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Royal Wedding service

A few reflections on the royal wedding, in no particular order – and hoping you might add yours…

Noticeable to me was that essentially the liturgical grammar was: come in and pretty much one of the first things that happens – they are married. I’m used to a primary liturgical grammar of gather – listen – respond. Ordination happens after the readings and sermon; confirmation happens after the readings and sermon; … I think that the best dynamic is for the vows to happen after the reading(s) and sermon…

The rite used (series 1), like BCP1928 and BCP1662 does not mention readings nor sermon (unless there is communion). Let’s not get caught up in whether having readings, sermon, (hymns!) is a breach of the rubrics, but if these are inserted would you put most of the stuff after the actual marriage …

What does it say that the family of the supreme governor of the Church of England do not use the contemporary rite? For many people watching, this was their only, or one of their very few, views of Christian worship. What does it say that the language is primarily not contemporary English…

In two decades of ordained ministry I have never used anything but the contemporary wedding rites.

Will there be an increase now in request for a non-contemporary wedding rite? “Such lovely sounding language… not sure what it all meant…” (Did people think that the both in … “..Both our hearts and bodies…” referred to William and Kate…)

Full text of the service is here.

Those who advocate for 1662 BCP will have missed the carnal lusts of brute beasts, “and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.”

Some are wondering if there may be an increase in church attendance? Increase in interest in Anglicanism? Are we strategically prepared for this?

With a woman as supreme governor of the church, it was also good to glimpse a woman priest – no women participated in the service’s leadership…

Those who advocate and practise having a multiplicity of presiders at services may now point to the wedding service’s practice for affirmation…

The well-read reading from Romans 12:1-2,9-18 was using the NRSV translation. Yay! Romans 12:9-21 is in the NZ Anglican list of suggested readings, and Romans 12: 1,2,9-13 is in the CofE suggested list. It was a good choice. Will it be used more often… There was no introduction where it was from, nor a concluding sentence or response.

The sermon. Mainly read, not rehearsed enough for such a significant occasion? Good length (7 1/2 minutes). No mention of the reading from Paul? And were we praying the prayer written by Kate and William? I thought he was reading out a prayer they had written so that he could comment on it and we would pray it later… When he was saying “I pray” he was glancing around, and clearly glancing to and addressing the couple. Suddenly he concluded “And we all say Amen” (Note, his address was not identical to the printed text.)

I believe more could have been/should have been/could be made of the prayer the couple wrote themselves:

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.

A nice touch was quoting from Saint Catherine of Sienna at the start of the sermon. It would have been her feast day in the Church of England (and elsewhere), had it not been Friday in the Octave of Easter/Easter Friday/Friday in Easter Week. This year the feast of Catherine of Siena is omitted. Was the feast day part of the reason for choosing that date? (Often some Anglicans will reserve the title “Saint” for New Testament figures ie. St Paul, St Mark, but not St Catherine of Sienna – certainly that would be the case in official texts).

There was a lot of online confusion about the two sisters (“nuns”) sitting next to William and Kate. Some thought they were from the Community of the Holy Name who have a community at Lambeth Palace. But I don’t know why they would have pride of place, then, say over Archbishop Rowan’s wife. I think they were Sisters of the Church. Clearly many were surprised that there are Anglican religious (“can Anglican nuns marry?” was a tweet I saw more than once). ‘Aussie Pommie’ Sister Judith CSC is the Abbey’s Chaplain. Sister Annaliese CSC was covering when Sr Judith was poorly, but both are there now. Their community is at Ham Common.

I thought it a particularly positive Anglican touch to have the happily married Archbishop receive the vows of the couple who then sat alongside two overtly vowed to lifelong celibacy.

