Monday, May 2, 2011

Catherine of Siena and the Royal Wedding

April 29, 2011

I was delighted to hear the Bishop of London acknowledge the feast day of Catherine of Siena during his homily at the royal wedding today. She, like many mediaeval saints, was an odd bird, who began having visions at the age of six, did some writing about the ineffable love of God, saw herself as a bride of Christ and is honored, along with Francis of Assisi as a patron saint of Italy. Her shrunken head is preserved as a relic in a big Franciscan Church in Siena, not far from the shrine that is devoted to her.

The wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was a glorious occasion that defied cynicism. In the midst of all the pomp and pageantry was a couple saying that the commitment of self-giving love in marriage is, for them, the way of life. I was struck by a number of things in the ‘traditional’ service, --essentially a rite from 1928—including the use of ‘betwixt’ and the older version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, which art in heaven…” For me that tended to underscore the increasing irrelevance of a faith that is becoming reserved for special occasions and has little to do with the rest of life. Certainly a wedding or funeral without ritual is a flabby and flaccid thing, but there must be some places where the larger context connects with what is going on. I also wondered about the decision to include a Kyrie, triggering the saying of the Lord’s Prayer without doxology and wondering if that slightly confessional note was necessary for some reason.

On the other hand, I was also struck by the amount of times in vows and prayers that the honoring of each other in, by, through and with their bodies was mentioned and saw that as a strength of the liturgy from which we could learn. In days in which Christian sexual ethics are undergoing change, (although you wouldn’t know that from some blog commentary about the co-habitation of the couple prior to the wedding), the honoring of the whole person, made so explicit, seemed to me a good thing.

It was a great day to be British and to celebrate something of our national culture that other nations, notably including America, do more regularly and in a wide variety of ways. I sometimes get nervous when love of God and love of country get merged together as though they were the same thing and a flag becomes a quasi-religious object, but I still love William Blake’s poem Jerusalem and the wonderful Parry tune to which it is set. Not just a patriotic hymn or “alternative national anthem” but a prayer for justice and a call to work for same.

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

1 comment:

Robert said...

I loved seeing Jerusalem in your post; learning it and singing it is one of the happier memories of my years in England at age 10-12. I miss hearing it over here.

Bob Pfeiffer