Wedding Commitments–Royal and Otherwise
by David Gibson
A wedding is a unique event for a host of reasons. Not least among those reasons, a wedding fixes everyone’s attention not only on the promises made that day, but on the lasting promise of marriage for the couple, their families and friends, and their larger world.
Anglican leaders were at pains to spell out the multifaceted promise of marriage in remarks at the time of the April 29 wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton – now known as duke and duchess of Cambridge. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Bishop Richard Chartres of London made plain that a wedding is not an endpoint, but a point of beginning.
The number of church weddings is declining; moreover, while most young people say they hope to contract a lasting marriage, many doubt this is possible for them in the 21st century. In this context, the royal wedding’s clear Christian celebration in Westminster Abbey was out of the ordinary for reasons other than the grandeur of its setting.
Both Archbishop Williams and Bishop Chartres reportedly played roles in private marriage preparation sessions for the royal couple covering areas of concern in married life. In a video message one week before the wedding, Archbishop Williams said the couple had “a very simple, very direct picture of what really matters about this event.” He said:
“I think that they have a clear sense of what they believe they’re responsible to. They’re responsible to the whole society, and responsible to God for their relationship. And I think it’s impressive that … they’ve known what matters, what’s at the heart of all this. They’ve worked toward that.”
The promise of marriage was linked directly by Archbishop Williams with the commitment a wife and husband make. “It’s a commitment that says that, actually, I’m not only prepared to spend the rest of my life with you, but to spend the rest of my life finding out about you,” he said.
What people say to each other in a wedding is that “there’s always going to be more of you to discover,” the archbishop continued. He drove home the point that “there’s a mystery, a delight at the heart of human beings, and it’s possible to spend a lifetime and more exploring just that.”
The sermon Bishop Chartres delivered during the royal wedding similarly accented the promise of marriage as a promise of growth and discovery. “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,” he said.
The promise of marriage encompasses the possibility of spiritual growth, Bishop Chartres noted. He said the faithful and committed relationship of a wife and husband can open “a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: The more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves.”
The world needs the witness of married love and commitment, Bishop Chartres and Archbishop Williams agreed. “We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril,” Bishop Chartres commented. People today “are confronting the question of how to use wisely the power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century.”
However, he said, “we shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence for life, for the earth and for one another.”
Archbishop Williams expressed the conviction that every wedding “sends a message.” In a wedding, two people declare “something not only about themselves but about what they most deeply believe, the values they most deeply hold to,” and they declare that “to the whole world around,” he explained.
So “a marriage is good news,” said the archbishop. For, “it says something so deep about our humanity. And it tells us that we can have grounds for hope – that there are people around who want to spend their lives with each other.”
A wedding, with its “great act of generous commitment” on the couple’s part, suggests to others that commitment remains possible, Archbishop Williams stated. A wedding, he said, might prompt others to ask themselves if they too are “capable of more generosity and more commitment, more faithfulness, more purposefulness” than they’d imagined.
Bishop Chartres and Archbishop Williams echoed each other’s concerns in another way by insisting that those who witness a wedding are not passive viewers of an event, but have roles to fulfill in supporting the couple’s future life together.
“I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today will do everything in their power to support and uphold you in your new life,” Bishop Chartres said to the royal couple.
Archbishop Williams said to viewers of the wedding: “We have to be witnesses in an active sense, the kind of witnesses who really support what’s going on. To be a witness is more than to be a spectator.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.