Important to keep one eye on tweets etc. to realise where many people are at. The sanctuary was called the stage. A NZ TV commentator called the sermon a talk. And was surprised at the amount of “religiosity”. I did enjoy the tweets about one of the nuns wearing reebok classics! And, “Maybe they’re undercover nuns.” – “With ninja star crosses.” “DEFINITELY Mi5”. Some thought the nuns were not dressed for the occasion – I guess they don’t know about the vow of poverty either… I’d be more interested in why Archbishop Rowan continues to use the same barber as Albus Dumbledore does… Online messages: The ABC should have gone to the barber shop. His beard was badly in need of a trimming as well as his eyebrows. He should be embarrassed looking like that at such an important day. He shouldn’t have done the wedding if he was going to look like a slob. A bit like another thing of his I can think of that no one in England appears to have the brass to say to the ABC is not so good…

There was no kiss in the service… I will be surprised if that addition to the rite is abandoned

A lot was made in the media that there was no “obey” for Kate. NB “obey” wasn’t removed – it wasn’t there in the 1928 proposed BCP rite, and would have to be inserted into contemporary vows. Altering the church’s vows is normally not allowed in Anglican churches. More interesting to me is the reflection that Queen Elizabeth has vowed to obey Prince Philip…

“Blest pair of sirens…” – OK, put your hand up if you know what that is all about?

Whether or not there would be communion was discussed here. By the time I started watching the service I knew there would not be, but as the congregation gathered I realised why not – with the complex (confused/confusing?) CofE rules on who can communicate, etc. it would have been embarrassing…

The Abbey’s icons of Jesus and Mary featured strongly on the TV broadcast – an interesting moment was the focusing on Mary’s icon in the singing of the anthem acknowledging the Queen…

Many appreciated the indoor out door flow. If you can’t marry outside amongst the trees bring the trees inside.

I appreciate that Kate put her veil up early in the service. If there is a veil that is my practice – I do not like people making vows to each other with a veil between them…

And don’t miss this clip from after the wedding service:

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60 Responses to Royal Wedding service

  1. The Prince of Wales is Patron of the Prayer Book Society. The services at the Chapel at St. James’s Palace are all from the BCP. I would have been shocked if William and Catherine had been married using the Common Worship rite.

    • Thanks for your contribution, Chris. The service was not from BCP, nor was the Prince of Wales’ CofE wedding. The Prince of Wales’ current marriage was not conducted by the CofE, and I’m not sure that his being Patron of the Prayer Book Society should/would have been part of the dynamics. What do you find particularly shocking about Common Worship? Was Kate’s confirmation using BCP?

      • The Prince of Wales/Duchess of Cornwall’s marriage was blessed by the ABC in St. George’s Chapel Windsor…unsure which rite was used but would guess BCP. I don’t know which rite was used for Kate’s confirmation–it was a private service.

        I don’t find Common Worship shocking, but would have been shocked had that rite been used for the current Royal Wedding. The Prince of Wales doesn’t allow its use in the chapel he controls.

        The service at the Abbey may not have been pure BCP, but was adapted from it. Hardly anyone uses the pure BCP wedding service nowadays as it’s somewhat graphic and pitches marriage as the alternative to rutting like animals 😉

        The Royal Family is quite Low Church as a whole (except for the late Princess Margaret) and eschews Communion services for the most part. Mattins is their preferred Sunday fare. I don’t believe that the Queen has attended a public Eucharist since the Coronation.

        • Thanks, Chris.

          “The Prince of Wales/Duchess of Cornwall’s marriage was blessed by the ABC in St. George’s Chapel Windsor…unsure which rite was used but would guess BCP.” The BCP does not have a rite for the blessing of a civil marriage. [No one has yet explained to me what that blessing of Charles and Camilla’s civil marriage actually means].

          “The Prince of Wales doesn’t allow its use in the chapel he controls.” As far as I know, the Prince of Wales does not control Westminster Abbey.

          “The service at the Abbey may not have been pure BCP, but was adapted from it. Hardly anyone uses the pure BCP wedding service nowadays” This rather, again, appears to argue against your own position. The service they used was Series 1 which is a revision of 1928, which was a revision of BCP1662 (which was a revision of 1559, which was a revision of 1552, which was a revision of 1549). Common Worship is the revision of ASB which revised Series 1. I am not sure how one argues pro-BCP, but doesn’t use it, uses revisions of it, and then says the revisions should stop at a certain point. Does it just have to sound olde to be OK?

