Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blessing for Study Only III

OK, intrepid liturgists, this is where it gets ugly, because I here take up the wording of the proposed same sex blessing rite. Recall from the first installment that it is possible to get through this liturgy without saying anything in common with the marriage rite other than the Lord's Prayer. This is enabled in very large part by the provision for non-dominical versions of much of the conventional dialog of the liturgy, so that there alternatives for each of the following liturgical tropes:
  • Opening sentences: Except during Easter the BCP version isn't offered at all (because we cannot say "his kingdom"), and the Easter acclamation allows substituting "Christ" for "Lord" in the response. Ordinary time allows use of a non-trinitarian version, and there is no provision made for Lent.
  • At the collect: The presider may say "God be with you" instead of "The Lord be with you."
  • After the readings: The reader is given two alternatives to "The Word of the Lord".
  • At the Gospel: The deacon may say "The Holy Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ" instead of "our Lord Jesus Christ". Note though that the closing versicle and all the responses retain "Lord".
  • At the Peace: The presider may say "The Peace of Christ" instead of "the Peace of the Lord".
All of this represents an independent theological innovation, and one for which I see no real need. In the case of the neutering of the God-language I have a particular problem, because if taken seriously, it prevents us from using the language of scripture. It reminds me of the passage in 3001: The Final Odyssey where Frank Poole, having been revived, hears the expurgated version of Dave Bowman's final words. He knows that his crewmate didn't say "By Deus", and I know that scripture, and thus our old liturgy, refers God as "he" in every case. And that's before I get to the issue of whether the masculine language is even significant (which is way too big an argument to bite off here). Of course, eliding the trinitarian address and refusing to say that Jesus is Lord and God are complete non-starters for the vast majority of Christians across time and space. The rite itself is enough of a violation of that unity without increasing the division at every turn of phrase.

But leaving that aside, we have now exhausted, excepting again the Lord's Prayer, any common language with any other rite. Everything else here is new. Now, classically the language of prayer book rites is taken either from that of older Anglican books, or is adapted from scripture. To some degree that remains true here. For instance, the V&R section that follows the opening sentences in baptism is taken from Ephesians 4:4-6; the corresponding exchange here is taken from 1 John 4:7-8,11. After that, though, the greeting is a strange composite. In the marriage rite, this is composed (as I mentioned in the first part) of three parts: the greeting proper, the sign, and the statement of purpose. The last two elements are omitted here. No analogy is made between this union and anything sacramental, though the readings tend to imply a connection to the life of the members in love and harmony with each other. And the statement of purpose is also dropped. In their place, a bit of the old marital promises is adapted (I note for instance the phrases "forsaking all others" and "as long as they live"). This is followed by a bit of, well, barely-mitigated glurge:
Ahead of them is a life of joy and sorrow,
of blessing and struggle,
of gain and loss,
demanding of them the kind of self-giving love
made manifest to us in the life of Jesus.
Christ stands among us today,
calling these two people always to witness in their life together
to the generosity of his life for the sake of the world,
a life in which Christ calls us all to share.
Ah, the heroic battles over who gets up first and makes the coffee; at least they are likely to be spared the titanic contest over the position of the toilet seat. This is the kind of puffery that really gets to me in recent liturgical texts. Older texts may be florid; 1979 may be terse to the point of being abrupt; but this is neither vigorous like the old, nor forthright like the new, but is empty padding: the high fructose corn syrup of liturgy. Well, having gotten that out of the way, we next have an unnecessary transitional paragraph to get us to the collect, which of course begins with the Pavlovian exchange to which all Anglicans respond with prayer.

There are four collects offered, the last specifically for those who bring children to the relationship. I begin by noting that only the third uses the classic "you/who/do/through" collect form. (The marriage rite has the frequent 1979 quirk of saying "you have created us male and female" instead of "who has created us", which is less than felicitous.) This third option, though, is cast as a thanksgiving rather than as a petition: it's constructed like a postcommunion prayer. It also has an odd theological deviancy, in that it expresses an eschatological hope towards us being granted "a dwelling place eternal in the heavens," whereas 1979 and earlier books consistently prefer "heavenly kingdom". Returning to the first, this is the parallel to the marital collect, substituting "covenant" for "vows". however, it is also the non-dominical option, because they prayer is "through through Jesus Christ our Savior," not "our Lord". The second option makes a different alteration, substituting "to the ages of ages" in place of "for ever and ever". It would be, admittedly, a more accurate translation of the Latin-- or the Greek, since this is the common Orthodox phrase in translation. But it isn't the way we normally translate it. In any case the text of the prayer is quite vague about why anyone would happen to be there, outside of mentioning "their life together".

The fourth option is interesting in that it tries to address the issue of blended families. I'm not sure the collect is the place to do this, but a prayer for the larger family being formed is, I think, a welcome addition. That said, this prayer steps way outside the conventional form of a collect. These prayers are always addressed to the Father, through the Son, with the Spirit; this prayer, however, addresses the Godhead as a unity. Indeed, it is trinitarian to a degree that would gladden Athanasius, but it is far outside the normal structure for these prayers; and like the second and third options, there's no specific mention of the covenant which is at the heart of the rite. One could just as well use these prayers for people simply sharing an apartment. I'm not sure whether the intent here is to offer variations from which the student is expected to pick one, or whether the choice is intended to be incorporated into the final rite; if the latter, we also see the tendency towards variable rites which has expanded since its inception in the 1979 Eucharist.

