Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blessing for Study Only IV

Now we are headed into the core of the same sex blessing rite. I pick up where I left off, at the beginning of the prayers for the couple about to be united. This is another place where the structure of baptism is most plainly imposed on this service, as prayers said by the minister after the wedding have been changed into a litany said by all before the exchange of vows. In 1928 there are three prayers before the proclamation: a prayer for keeping the covenant, a prayer for children, and a prayer for the married life; these, preceded by the Lord's Prayer, fall between the proclamation and the blessing. In 1979 the covenant prayer has been recast as the collect (an element missing from older rites) and the prayer for the married life now appears as one of the alternatives for the blessing prayer. The Lord's Prayer still begins the prayers, but they are divided into two sections, the second being put with the blessing. The first section is a much longer series of short petitions, with the prayer for children appearing in the midst of these. As I said in the first part, the style of this section is more like that of older books, with responses limited to "Amen". In the SSB rite, however, this entire chunk is moved to precede the vows. And it is now cast as a litany, albeit of an odd form that attempts to fuse Form IV and Form VI of the Prayers of the People, a conjunction that is not to my mind felicitous. Form IV uses a "grant/that" form with silence and a refrain; Form VI uses a V&R structure. The fusion is therefore rather abrupt and choppy, because the "that" portion of the petition is missing. Also, yet again we have another novel alternative: instead of praying to God in his mercy, we may now prayer to Him in his goodness. What exactly is wrong with the usual response?

The marriage prayers are arranged as an introduction, a collect, and sevenfold petitions in the middle, asking for wisdom, a common will, a spirit of forgiveness, a sign to the world, children, concern for others, and strengthening of the bond of all those now married who witness the marriage. The SSB petitions roughly parallel these, but there is also an option to add to this a very short version of the Prayers of the People, with each of the required elements of the latter addressed. This is yet another thing that has no precedent: the PotP is one of the two elements that are inevitably lost for any kind of special liturgy (the other being the confession, but surely you didn't expect to see that). I have twice been at weddings which took place during one of the Sunday morning service, a practice which is explicitly authorized for this rite; and if so, the Sunday readings preempt those given here, which is not rubricated for marriage.

The collect provided is a bit peculiar. For one thing, it isn't addressed to the deity in any particular way. Every one of the collects in the BCP is addressed explicitly either to God, or the Father, or the Lord or Jesus Christ. Here the minister prays to the "[g]iver of every gift, source of all goodness," whom I presume is supposed to be God; but if we were following the normal pattern this would be worded "O God, the giver of every gift and source of all goodness". Later it refers to "the saving work of Jesus," omitting the nearly invariable title of "Christ"; and the form of the conclusion is rather odd. It's of a form usually reserved for prayers which address the Father, and this section ordinarily would invoke the Spirit; but it mentions the reign of Jesus alone, and there is mention neither of the Father nor of the Spirit. I find it disturbing that the material here is so adverse to normal, Anglican, trinitarian language; is it too much to ask that SCLM follow the traditional forms, with all the creedal endorsement implied?

And now we have the Lord's Prayer, the only part of the whole rite in which there is no deviation from the BCP language. I note in passing that the SSB rite changes the introduction to the standard "now say/bold to say" form used almost everywhere except in the marriage rite. I have no idea why marriage is different, but this change at least makes sense.

Finally, we reach the vows. As I mentioned before, there is no transition into this at all in the marriage rite, which is generally found wanting. Here we have what I can only call overcompensation. 1979's transition sentences are almost always quite short and to the point; here the blunt invitation is padded out by stating that the couple are "illumined by the Word of God and strengthened by the prayer of this community". Well, one hopes so, and generally pre-1979 (and most of that book as well) prefers to express the hope that God has chosen to bless us. But there's a certain presumption in claiming that listening and prayer have achieved such a state, and in any case it's unnecessary to say so.

Be that as it may, the vows are then exchanged. And here we come upon a curiosity: while roughly half of the wording comes form the marriage rite, a great deal of that comes not from the marriage vows, but from the promises, recalling that almost none of the latter appears in the SSB promises. To that end I have formatted the vow text as follows: italics indicate material from the promises, bold from the marriage vows (with bold italics for one passage which parallels a marital passage but is reworded), and plain text for the material which is entirely new.
In the name of God,
I, N., give myself to you, N.,
I will support and care for you by the grace of God:
enduring all things, bearing all things.
I will hold and cherish you in the love of Christ:
in times of plenty, in times of want.
I will honor and keep you with the Spirit's help:
forsaking all others,
as long as we both shall live.

This is my solemn vow.
By way of contrast, I've bolded the passages here of the marriage vows which were not retained (noting that the third excision is replaced by a similar passage from the promises):
In the Name of God,
I, N., take you, N., to be my 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, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
It is no surprise that the first clause is not retained; the inversion from "taking" to "giving", however, leads to the central difference, because I am moved to ask, "give how, and for what?" Looking at the content of the vows, other than the words "husband" and "wife", they are not strikingly different; the omissions seem more inclined to reduce the obvious similarity rather than to suggest that sickness or "worse" are cause for abandonment of the union. The additions, the appeals to the "grace of God", the "love of Christ", and the "Spirit's help" (and here again, where is the Father?) don't substantially change what the participants are promising to do, except for that husband and wife thing.

