In 1981, Lady Diana Spencer didn't promise to obey the Prince of Wales and nor did she in the years that followed. On Thursday, palace officials revealed that Kate Middleton, already restyled "Catherine" and to be known from tomorrow morning as Princess or by another honorific, will also avoid the promise to obey her bridegroom. According to the official wedding program, published in advance of the ceremony, Rowan Williams, the hirsute Archbishop of Canterbury, will ask, "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, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?" And she, barring a last minute change of heart, is expected to answer as follows: "I will."
The program contains the order of service including the text of the vows, the rest of the liturgy (from the Book of Common Prayer, Alternative Services, Series One) and a reading. A message from the couple is apparently directed to the 1,900 wedding guests who will receive the program for free. "We are both so delighted that you are able to join us in celebrating what we hope will be one of the happiest days of our lives," they say, deploying a cautious turn of phrase that suggests they are taking nothing for granted about the smooth course of their nuptials and ensuing festivities. A further print run of 150,000 programs will be sold for about $3 apiece at central London locations. These are doubtless destined to be collectors' items especially if garnished with the odd autograph or two.
Barring any unforeseen hitches, the service and the music that accompany it promise a magnificence that only a fusion of British royal and ceremonial traditions with full-blooded, high-church solemnity could create. Prince Henry of Wales Harry too gets a transfusion of seriousness for the occasion will arrive with his brother, the groom, at the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey to be escorted to the lantern, the central core of the building, in a choral procession featuring the Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Choir of Her Majesty's Chapel Royal. When Her Majesty subsequently makes her appearance in person, a fanfare will be sounded. Royalist or republican, moments of pure drama like this are guaranteed to get the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
The Queen will make her way through the Abbey with the Duke of Edinburgh, Charles and Camilla, and the Dean of Westminster, John Hall, who will take the service. The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who will give the address, and Williams, who conducts the marriage, follow closely behind, clearing the way for the arrival of the bride and her father.
That, of course, is the image that has been so keenly anticipated. The bride has rehearsed her entrance guests who have never before attended a service at Westminster would be advised to crane their necks to watch every step before she reaches the carved wooden choir that will obscure the direct view of any of the guests seated at the back of the church (there will be screens inside the Abbey transmitting the service to prevent disappointment).
Once Kate is safely in position, and the congregation have sung the first hymn, "Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer," the service quickly reaches another moment of tension, as the dean of Westminster intones those famous words, "If any man can shew [sic] any just cause why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."
If you listen closely to the ensuing silence, you may hear hearts breaking as William's legions of fans are forced to realize that he is truly off the market even though, during the exchange of vows that comes next, he will not don a ring. Once the Archbishop has pronounced the couple man and wife, the congregation sings a second hymn, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling."
The couple has enlisted Kate's brother, James Middleton a purveyor of fancy cakes to read the lesson (Romans 12: 1, 2, 9-18). The content of the Bishop of London's address, unlike the rest of the service, remains a secret until he delivers it. He knows the groom well, offered him guidance after the death of his mother and presided over his confirmation 13 years ago. If Diana is to be given formal acknowledgment in the service and it seems inconceivable that she will not it will be in Chartres' address.
After a series of prayers, there's one more hymn every Briton's favorite, "Jerusalem," with its fabulous words by William Blake. Nor is this the last chance for those present or those watching in London's parks and on its streets, or across the country or in far distant lands to sing their hearts out. The service comes to a close, as it started, with a fanfare, but this time the notes will scarcely die away before the crashing opening chords of the national anthem sound. "God Save the Queen," indeed.
After that, it's almost over. The happy pair sign the register out of view of cameras and then move through the Abbey in a procession with other royals. The happy and glorious Queen pauses and, with husband in tow, makes a separate, stately exit. It is choreography that once again entrenches her position within her family and her country. All eyes may be on William and Kate, but don't forget it's Queen Elizabeth II's show.