          BCP, of course, requires communion three times a year. In NZ, one would not use the term “Low Church” for the style of service of this Royal Wedding. BCP, of course, has “It is convenient that the new-married persons should receive the holy Communion at the time of their Marriage, or at the first opportunity after their Marriage.”


          • Perhaps there are some logistical and security reasons for not having a eucharist as part of these weddings. Many years ago, Princess Margaret attended a service at my parents’ home church in Lexington, Kentucky. It was morning prayer, instead of communion, and the congregation was instructed that everyone had to be in their pews before she arrived and had to remain in their pews until she left.

        • I suggest that a long-term eschewing of public communion services is not low church, and strongly points towards the concept of the private mass. Participation in the public celebration of the Lord’s Supper, sharing one cup and one bread with many, contains within it a powerful liturgical expression of our standing in Christ and before God.

          Whether Queen or pauper, we all rely upon God’s grace in the shed blood of Christ, and we all are called likewise to the proclamation of this death until he returns.

  2. Enjoyed watching the Verger doing cartwheels down the aisle. I bet the ABC will have something to say about that.

    There is an inscription on the eighteenth century tomb of the Countess of Huntington just outside Winchester, England, that captures what has often been the Anglican approach to worship. “She was a just, godly, righteous and sober lady,” it says, “a firm believer in the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and devoid of the taint of enthusiasm.”

  3. What does it say that the family of the supreme governor of the Church of England do not use the contemporary rite? For many people watching, this was their only, or one of their very few, views of Christian worship. What does it say that the language is primarily not contemporary English…

    Why should it be in “contemporary English”? The language used for the wedding had gravitas. The thing about “contemporary English” is that it wont be contemporary for long, it is disposable.

    People aren’t stupid they can understand the older forms of language and if used liturgically week after week the understanding becomes easier for those who attend Church.

    You dress for the occasion, you speak for the occasion.

    See also Damian Thompsons take

    • Thanks for your contribution, Andrei. I disagree with you that contemporary English is unable to have gravitas. The reading was in contemporary English, the sermon was in contemporary English. You appear to contradict yourself in arguing that the the English which was contemporary at the time of Elizabeth I is disposable.

  4. Linked to from Taonga is this comment re the sirens, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/30/royal-wedding-music-john-milton:

    “It was surely, however, the unexpected inclusion of Hubert Parry’s setting of Blest pair of sirens that was the stroke of pure genius.

    John Milton’s ode is of course among the finest in the English language. Its choice – like the music before and after the service – made a strong statement about the depth of the national tradition of which the couple are the youngest icons. Equally its threefold exploration of heaven’s concordant life, the often discordant nature of sinful humanity and the possibility for a new marriage of earth and heaven both witnessed to the promise at the heart of the Christian story and to the newlyweds’ own sense of their spiritual union.

    But herein also lay the reality of another union through the bonds of death, which inevitably pressed in on the joy of the wedding. For as the choir implored listeners to “keep in tune with heav’n, till God ere long / To his celestial consort us unite, / To live with him, and sing in endless morn of light,” many will have shed a tear for the mother already on another shore and in a greater light.”

  5. Interestng critique. As RC, I found the service somewhat unstructured, not expecting the exchange of vows to feature so early, so the following prayers potentially anti-climactic. Glorious music, though, especially Rutter and Mealor pieces.

    • As I indicated, Noel, I don’t think its unstructured feel was dependent on your denominational background 🙂 I think the constant change of leadership also worthy of some reflection liturgically.

  6. “In two decades of ordained ministry I have never used anything but the contemporary wedding rites.”

    Did you give each couple the option to make the choice?

    • Yes, Liam. I can also add that NZ has three contemporary marriage rites – I have never had a couple choose one of those contemporary rites, also. That is another story.

  7. Hi Bosco,
    Re: “In two decades of ordained ministry I have never used anything but the contemporary wedding rites.”

    Would a C of E priest say the same thing?