And oddly, the blessing of the ring is almost identical to that of the wedding (substituting "covenant" for "vow"), but the actual giving is utterly different, and there is a provision for blessing rings already being worn, which suggests a custom I am not aware of. (Update: Toni points out that part of this comes from the 1979 blessing of a civil marriage. The first sentence, however, is completely new.) And speaking of difference: the proclamation which follows is accompanied by a rubric which essentially allows the bishop to rewrite it in any way deemed desirable to conform to the law, so presumably this could be used as a marriage rite if that's all that the law of the state allows for. And I don't understand why, but one of the most famous lines of the marriage rite has been dropped: "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder." Why? I cannot tell. (Update: Bill Dilworth reminds me that this is a direct quote of Jesus talking about marriage.)

We're in the home stretch, now, because the only element left is the blessing, and it takes the two step form seen in the 1979 BCP of a prayer preceding the blessing proper, though there is no amen between them. I would say the latter is a mistake, as the addressee of the text switches from God to the couple between the sections. But both options in the BCP end with a "lives and reigns" conclusion which is absent here; one gathers that perhaps the authors thought of this all as one prayer, which it really isn't. Now, as far as I can tell there is nothing in the 1979 blessing proper that would prevent it being used in this context. But after "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you," the text diverges rapidly. One senses the intent to produce something noticeably different, but the intent to produce something good is not as well-manifested. Structurally, the whole thing is rather awkward, lacking parallelism and availing itself of odd turns of expression (e.g. "Jesus the Christ": why?).

And last of all, we have an alternative preface and post-communion prayer. It's a lead-pipe cinch that the marital preface is unusable, jumping straight into the church-as-bride-of-Christ image. So instead we have love between persons as a reflection of the unity of the godhead. Well, sort of: maybe we can make that work with agape, but with eros? And the post-communion prayer is just awkward. These special-purpose prayers generally do not reflect the best writing of the 1979, but that for marriage is at least serviceable if short on rhetorical flourish: it moves from the union of communion to the union of husband and wife, and from there into a hope for their life and for the new life at the end. The SSB prayer reverses those elements, and more or less shoves the union aside to pray for our mission. That mission is a good thing to pray for, but it seems out of context here.

And then we are done with the words. I have one final post to sum it all up.


Bill Dilworth said...

The blessing of rings already worn is an acknowledgement that some couples may have already gone through some sort of ceremony or simply begun wearing rings as a sign of their commitment, since the option of a Church service was not open to them.

The omission of "Those whom God has joined..." might be explained because its a quote our Lord's that specifically refers to heterosexual marriage and the "one flesh" those unions form.

C. Wingate said...

Ah, good point about the last. I'll note that in the text.

Toni said...

The blessing of rings already being worn probably comes from the Blessing of a Civil Marriage in the BCP '79.

Bill Dilworth said...

Toni, that does seem to be the precedent the rite is following. Interestingly, in The Blessing of a Civil Marriage the forms of the blessing are the same whether they were worn before or not, while in this rite there is a distinctive blessing for each of the two scenarios.

C. Wingate, you're right about the exchange of rings. The difference between the two liturgies is really striking. In Marriage, the rings are called "a symbol of my vow" and given in the Name of the Trinity; in the SSB rite they are given with a rather flat declaration that they represent "my abiding love" and there's no mention of God.

C. Wingate said...

Not exactly. You're right that some of it does come from there, but the first sentence implies that they haven't just come from the courthouse, but have been wearing them for some time.

Bill Dilworth said...

Well, theres nothing in the Blessing of a Civil Marriage that says anything about how long the rings have been worn, and do most people who use that rite really schedule it for soon after the civil marriage? In the few cases I am familiar with, some time has passed. We're not France or someplace else where you rush from registry to Church because the civil ceremony necessarily comes first.

The wording is different from the form of blessing rings to be given at the SSB rite, and both differ from the wording in Marriage. And Mr Wingate, you're correct about the difference in the form for exchanging rings - the difference is striking. And so is the symbolism of the rings, it would seem.

C. Wingate said...

Bill, I must confess that I have no actual experience with the civil marriage rite (either in church for for that matter at the courthouse), though I would point out that, strictly speaking, we are in France; that is, Anglican parishes in France are our parishes and use our rites. Hatchett simply refers back to the Book of Offices service without any explanation of the social context. But following Hatchett, this rite would not be appropriate for blessing of a civilly-enacted union; some large part would need to be cut out along the lines of the civil marriage blessing because all of that had been taken care of at the courthouse. In context, therefore, the implication is that they wore rings even though they were not united/covenanted/married/whatever.