We then skip over all the readings which I went over in the last installment. Noting that the sermon is not optional, we then move on to the main section of the rite. The elements in this section appear to be ordered after and modelled on those of baptism, at least until we get to the vows. Therefore the presentation is the opening act. Here I need to go back a version. In 1928 we have the familiar "Who giveth this Woman to be married to this Man?", and it is not optional; nor is a response specified. This part goes all the way back to 1662, and it appears in the additional directions of 1979, updated grammatically and with a verbal response. A plural version is also supplied, equally optional. This archaicism is still technically optional in the SSB rite, but it is incorporated into the body of the rite, and in addition to the presentation question itself, a promise to uphold question is added. This is redundant because essentially the same question is about to be asked of everyone in the assembly, following the couple's consent as in the marriage rite. It fits into an overall pattern of multiplication of responses. The consents of the couple, for instance, are broken in two. The husband's promise is one of the most conservative sections of the marriage rite, suffering only minor changes in wording due to modernization of the language; the wife's part is nearly as conservative, having lost the promise to "obey" in the American books. (For some reason, the 1979 rite reverses the traditional order and has the woman consent first, not that this will be relevant to the rite discussed.) In the marriage rite, each spouse promises to engage in the covenant of marriage and to love, comfort, honor and keep the other; and there is also a pledge to be faithful and to forsake all others. The SSB consent also includes the pledge to fidelity, but bereft of the "forsake all others" clause, and none of the other marital promises explicitly appear. Instead one member "freely and unreservedly offer[s] [themselves]" to the other, and promises to live "in faithfulness and holiness". That's pretty vague, and I don't see any reason why any word of the marital version ought to be excluded, save those specifically mentioning marriage.

The consent concludes, as in the marriage rite, with a promise by the witnesses. Here again we have a considerable change where there isn't any obvious reason for it. Marriage and baptism both have a very short and direct promise of support asked at this point; the wording is very similar. It's not very similar to what we have in this rite. First, a second question has been added, asking the witnesses to "pray for them in times of trouble and celebrate with them in times of joy". A bit cutesy, to my taste. What's more interesting is the wording of the first question, which asks the witnesses to "respect the covenant [the couple makes]". It is decidedly strange to insert what is essentially a plea to take the union seriously.

Here we have a rather awkward rubric. In marriage the congregation stands during three chunks: at the beginning up to the first reading, at the gospel, and finally during the prayers and the blessing. Or to put it the other way around, they sit during the readings, the homily, and the vows. People who haven't looked at the baptismal rite recently may be surprised to learn that there are no posture rubrics after the gospel. What typically happens is that the congregation remains seated up to the recitation of the creed, and then sits after the thanksgiving over the water. In the SSB rite, the congregation is to stand at their responses to the consent, and then stands until the end of the Lord's Prayer. Then they sit for the vows, but there are no posture rubrics for the congregation after that. If they followed the pattern for marriage, the congregation would then stand, making for one very short period of sitting; but more likely what will happen, sans direction from the celebrant, is that people will end up sitting through the blessing.

And that brings us to the prayers. In the interest of making this more digestible, I will continue from there in the next post.


Bill Dilworth said...

What struck me about the Savior/Lord, let's-avoid-personal-pronouns-when-speaking-about-God stuff is that the SCLM assumes that this is the direction we're going in. Must every new liturgical publication conform with Enriching Our Worship?

Personally, I found the option for a presentation both unnecessary and a little offensive. It's not a sacrament - the couple doesn't need sponsors. Wasn't one of the arguments used by people in favor of SSBs has been making unflattering comparisons between what the Church has been prepared to bless (palms, ashes, water, candles, animals, medals, etc) and what it has not been prepared to bless (relationships between members of the same sex)? Since when do blessing rites include sponsors? I suppose it's a way to give parents and other people who are important to the couple something to do, which seems a questionable liturgical principle.

C. Wingate said...

Well, to be fair, it is an optional element; but then again, a great deal of this thing is optional, and it's hard to distinguish the "you can omit this if you need to" from the "you may include this if you feel you must" elements. My theory is that the copying of the baptismal structure tended to dominate thinking about what the liturgy really needed; and it might be said that the transition into the vows in 1979 is abrupt. I seem to recall that most priests feel the need to say something at that point in the way of a transition.

It has been a long time since I've seen stuff directly from EoW: the last three rectors all wanted nothing to do with it. But everything I've seen has followed that pattern.

Bill Dilworth said...

It occurs to me that the authors of this rite were trying to placate two opposed groups, those who are opposed to using SSBs to redefine the Church's teachings on marriage, and those who are in favor of just that sort of redefinition. They can point to the lack of congruency between this rite and Marriage and say, "See? It's not a Marriage Service - it's something else." The latter group can be directed to the the overall "feel" of the service, the sharing of at least some of the readings, the vows, and the Declaration of Intent, with the assurance, "See? It's just like the Marriage Service, only different." Rather than a rite in search of a theology, maybe it's a rite deliberately trying to avoid one.

What is the next step for the Church in regards to this rite? Does it get approved and grouped with EoW, or is there some sort of period of limited trial use involved, like that which preceded the 1979 BCP?