  8. Lots to consider from your post:

    1. Yes, indeed, it did seem hasty to have the wedding vows come right away. Indeed, as it happened the TV was tuned to a channel from Spain, which showed the bride arriving, walking down the aisle, and then… the channel cut to daily news from Spain! Unable to get the TV to change channels, I went to the internet… missing the vows (!), except for the part where the ring was stuck on the finger for a bit. This episode suggests to me that the Spanish simply did not expect this hasty exchange of vows either.

    2. Very interesting that all the official prayers used thee and thou. But the prayer of the couple did not! Hmmm…. If I dared to interpret this, I would wonder if perhaps the palace prefers thee and thou but the couple tends to use modern language? Or maybe the palace prefers that prelates use thee and thou but regular folks can speak modern English?

    3. Not knowing whether the reading was actually one used often for Anglican weddings, I truly wondered if the emphasis on forgiving one’s enemies was a message to the world at large. And why not? Surely it’s a message that bears repeating.

    I was touched by the wedding. As I am by just about any wedding. I hope that the world’s blessings will be a support for them in the future.

    • Thanks, “TheraP” for your points. I think your point 2 very pertinent. Remember also that “the palace” uses the polite form (“you”) – it would have been a grave insult to address royalty with thee or thou. As I noted, the particular verses chosen for the wedding are not even suggested in CofE. Commentators noted your point about forgiveness in relation to the lack of invite for Sarah, the Duchess of York. Actions speak louder than words…

      • Forgive the apparent error in my comment. What I was wondering in #2 was whether the palace prefers that God be addressed in the thee/thou form, in which case the couple’s prayer is a bit of strike into independent territory. (I well realize the royals do use regular English when they converse. Thankfully!)

  9. It is easy for those of us accustomed to church and liturgy to criticize, however I think the wedding service gave a lovely positive view of the church to those outside the ‘holy huddle’. There might be specific reasons that we are unaware of as to the order of the service etc. And given the unique nature of the wedding, a little lee-way should be given. Not many people get married in front of a squillion people! One of the Australian news commentators spoke of the ‘stiffness’ of service! Surely he meant ‘formal’. Wedding vows are meant to be formal and serious – aren’t they? Sort of echoes the idea of ‘stage’ and ‘talk’. Anyway, loved it all, best wishes to them both.

  10. Thanks for the comprehensive post, Bosco. Personally I am entirely happy with modernised language, but what bothers me is changed theology. As you know, Series One/1928 stands, theologiclaly, between Common Worship (which demphasises the holiness of God and marital conjunction) and BCP1662. Perhaps it is being seen as a compromise position between liberal and conservative groups?

    Liturgically, I prefer something which modernises the language without changing the theology. If you will permit a link of my own, something along the lines of: http://www.ofcommonprayer.com/66/the-form-of-solemnization-of-matrimony/

    As to the prayer, it would not make liturgical sense to pray the prayer written by the couple, as it is grammatically fitting only on the lips of the couple. I suggest that the words “and we all say Amen” are intended to show our joining of our own prayer to the force of these petitions as opposed to praying them ourselves. It may have been clearer to offer a prayer in reflection that could be shared by all.

    You note the sermon length of 7.5mins as being about right; I suggest you are right only because of the lack of substance in the sermon. I think however that a great opportunity for teaching from the scriptures was missed; a fuller (perhaps just 20 mins) sermon would have allowed the bishop to set out Christian marriage, to correct false understandings of the pattern of marriage, and ultimately to point to Christ and his great work for our reconciliation, through the figure of marriage.

    • Thanks, Vincent. I am no expert on Common Worship – so cannot respond to your analysis. I can comment on the NZ Prayer Book at some depth. Some of the NZ Prayer Book I think is very good, some is dreadful – I’m sure I’ve made that clear throughout this site. I looked at your link to the BCP “updated” and find it both flawed in concept and execution. In concept: there are areas of 1662 that, after the break of the Commonwealth, lost some of the Reformation concepts, confused as some of them were. And this link’s “revision” is neither fish nor fowl – its language is neither contemporary nor “Elizabethan”. If you see the prayer as only being able to be prayed by the couple, let the couple proclaim it. Otherwise alter the brief to them: produce a prayer we can pray for you at your wedding.

