An ecumenical matter


As Royal Wedding fever begins to mount, there seems to be a surprising amount of apathy towards the couple from various Catholics on the blogosphere.

Whilst I admit that I was somewhat under-whelmed by the both wording and the timing of the prayer for the couple that was released last week by the Catholic Church in England and Wales, I struggle to see why many Catholic commentators are expressing indifference towards William and Kate’s nuptials.

Whether one likes or loathes the Royal Family, whether one is a fervent monarchist or committed republican, the monarchy is here to stay for the foreseeable future and thus as Christians we should celebrate that they are choosing to endorse the institution of marriage, which forms an important part of Catholic social teaching.

Though scoffed at by the liberal intelligentsia there are many who do still look to the royals to set an example, and I for one, was both dismayed and concerned that the royal couple seemed to be endorsing the practice of cohabitation, not least because it put Kate Middleton in a seemingly impossible position, unable to lead any sort of normal life, unable to carve out a career for herself and stuck in limbo until such time that William felt able to commit one way or the other. Of course it was desirable that he should not act hastily, but eight years seemed to be more than ample to decide whether or not this was the woman with whom he wished to spend the rest of his life.

William and Kate reflected today’s society in which cohabitation is a fact of life, a try-before-you-buy policy and certainly in their case the balance of power seemed to be one way, with Kate potentially having a lot more to lose had things not worked out. I am able to speak from the fairly unusual position of having cohabited before a marriage, as in the case of my annulled marriage, and also of having remained chaste before marriage and I can testify to the effectiveness of the latter in optimising one’s chances of a successful union. Though the blame for the breakdown of my first marriage cannot be solely attributed to cohabitation, it doubtless did not help us to make the transition from simply living together and sharing a house, to the permanency of marriage. Marriage entailed a lavish and expensive day, but the day after, neither of us felt any different, nothing had really changed, and as we both languished on the sofa the day after the wedding, nursing our hangovers, we even debated whether or not it would be worthwhile to cancel the honeymoon, given neither of us had any energy. Once the excitement of the wedding was over, there was nothing different, nothing new to look forward to.

When I properly entered into the sacrament of marriage, things could not have been more different. Everything was a novelty to the pair of us and highlighted the new status of our relationship. Even doing things like sharing the washing-up together, and sorting out various household tasks, reinforced the new intimacy between us. It was no longer his vicarage, but our family home, and even now, a few years later, having spent a few years dating before marriage, just the act of sharing the same bed to sleep in, still hasn’t quite lost that sparkle. There was a definite demarcation between simply going out and actually being married, there was a positive decision on behalf of the pair of both of us, a saying “yes”, a leap of faith, “this isn’t going to be easy, we won’t always feel as we do now, but I love you, I trust you and I am going to do my best to be the husband/wife that God is calling me to be”. It’s decidedly different from “well I’ve lived with you for x years, we share everything, why not, I think I can risk it and if it doesn’t work out there’s always a get-out clause”. The problem with cohabitation is, as far as I can discern it, is that there is always that get-out clause and its easy to carry that forward into a marriage as well as slide almost unthinkingly into matrimony. This sentiment is borne out by a recent study. Whereas in our case we had to make a positive decision with regards to whether or not to take our relationship to the next stage. It wasn’t without difficulty, chastity did not come without struggle for either of us, logistically had we lived together then we would not have encountered the difficulty with regards to my daughter’s school, she missed out on places at both the excellent C of E school that my husband was the governor of in his capacity of vicar, and indeed the equally good Catholic school, but it was certainly the right thing to do in terms of setting her a living example. Shortly after we got married, she exhibited signs of jealousy given that all of a sudden mummy was sharing a bedroom with dad and she felt excluded from the sleeping arrangements, although this was made up for by letting her choose the décor of her brand new bedroom, the painting of pink walls and the addition of lots of fairies, cupcakes and butterflies!

As Catholics we should not just shrug our shoulders at the forthcoming nuptials but actively wish the couple well, as we would with any other couple, regardless of status or privilege. Though it is tempting to be disdainful of the costs involved and the necessary pomp and pageantry, befitting the representatives of our country and solemnity of the occasion, given the prevailing economic gloom, it seems more than a little churlish to deny Kate Middleton her moment of glory. Though one doesn’t need to buy into the Royal Wedding fever currently being whipped up by the press, the idea of a street party being something of an anachronism from a by-gone age, if the Royal Wedding engenders a sense of community and enables friends and family to spend time reinforcing their bonds whilst celebrating the forging of a new one, then perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea after all. It might well be bread and circuses, but I’m sure most of us are, if nothing else, appreciating the extra day off and extension of the May bank holiday.

To note that as Catholics we should not be concerned by the behaviour of the Anglican monarchy from which we are disallowed, excluded, and which has no spiritual jurisdiction over us is misguided; actually the royal wedding is, in the words of Fr Ted Crilly, an ecumenical matter. In his book The Realm, Fr Aiden Nichols argues that Catholics need to reclaim Englishness and the institutions that stem from Catholic heritage, in order to build for the future. Though we may have doctrinal differences with Anglicanism, we need to recognise that the throne and the Church of England, are to quote Newman “breakwaters against infidelity”. They guard important elements of our Christian past and will slow down the process of secularisation, until such time, that the Catholic Church may genuinely renew its spiritual force.

Instead of defining ourselves by our political leanings, and  our  feelings towards the monarchy as a whole, we need to remember that we are first and foremost Christians, disciples of Christ and not forget the symbolism of marriage and the vital role it has to play within our faith and the building of a stable society.

Christians of all denominations should therefore unite in prayer and thanksgiving that the future King and Head of the Church of England is, albeit belatedly, embracing and endorsing the institution of marriage, before writing off the nuptials as irrelevant.


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