Friday, May 18, 2018

A Wedding at Saint George's

Among my many happy memories from my 2005 sabbatical summer at Britain's Windsor Castle was praying Prayer Book Matins and Evensong every day with my classmates and the Canons of Saint George's in the Garter Knights' choir stalls in Windsor Castle's beautiful and historic Saint George's Chapel, site of tomorrow's royal wedding.  (As I recall, that summer I usually sat in the King of Norway's Morning Prayer and Evensong.)

Saint George's Chapel was erected in the late 14th and early 15th centuries and is part of England's glorious pre-Reformation religious and civic legacy. As a "Royal Peculiar," the chapel and it Chapter of Canons survived the worst excesses of the Reformation. It remains central to the Order of the Garter, whose members - the Monarch, the Prince of Wales, 24 Knights Companions, and other Royal and Stranger Knights - all have their banners displayed in the stalls. Several English and later British monarchs are buried within its precincts - Edward III, Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VIII, King Charles I, George III, George IV, William IV, Edward VII, George V, and George VI. So, as an alternative to clippety-clopping around London, Windsor's Saint George's Chapel is an obviously appropriate place for a royal wedding.

Along with the beautiful place come the stately cadences and the beautiful language of The Book of Common Prayer. Particularly worthy of esteem is the traditional Instruction with which the BCP Marriage Rite begins, simultaneously so familiar and so solemn: Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and in the face of this Congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, etc. It minces no words about the seriousness of marriage and the duty to approach it reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God, and considering the three purposes of Matrimony - the procreation of children ... a remedy against sin ... [and] the mutual society, help, and comfort, that one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.  

Weddings are primordially social events, their significance deeply embedded in our human consciousness, for a wedding signifies the continuation of the human story and of a family's story from this generation to the next. A royal wedding further signifies that for a nation's story.

Royal weddings also focus our attention on the enduring value of the under-appreciated institution that is modern monarchy. It contrasts with the demonstrable deterioration of electoral politics and the widespread weakening and evident decline in effective democratic governance which we are currently experiencing not only in the Untied States but all over the Western world, all of which ought to highlight the symbolic, social, and civic importance of non-electoral, value-bearing institutions, that help hold societies together and offer an alternative to the destructive values of contemporary popular culture.

As a recent article in The Spectator (Jenny McCartney "Why Britain is lucky to have Meghan Markle") pointedly observed: "The widespread profound affection that the British public has for Queen Elizabeth is partly based on the fact that although she’s always been there, we’ve never had too much of her at any given moment: she’s a combination of cosiness and mystery, and she doesn’t get on our nerves. The Queen doesn’t over-emote or tell us every thought that passes momentarily through her head: she’s a one-woman antidote to the excesses of social media."

Monarchy may not be the only "antidote to the excesses of social media,"  but it is surely a most obvious one - at least for those societies lucky enough still to possess one. it is one of the very few traditional social and civic institutions still standing that has somehow managed to survive the blight of modernity's anti-communitarian individualism and post-modernity's moral and cultural vacuum.

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