      • Thanks Bosco; neither fish nor fowl is precisely the design. So, avoiding those elements of 16th century language which (I am assured) people do not understand; but going no further. If someone has a problem with the agreed and established theology enshrined in law and formulary, then let them persuade the Anglican Communion as a whole to subscribe to the new theology – officially, openly, and globally – for anything less is not Common Prayer but a mere pretense of communion.

        • Thanks, Vincent. You appear to be bringing together two things which are, it seems to me, no longer so tied: the BCP 1662 in probably many provinces of the Anglican Communion has a special status as part of the “established theology”, but I would have thought that in only a minority of places would its text be the primary one used for worship. There is no common prayer in this sense in my province, let alone in the Anglican Communion. By altering the language of BCP as your link does, immediately there is a departure from that understanding of common prayer in any case.

  11. “A lot was made in the media that there was no “obey” for Kate. NB “obey” wasn’t removed – it wasn’t there in the 1928 proposed BCP rite, and would have to be inserted into contemporary vows. Altering the church’s vows is normally not allowed in Anglican churches. More interesting to me is the reflection that Queen Elizabeth has vowed to obey Prince Philip…”

    In 1947 my mother went to England and married my father just before the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Since the Queen could not promise to obey someone who was not the king, “obey” was taken out of the vows. My mother did not promise to obey my father. She reminded him of that on occasion.

  12. Thank-you for this teaser of a post, Steve! Your 18th c. Countess of Huntingdon is presumably not the same one as Selina, founder of her own sect of ‘neo-Methodists’? – see http://www.believersmagazine.com/bm.php?i=20110406 who is said to have been buried in the family vault in Leicestershire. This one was a real zealot, and could not have been described as ‘devoid of the taint of enthusiasm’, much as I agree that this used to be high praise in the Church of England. Can you give us more detail…?

  13. I have nothing to support this idea, but I am inclined to believe that the use of the Series 1 aspects of the service was an accommodation to the Queen. Through the years I recall hints that she can be rather stuffy when it comes to using only traditional language in liturgy.

    It is also amusing to me that in the US, folks have forgotten that thee and thou were actually the common usage and you and yours the polite usage. Statesonians look upon the use thee and thou as being very formal. I have had to stifle laughing out loud at times as someone has comically struggled with the torturous proper verb conjugation in extemporaneous prayers using thee and thou.

    I read that the Prince of Wales carried a lot of influence on the music in the service. It is reported that he made a great many suggestions regarding what to use and that he and Kate listened to a lot of the music on their iPods until the couple was ready to make the final choices. What was chosen was chosen to represent Britain and because it had a lot of pomp, in addition to the various sentimental connections. I am working from memory, the bride’s procession was used in another part of Diana’s wedding, the first congregational hymn was a favorite of Diana’s, the motet was written by a young composer who lives on the island where the Prince is stationed and the anthem was newly commissioned by the Abbey of John Rutter specifically for the occasion and in the hope that future couple’s would now have a new piece from which to choose.

    • People who speak three languages are “trilingual”, people who speak two languages are “bilingual”, people who speak one language are called “English/American”. Yes, David, the plural is normally the polite form of second person pronouns – in many languages. As you reinforce it is forgotten that that “thy will be done” is the way you would talk to a close mate. Hence one of the needs to use contemporary English. As in “prevent”, for example, the “traditional” language is now saying to contemporary people the 180 degree opposite of what it originally meant. Thanks.

  14. BTW, having seen photos of them both looking much more scraggly, I am convinced that both +Canterbury and +London had facial hair trimmed!

    I found Rowan’s hat hair amusing when he removed his miter.

  15. In the Common Worship Marriage Rite, there is provision for the bride to promise to obey; it’s called Alternative Vows. I don’t know if it has ever been used.

