Monday, August 3, 2015

In Praise of Royal Weddings

A love song.
My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your splendor and majesty!
In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!..

From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
forget your people and your father's house,
and the king will desire your beauty.

Since he is your lord, bow to him.
The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
the richest of the people.

All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
In many- colored robes she is led to the king,
with her virgin companions following behind her.
With joy and gladness they are led along
as they enter the palace of the king.
Psalm 45

Reflection – This is a most unusual psalm—unique, really, in the Psalter. It is titled in its superscription ‘a love song’, and that is indeed what it is. A hymn composed for a royal wedding—perhaps one of Solomon’s many. It is unique in that there is barely a reference to God in it—only in passing, asking for his blessing upon the king. It is all about the splendour of the groom and the beauty of the bride and the joy of their union, all in some of the most ornate and highly coloured language of the entire Bible.

The Song of Songs is the only thing like this in the rest of the canon. Now, as it happens, the Church in its wisdom gives Psalm 45 a place of prominence in the liturgy that is very telling as to its meaning and import. In the Liturgy of the Hours there is a four-week cycle of psalms, over the course of which those of us entrusted with this prayer pray nearly the entire psalter. The last office of this cycle is Daytime Prayer of Saturday, Week 4. And the last psalm of that office is Psalm 45.

The Church chooses to end its cycle of psalms with this love song, this hymn in praise of the royal wedding—beautiful brides, handsome grooms, palaces and wedding chambers and all.

And of course this means something. It means that, in the end, our religion is a love story. In the end, our religion is about a wedding (see how the Bible itself ends, with Revelation 22)—the wedding of heaven and earth, God and humanity, Christ and the Church, God and the individual human soul. It is all about weddings—the coming together of two different ‘things’ to make one new thing, a glorious thing, a beautiful thing, a thing that brings life and joy in its wake.

This is why the Church cannot change its fundamental teachings about marriage and its structure, both in the number and gender of those who are admitted to it, the indissolubility of it, and its necessary openness to fruitfulness. All of these things directly flow from the taking up of marriage in our revealed tradition to being a revelation of God and of humanity and our essential relationship.

But I don’t want to dwell in this post on those painful and agonizing questions pressing on us. Rather, Psalm 45 bids us to rejoice that God is indeed the bridegroom of all humanity, and that all of us, whatever anguish we endure, whatever pains and sorrows are part of our path in life, however little we feel any of this to be true, are ultimately summoned to the royal palace, because the King desires our beauty and wants to make us one with Himself.

It is all a love song, in the end. And in the difficult, confused, and painful times that we seem to be called to live through in the Church and in the world, we need to take hold of that and enter deeply into it. Psalm 45 should be a prayer we have regular recourse to. All is about love, all is about union, all is about God coming to us and we going to God. All is about the beauty of the bride—humanity, you, me—and the beauty of the groom—Our Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself.

With joy and gladness let us forget our people and be led along into the palaces of the King.

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