Friday, March 09, 2012

Blessing for Study Only I

Our friends at the SCLM have put out some same sex blessing materials, including a sample/proposed rite. I'm not really interested in discussing the supporting material here, if for no other reasons than (a) it's too big a chunk to bite off at once, and (b) I'm not up to moderating a comments-based discussion of whatever I may have to say. The sample rite, however, cries out for analysis. This I intend to carry out in three parts: the first, which you read here, will talk about the structure of the rite, while the second will discuss the scripture selections and the third the detailed wording of some passages.

I begin with some overall observations. It is possible to perform this rite without saying anything in common with the marriage rite, save the Lord's Prayer. Every single other passage either differs from its marital parallel, or provides for an alternative which the 1979 rites do not countenance. The latter is largely accounted for by the continuance of the anti-dominical heresies found in almost every new liturgy promulgated in the past decade or so: in every case where the word "Lord" would ordinarily be used, an alternative is provided which omits it, the only exception being in the litany. The converse of this is that nearly every element of the marriage rite is included, with one telling exception which I will discuss at the end.

While most elements of the marital rite are included, the order of those elements is quite different. Comparison of the 1662, 1928, and 1979 rites discloses a common structure which anyone who has watched a movie marriage scene will recognize. The core rite begins with a greeting which connects the rite of marriage with the union between Christ and the church. Then follows a charge to disclose impediments, the making of promises, the presentation of the bride (optional in 1979), the vows and the exchange of rings. The final part of the rite consists of a prayer in the form of a blessing, the proclamation of the wedding, and the blessing proper; this section varies somewhat in order. The 1928 version contains these elements alone; the 1662 and 1979 rites append a statement of the purposes of marriage to the greeting, and 1662 has a series of readings following the core rite as a kind of scriptural homily. All of these rites provide for following the rite with communion, though as is common with older books the exact way this is to be done is not spelled out.

The 1979 version incorporates two innovations. The first is the inclusion of a series of prayers between the proclamation and the blessing, preceding the old blessing prayer. This is constructed in the style of older books but in fact lacks any precedent. The other innovation is a restoration of the lessons dropped in the 1928 version. The 1979 addition is in the absolutely stereotyped form common to all modern ECUSA sacramental rites: it begins with a collect and is followed by a series of readings, separated by psalms and anthems, and ending with a homily (made optional). Also per 1979 practice the lectionary provides for an OT lesson, an epistle, and a gospel reading, the latter presented as if for a eucharistic rite. This is all inserted after the promises and presentation, so that the core rite resumes with the vows; again as is standard for 1979, the rite ends with the peace, which is the suture line for joining this to the communion rite. This overall pattern is also found to a degree in the ordinal rites: the entrance rites for the latter also incorporate the section of promises and such before the collect.

The SSB rite, however, is constructed on the basis of the baptismal rite, not the marital rite; the elements of the latter are rearranged to match the corresponding element of baptism. Therefore the SSB rite begins with the conventional seasonal opening sentences, followed by a versicle and response section and the greeting. It then proceeds directly to the collect, skipping all the charge and promise section which in the marital rites precedes the collect. The next section follows the ECUSA lesson/psalm/gospel/sermon stereotyped plan, and then the rite proper resumes. Again, the order of the elements reflects that of baptism, beginning with the (optional) presentation, followed by the promises. The prayers are in the form of a litany, and they precede the vows; the Lord's Prayer is dropped in after the litany. The rings follow the vows immediately, per convention, and then the proclamation; then the rite continues with the blessing prayer and blessing proper, and as with everything ECUSAn, ends at the peace. This mirrors the baptismal order, in which the litany precedes the sacramental act.

And indeed, the references to the baptismal rite are constant in the theological discussion preceding the sample rite. I do not want to step up to discussing how well-founded this connection is; the fact remains that this is really the matrimonial rite recast in the shape of the baptismal rite. But that brings us to the two omissions from the 1979 marriage rite. Recall that the it begins with the greeting, a statement of the purposes of marriage, a charge to take marriage seriously and to reveal impediments, and the promises and presentation. Well, the SSB rite skips directly from the greeting to the collect, with the promises and presentation, as I said earlier, moved to follow the sermon and swapped in order. The other elements are simply dropped: there is no statement of purpose for the relationship blessed by this rite, and the charge is also entirely eliminated. I have no idea why the latter is missing, and the omission is odd considering that the vows contain the "forsaking all others" pledge on which the charge is predicated. the omission of the purpose statement is more telling. Perhaps one can construct an analogy of baptism with marriage, which is the consequence of their argument; but the fact remains that one can construct from scripture a rationale for marriage that makes no reference to baptism. Marriage indeed precedes and perhaps can be said to prefigure every other rite save the offering of sacrifice. This leaves the SSB rite in something of a paradox: it's constructed out of the parts of marriage, but in the way that it specifically appeals to anything else except marriage for a justification, the fact that it doesn't have the explicit warrant afforded to marriage is emphasized.


Bill Dilworth said...

I would think that the ideal would be to avoid anything like an explicit parallel with the marriage service, something along the lines of the Eastern adelphopoiesis service.

Bryan Owen said...

I'm not surprised that this rite is constructed on the basis of the baptismal rite. I hear a lot of support for blessing same-gender couples that appeals to our equality in baptism as a prime warrant.

This reminds me of back in the Fall of 2010 when the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church met with representatives of Province I for hearings about people's experiences with same-gender blessings. At that meeting, Bishop Stephen Lane of the Diocese of Maine said this about the baptismal warrant for blessing same-sex unions:

"I think it is heretical and immoral to have different standards for different groups of baptized people," he said, adding that he fears the church will "lose its nerve" and settle for something that is "separate but equal."

C. Wingate said...

Not to tip my hand or anything, but my feeling is that this service will be found unsatisfactory; but some material will then be used to modify the matrimonial rite. The issue then will become how much damage is done in that process. In my view the changes proposed through the current liturgical revision push have been overwhelmingly negative.