  16. On the “olde Englyshe” question, Bosco, are you familiar with Christine Mohrman’s Liturgical Latin: Its Origins and Character (London: Burns and Oates, 1959)? It’s a fascinating study of how traditional Biblical language was melded with the language of pagan and state religion, in both East and West, to create a distinctive Christian style that had nothing to do with the “vernacular”. A couple of examples:

    [F]rom the very earliest times, Christians sought for prayer forms which were far removed, in their style and mode of expression, from the language of everyday life. This tendency was combined with a conscious striving after sacral forms of expression. Already at an early period the East did not disdain to seek a rapprochemetn with certain profane literary traditions, but, on the other hand, the Easterners never abandoned the connection with the biblical style which characterized the earliest prayers. (p. 26)

    And on Latin, specifically:

    The advocates of the use of the vernacular in the liturgy who maintain that even in Christian Antiquity the current speech of everyday life, “the Latin of the common man”, was employed, are far off the mark. Liturgical Latin is not Classical Latin, but neither is it, as is so often said, the Latin which was considered decadent by educated people. The earliest liturgical Latin is strongly stylized, more or less artificial language, of which many elements — for instance the Orations — were not easily understood even by the average Christian of the fifth century or later. This language was far removed from that of everyday life, a fact which was certainly appreciated, since, at the time, people still retained the sens du sacré. (pp. 53-4).

    Mohrmann repeatedly says that the determining characteristic of early Christian liturgical language was not communication but expression, i.e. an attempt to capture, in the very words and style of prayer, something of the depth and mystery of the object of our worship. People will appreciate such language to the extent that they retain, or discover, that “sense of the sacred”.

    I think that’s why at the most solemn occasions (like a royal wedding) it just feels right to find a more “sacral” way of speaking, something that says, “This is not an everyday occurrence.” For us today, we don’t have to meld the Bible with the language of, say, the courtroom or the House of Lords to achieve this effect: we already have it in Cranmer’s liturgical English (which was, as all acknowledge, very far removed from the common speech of his day, as was the Authorized Version to be in the next century).

    Of course, that argument didn’t work on my then-fiancée when we were planning our wedding! She wrote off the BCP as soon as she saw the word “betwixt”, and it was the Book of Alternative Services for us (and let me add that my largely unchurched relations were very favourably impressed with that liturgy too — “The most beautiful church service I’ve ever been to,” said one uncle).

    But it has often struck me that discussions about liturgical language often get nowhere because a fundamental question goes unanswered: To whom are these words addressed? It seems to me that a great deal of modern liturgical nonsense arises because we have the delusion that prayers are addressed to the congregation. It’s a problem even among clergy, to judge from the many priests I’ve seen who work hard to keep making eye-contact with the “audience” while praying collects. A fellow theology student gave me a Eucharistic Prayer he had composed for a liturgy course, and I had to gently point out to him that such a prayer is supposed to be addressed to God the Father, and that therefore “God” should not be referred to in the third person in the course of the prayer. He had clearly gone through his whole Christian life instinctively feeling that the Eucharistic Prayer was an exposition of the Paschal Mystery recited for the edification of the communicants. Given the example set by so many clergy, it would be hard to fault him for that mistaken impression.

    So, I’m very much in the camp of “Dearly beloved” and all that goes with it! But perhaps we are, like smokers, a dying breed.

    • Thanks, Jesse. Yes, smoking does affect one’s health. The Bible, of course, is written in ordinary, Koine Greek. Contemporary liturgical English need not be in the same register as ordinary conversations. I cannot follow the approach which says there is appropriate language to be used in liturgy – let’s use outdated English. The force of your argument points towards creating an appropriate liturgical English. In conversation we do not use the subjunctive, yet nearly every liturgy uses the subjunctive. “Dearly beloved” is perfectly appropriate IMO in contemporary liturgy. Who is addressed was an issue in the Royal Wedding – the couple do not address the declarations to each other, as some commentators suggested in relation to the quiet response. A Eucharistic Prayer not addressed to God for a liturgy course by a theological student demonstrates a poor theological understanding and an inadequate liturgy course. I have been present at a service where the congregation received a reflection addressed to us on bread and wine in stead of a Eucharistic Prayer. Poverty of liturgical study, training, and formation is one of the motivators for this site. The preacher in the Royal Wedding sermon kept eye contact through his “I pray…”

      • Precisely right: the Bible uses Koine Greek, but the liturgical tradition does not, and never has. We’re not bound by the precedent, but it’s one worth heeding.

