Every time there is a royal wedding, the one story newspapers all love is the one in which they announce the that the bride will vow to obey her husband or not.
What form of wedding vow one uses is hardly of interest to Catholics who never get a choice in the matter. As far as I have ever known the Catholic wedding service has one form of words and one only. The lucky Anglicans have a wide choice. But, never mind the vows, what about the preamble.
Here is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here 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 in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: 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.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.
Most people will adore this for the grandeur of the language. I fully acknowledge that, but my chief reason for approving it is its excellent theology. Cranmer may have been a Zwinglian, and he may have denied that marriage was a sacrament, but I think he understands what marriage is all about, because he understands human nature.
The alternative is Common Worship (2000) which has the following preamble, which though perfectly agreeable, may well be missing the emphasis on marriage as a remedy for sin:
In the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we have come together
to witness the marriage of N and N,
to pray for God’s blessing on them,
to share their joy
and to celebrate their love.
Marriage is a gift of God in creation
through which husband and wife may know the grace of God.
It is given
that as man and woman grow together in love and trust,
they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind,
as Christ is united with his bride, the Church.
The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured
and in which each member of the family, in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love.
Marriage is a way of life made holy by God,
and blessed by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ
with those celebrating a wedding at Cana in Galilee.
Marriage is a sign of unity and loyalty
which all should uphold and honour.
It enriches society and strengthens community.
No one should enter into it lightly or selfishly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of almighty God.
N and N are now to enter this way of life.
They will each give their consent to the other
and make solemn vows,
and in token of this they will [each] give and receive a ring.
We pray with them that the Holy Spirit will guide
and strengthen them,
that they may fulfil God’s purposes
for the whole of their earthly life together.
This picture of marriage is optimistic to say the least. It does not say why the couple need the grace of God, nor does it present any hint that the “delight and tenderness of sexual union” may encounter any difficulty whatever, apart from a mention of “good times and [in] bad”. It is a picture of marriage so rosy that one is left wondering why anyone in their right mind would ever want to get divorced.
The Catholic Rite of Marriage currently in use has the following preamble, which we can be sure the Prince and his bride will not hear:
My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church’s minister and this community. Christ abundantly blesses this love. He has already consecrated you in baptism and now he enriches and strengthens you by a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.
It is a bit bald, but the mention of baptism is important. Neither Anglican version mentions baptism, which is rather a startling omission, to my mind. But, with this caveat aside, on the whole I think Cranmer scores, and the other versions miss. I hope we shall have 1662 at the wedding. It might give all those watching a welcome jolt.
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