Generous Orthodoxy  

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding: some impressions

I watched the entire proceeding on the BBC, and I am very glad I did. The coverage from their box was restrained, respectful, and--of course--knowledgeable. The only time they went wrong was with the roaming correspondents among the crowds who spent all their time "interviewing" narcissistic people in outrageous costumes. It would have been much more interesting if they had sought out the ordinary, unpretentious people who had made a great effort to be there and would have had more edifying observations. It was also a bit of a shock to hear these crowd-roaming BBC reporters saying "like" and "you guys"!

Other impressions:

--It was very moving and soul-strengthening to hear the traditional Prayer Book service. The majesty and solemnity of the language is simply incomparable. One of our favorite family stories concerns a cousin's wedding in New England fifty years ago. The grandfather of the bride, a Congregational minister, was asked by the bride's family to use the Episcopal rite. When going over the service with the bride and groom, he protested that he was sure they didn't want to use "I require and charge you both, as ye shall answer at the dreadful day of judgment..." The bride said, "But grandfather, I LOVE 'the dreadful day of judgment'!" That's a good Advent text, right there.

--Ordinarily I recommend that lay readers keep their eyes on the text. But James Middleton read Romans so wonderfully well that, although he looked up frequently, I could only admire the reading--simple, deliberate, solemn, slowly paced, and above all, delivered with understanding and respect for what he was reading.

--The hymns were well chosen. I was amazed to see almost that almost all the gussied-up English people in the congregation were actually singing, and all the verses at that. The Queen and Prince Philip also joined in. I wondered whether those who sang were pondering the lines, "When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside..." It seemed odd, yet significant, to sing of one's inevitable death on such a day. In these days of tornadoes and terror attacks, memento mori is a good thing, even at a wedding. I have often wondered how many people realize that when we sing "Death of death, and hell's Destruction, land me safe on Canaan's side..." we are addressing the Lord Christ who alone is victorious over death and hell.

--The homily by the Bishop of London was quite good, I thought. Even though there were all those conspicuously divorced people sitting right under the pulpit, he managed to say something substantive about marriage in the sight of God.

--The Queen looked so very happy as she rode with Prince Philip to the Palace from the Abbey in the Scottish Coach. It really was striking. Perhaps she hopes for more marital success in the second generation.

--Prince Philip is as erect at 90 as he was at 30. It is astonishing. He got out of the coach with much more ease than I could at 75, and then helped the Queen out, although she looked as if she didn't need any help. They both then walked up the steps without holding on to anything and without looking fearful of falling. Amazing!

--In my opinion, the most remarkable dress was Pippa's, a paradigm of understated elegance. Kate's will hold up well, also. It would be nice to think that this means the beginning of the end of strapless wedding dresses, a lamentable fashion. But why did Kate (Catherine) wear such an underwhelming tiara?

--Englishwomen's hats: one wants to cheer for the deeply ingrained tradition of hat-wearing, and the Prime Minister's wife looked underdressed and out of place without one, but why such preposterous designs? One is more absurd than the next. They are just too huge. Today's dresses and shoes can't stand up to them. Pity the poor men standing behind one of those things; they couldn't possibly see anything. As for the flyaway creations that Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie habitually wear (with egregiously unsuitable dresses), what are they thinking?

--It's important to remember that the Household Cavalry are not just decorations. They are real soldiers, who have served or are going to serve in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview at the Royal Mews, an attraction I hope to see if I ever go back to London, the officer in charge said that it took 10-12 hours to prepare a man and his horse for a ceremonial occasion, and that his men took great pride in their "kit."

--Almost all the music was by English composers, which is probably as it should be, but there was too much C. H. H. Parry for my taste. I longed for a bit of Handel. Alas, I probably will not live long enough to hear once again "Zadok the priest" as the Crown of St. Edward the Confessor is lowered onto the sovereign's head. I will never forget the overwhelming power of that music when I heard it for the first time as a 15-year-old watching the film of Elizabeth II's coronation. (By the way, Handel's house in London has been saved and has recently been converted into a museum of his life and work while he was in England.)

--One can only wish the handsome couple well. I wish that they had not been openly living together, as have Zara Phillips (Princess Anne's daughter) and Mike Tindall who will marry this summer (at one of my favorite churches in Edinburgh). It is already hard enough to set an example for one's grandchildren,and when the royal family sets such a conspicuous precedent it is that much more difficult. It is not true that living together is a good preparation for marriage; statistics (though of course statistics never tell the whole story) repeatedly have shown that couples who have lived together have a higher break-up rate. By now, however, it is such a common practice that there many not be many more statistics to show.