        I quite agree that there’s no obvious necessity to use “outdated English” in the liturgy, as such (and my own experience bears this out). But Mohrmann’s point was not that the early Greek and Latin liturgies used “outdated” language (their language was neither archaic nor contemporary), but that they drew on recognizably sacral modes of expression, borrowed from Roman pagan rites and from the language of imperial protocol.

        So, if we want English liturgical language to have the same effect, it may be useful to see what parallels we have in our current culture (rather than simply taking our inherited models and turning them into modern speech, while retaining subjunctives, etc.). We have no pagan auguries on which to draw! But think of all the examples of elevated English speech familiar around the world through American pop culture: the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the oaths of office taken by American politicians. Even “You have the right to remain silent…” is admirable for its balance, clarity, and precision! (Cf. “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice…”) And I’m sure many of us can recall the language of University convocations. I remember that my B.A. was approved by “The-Honorable-and-Reverend-The-Board-of-Overseers”, and my subsequent academic career furnished many more such examples (Auctoritate mihi commissa, admitto te in gradum doctoris philosophiae…). For a secular public, that’s what “ritual language” sounds like.

        And it just so happens that our traditional English liturgies sound like that too, because they have largely shaped what our secular rituals sound like. Hence I see a certain wisdom in something like the 1928 BCP (and the Series 1 marriage service) preserving the traditional wording, but with light updating in vocabulary and rather heavier updating in theology (again, let’s think of Hollywood: “With this ring I thee wed”). The 1959/1962 Canadian BCP manages something similar, including its “corrections” of the King James lections and the Coverdale Psalter.

        The more adventuresome revisions of late attempted a cleaner break. The Canadian BAS (1985) has this to say in its preface:

        Scholars speculate on the secret of Cranmer’s style. Some attribute it to his proximity in time to the period of Middle English, with its use of stressed lines and alliteration. Others believer the essence of his style lies in the frequency of “doublings” or compounding of subjects and objects, so that nouns are held in paradoxical tension with each other, each modifying and amplifying the other. Whatever the source of Cranmer’s elegance, it is not characteristic of the English language now. The poetry of our own day tends to be spare, oblique, incisive, relying more on the sharpness of imagery than the flow of cadence. Liturgical language must attempt to speak in its own idiom. The purpose of liturgy is not to preserve a particular form of English address but to enable a community to pray, and that demands struggling with the vernacular. (p. 12)

        It’s a statement I would, with one or two reservations, strongly support — especially point about liturgy needing its own “idiom”. If only the contents of the book lived up to this ideal! On the whole, if I may be forgiven for passing summary judgement on what is a needed, useful, and widely used book, the prayers are neither Cranmer nor T. S. Eliot [or insert your own preferred “modern” poet here]; they are neither old nor new; they are neither elegant nor “incisive”. Some of the prayers come really close, and the richness of their scriptural imagery is great (though that too is lost on most of our people these days). But, at least for me, it’s often like biting into a hollow chocolate bunny: hollow and disappointing.

        I’ll close by noting, with approval and gratitude, that your website and blog are indeed helping to fill the void in liturgical education and formation. I learn a lot every time I drop by 🙂

        • Thanks, Jesse, for all that. If you find the BAS a mixed bag, you would find NZPB even more so. I think in many ways we are still searching for a contemporary English liturgical register. And we do not have a poet that springs to my mind. Current English is grappling with finding ways to speak gender-inclusively. The latest RC translation responds to that by insisting that men can mean women – that IMO is like continuing to use prevent as go before. I see liturgical language as in (great) part commenting on the liturgical action – I do not think it is right that liturgical language should need further commentary and translation. I appreciate what you say and agree with much of it, and also appreciate very much your encouragement.

      • Perhaps you meant something different by “declarations” but the vows, “I, N., take thee, M., &c. certainly are addressed to each other, as is “With this ring. . .” If you referred to the “I will” responses before the vows they were of course addressed to the minister (in this case +Rowan) who asked the questions. All these of course are public statements made before God and the congregation, but addressed to specific persons.

