you for pointing out that mass-media coverage of this show was nearly ubiquitous. I am not a regular consumer of mass media and would not have otherwise known.

    Furthermore, the fact that the “mediocracy” decreed that all should participate tells me everything I need to know about the Royal Event.

  3. Was deeply moved that Mrs. Markle-Engelson pretended to marry a royal so near the tomb & corpse of Anglicanism’s royal founder King Henry VIII. Possibly ominous tho, that ceremony was held on anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution.

  4. I’m just happy that old George and the missus were there and went to the soiree afterwards.

    “We’re here and you’re not.”

  5. Thank you Fr. Stravinskas, for this essay, and your unflagging faithfulness as a true father to the children of the Church.

    I am struck by the confession: “if God is to be my Lord, He must be my Lord of all.” My good faithful evangelical friend just said that to me when we were talking about chastity for our teens and adult children.

    The awesome beauty of the vow goes forth from Bride Groom of The Wedding Feast: “With my body I honor thee.”

    We must all betray the sexual revolution, and vow our bodies to The Lord and our spouses alone, as our bodies are sacred, in the mind and heart of Him who gave his body – that we might realize the truth – about our bodies.

    Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the Fire of Your Love.

  6. Doesn’t the fact that Ms. Markle wasn’t baptized at the time of her first marriage but was baptized as an Anglican recently give her Pauline privilege for this union?

    • She could be a candidate for the Pauline Privilege, were she a Catholic. Anglicans don’t worry about such subtleties.

      • I think you will find that is not the case, as this is probably the reason why ++Cantuar chose not have a wedding in the style of the Prince of Wales’, where a blessing received the civil marriage, rather than a full rite of marriage which he performed here.

  7. I learned little from this article perhaps with one exception… how to control the number of children one produces. Meghan did break all the rules for a royal union. She was divorced, she was from a mixed race, she was an actor and, most of all, she was thought to be a Catholic. We can assume that her first marriage was performed by a priest and perhaps if she did not seek an “annulment” from her first husband she would not be in good standing with the Catholic Church.

    • Meghan Markle’s first marriage wasn’t performed by a priest. It was an outdoor wedding in Jamaica. She was never a Catholic, but attended Catholic school. I think you should at least get your facts straight.

    • She was an actress, not an actor.

      And, no, she wasn’t “thought to be a Catholic,” at least not by anybody who took a second or two to do any basic research. She attended a Catholic school, but so do a lot of other non-Catholics. Her first marriage appears to have been a civil ceremony of some sort; the groom was Jewish but it does not seem to have been a Jewish ceremony.

  8. “The Book of Common Prayer was rather faithfully followed, making for a dignified ceremony…. 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.”

    The BCP as revised in the 20th Century!

    The original is better: “With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow”. Interestingly, in the Ordinariate form, ‘worship’ has survived but ‘endow’ has still been downgraded to ‘share’.

  9. “…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.”

    Except that they had lived together for a few years before marriage.

  10. The ‘Church of England’ has been likened to an anglo-saxon Shinto. It can be rolled out for all state occasions, does what is written on the label and doesn’t question its establishment rôle or get to theological or doctrinal.
    With Scotland drifting away and the uncertainties of Brexit looming the English establishment needed a shot in the arm. This wedding provided that. With head firmly buried in the sand Ruritanian Britain goes forth.

  11. It may be that the divorce was not terribly significant here, since the groom, royal though he may be, is very far indeed down the line of succession.

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