Royal Wedding Service – a user’s guide

Will and Kate’s wedding uses a traditional Church wedding liturgy. I thought I’d offer a little commentary for those who are unfamiliar with some of the language, references and imagery being used. So this is a guide to make sense of the wedding service order. I am very happy to try and answer your questions. Hope you enjoy the service.

Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.1 I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
2 Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
4 That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the LORD—
to praise the name of the LORD
according to the statute given to Israel.
5 There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
7 May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
8 For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,
I will seek your prosperity.


The first reading is taken from Psalm 122, which is known as a song of Ascent which means it was one of the songs that Jewish pilgrims would sing when they made a pilgrimage to the Temple – normally for one of the great festivals but also possibly to offer personal sacrifices. The “House of the Lord” is another way of talking about the Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the effective capital city of ancient Israel, it was a royal city as the royals had their residence there.

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more;
feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside;
death of death and hell's destruction,
land me safe on Canaan's side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.

The first hymn to be sung was originally called “Guide me O thou great Jehovah.” Jehovah is an anglicised way of pronouncing YHWH which is the personal name that the God of Israel used to explain who he was to Moses in the vision of the Burning Bush.The song asks for God to guide his people through the challenges of life. The lyrics of the song draw a parallel between the story of the great rescue of the Israelites from captivity and slavery in Egypt. They travelled through a desert (barren land), they were fed with manna (bread of heaven) and water from a rock (crystal fountain) and led through the desert by a pillar of cloud and fire and they made it safe across the river Jordan to Canaan’s side – the promised land. William Williams the welsh hymn writer penned this song and used the exodus as an allegory for the christian life. That God would guide his people today as he did in the desert, that he would give his people all they needed as he did on the long trek from Egypt to Canaan and that he would lead them safe to the final promised land of eternity with him. It’s a great wedding Hymn because it signals an intention by the couple to say that right at the beginning of their married life in this new journey they are making together they want God to lead the way. As I read the words “I am weak but thou art mighty” I am reminded of the sense of inadequacy shown in Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George VI in the “King’s Speech.” Perhaps there is a sense of humility being shown by the royal couple as they set out on this new journey together.

The vows are pretty much the traditional ones. They are beautiful and profound:

Archbishop: William Arthur Phillip Louis, wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her comfort her, honour and keep her in sickness and in health, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her so long as ye both shall live?

The promise of unconditional, exclusive love is in many ways counter cultural as love is often seen as a temporary feeling – something you fall into rather than something you commit to. Strangely we find it easier to be faithful to our football teams “for better or worse” than the people in our lives.

He answers: I will.

Archbishop to Catherine: Catherine Elizabeth, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together according to God’s law in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

She answers: I will.

The only controversy in this wording is that in some older forms of the liturgy it reads “wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and obey him.” Some Christians argue that it is the husbands role to lead in marriage and it is the wife’s role to submit and obey him. Others read the passage in Ephesians in terms of mutual submission between husband and wife – where both look out for each other’s best interests. Whichever way you read it the solemnity of these vows is breathtaking. God is being invited to be involved in this relationship.

The Archbishop receives Catherine from her father’s hand. Taking Catherine’s right hand, Prince William says after the Archbishop: I, William Arthur Philip Louis, take thee, Catherine Elizabeth to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law; and thereto I give thee my troth.

They loose hands. Catherine, taking Prince William by his right hand, says after the Archbishop: I, Catherine Elizabeth, take thee, William Arthur Philip Louis, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law; and thereto I give thee my troth.

This truly is an unconditional commitment. “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” the promise argues that there are no circumstances that would invalidate this commitment. That even if things were to get worse as a result of this marriage they would still commit to love each other and this commitment is being made in the acknowledged presence of the Almighty God. In fact death is the only circumstances the other person would fail to keep up their end of this deal.

The service then includes the singing of Charles Wesley’s majestic hymn “Love Divine”

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

It’s another wonderful hymn for a wedding. The hymn explains that Jesus is the clearest expression of love. Jesus is the “Joy of Heaven to earth come down” He is the one who has shown his compassion by stepping down out of heaven to come to earth to offer salvation (or rescue) to all. The second verse talks about a longing for the return of Christ (otherwise known as the second coming), while the final verse looks forward to the time when everything: the heavens and the earth will be transformed back to good as new condition. The final couplet is particularly poignant for a royal wedding: “till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder…” If William ever does ascend to the throne he will receive a crown – but for his wedding he has chosen a hymn that reminds us that one day all earthly thrones and glory and splendor will be gladly thrown down in front of the true King of Kings.

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