        As to Her Majesty’s churchmanship: I have had the opportunity to meet some of her chaplains and I am told that while Mattins is her most common Sundah morning service she does also participate in the Eucharist, and that her once sell-knowwn objection to chasubles was a matter of obedience to the 19th century decisopms pf yhe Privy Council; since the adoption of neww canons that specifically recognized their legitimace chasubles have been worn in the Chapels Royal.

        I’ve blathered on rather more than I intended, but it was fun.

        • Thanks for your contribution, Fr Bill. I don’t know where you are, but here in NZ we distinguish between the vows (which are addressed to each other), and the declarations which you call the “I will” responses. On chasubles: this could lead to an interesting discussion on the ornaments rubric in the Prayer Book 🙂

  17. While I have a slight quibble with your statement that we don’t use the subjunctive in conversation (it’s still used in American English), I agree that we can have a contemporary liturgical language that gives a sense of the sacred without using outmoded pronouns and verb endings.

    That said, the Royals are anything but avant-garde, so it’s not surprising that they would feel more comfortable with a traditional language liturgy.

    • I would be interested, Paul, when you use the subjunctive. I can only think of “Happy Birthday…” and “God save the Queen…” the latter probably not used a lot in USA 😉

      NZ Anglicans began (legally) using contemporary English in the liturgy in 1966, that’s 16 years prior to William and Kate’s birth, and when William’s parents were 18 and 5.

      I reinforce your point: we can have a contemporary liturgical language that gives a sense of the sacred without using outmoded pronouns and verb endings.

      • Examples of the subjunctive in AmEnglish include:

        “We suggested that he go to the store.”
        “We asked that she not leave yet.” (although “we asked her not to leave yet” also works).
        “If I were a rich man..”

        • Thanks, Paul. Interesting. I wonder how many AmEnglish would correct, “If I was you …” – I cannot see many Kiwis doing so. “If I was President…”…

          • “If I was you” is becoming more common here. In another 50 years, it may completely replace “If I were you.” However, a sentence like “It is important that he speaks with his boss” still sounds a bit strange to US American ears.

            I forgot to mention that while “God save the Queen” isn’t that common here, but we do have “God bless America, a country on which another national song asks that He shed his grace. And given our large British expat community, as well as the marked increase in antipodal republicanism in recent years, we may have more people asking that God save the Queen here than where you are.

          • Well, polite Americans wouldn’t correct incorrect grammar in person, as it were; that would be rude. But they’d correct their children and themselves. The subjunctive mood is still quite alive in the States. It was never uniform, because US usages has never been as uniform as prescriptivists would have liked (and that includes prescriptivists who now would like to declare older usages archaic before they are dead – inclusive usage comes readily to mind).

  18. I’m pretty sure I recall one commentator in the days before the event saying that the couple had chosen to use ‘traditional language’ for the service in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. If so, rather strange not to use it for the reading!

  19. Hello Bosco,
    I was struck by the absence of candles and have been hoping for a comment from you on that! What say you?
    In nearly twenty years of officiating at weddings I have not used the 1928 rite, and referred the one and only couple who asked for it, to a retired priest. They soon learned there were no choices about what you may or may not have from the service and settled on the 1st of the contemporary rites. I have however attended a wedding where the 1928 rite was used. I thought it awful.
    Best wishes

  20. Thanks Vincent, there certainly are one or two candles in that very rich and gorgeous picture. I was so taken by the alms dishes, I must have missed them!

  21. It was a bit odd that there were trees brought into the Church, don’t you think? I’ve never seen it done before. Have you or your readers any opinion on this unusual addition to the service?
    I am curious.

    • Could you tell us your name, please, RH. You do not indicate where you are from. Here in NZ it would be pretty common to bring a tree into church at Christmas time.

  22. I couldn’t agree more with your comments up to the place in which you quote the prayer. After that point, I am grateful for your perspective. There is much that I didn’t know, and your post is very informative. Thank you.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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