Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Making a Mishmash of Marriage (Part II)

In Part I of this post, I showed how every member of the Episcopal clergy who celebrates, officiates at and solemnizes in any State, as a Church "marriage", any civil union between two persons of the same gender thereby commits a violation of the Church's canons on marriage, and is consequently liable to disciplinary proceedings under Title IV of the 2012 Church Canons.

Now let us take a look at the Resolution 2015-A036 which the Church's Task Force on the Study of Marriage has proposed to resolve this dilemma. The first thing it does is rewrite Canon I.18.1 to substitute the plain word "marriage" for the liturgical (BCP) term "Holy Matrimony":

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That Canon I.18 is hereby amended to read as follows: 
CANON 18: Of the Solemnization of Holy MatrimonyCanon 18: Of the Celebration and Blessing of MarriageSec. 1. Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to the laws of this Church governing these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage Holy Matrimony. Members of the Clergy may solemnize a marriage using any of the liturgical forms authorized by this Church.
The replaced words, "Holy Matrimony", had a well-defined status under the Book of Common Prayer, where we may read in time-honored language (on p. 423):
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony.  The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.
Thus, for purposes of the BCP, "marriage" means "Holy Matrimony," and vice versa. As far as the BCP (and Canon I.18 up to this point) are concerned, there is no other kind.

But by dropping the words "Holy Matrimony" out of the Canon, while leaving them in the BCP, the first thing this proposed change would do is create a gulf between the Church's established liturgy and its canons. "Marriage" would now become an undefined, open-ended term in the Canons; and the Canons would no longer have anything to say about "Holy Matrimony" as such. Without the aid of the Canons, the BCP already requires (p. 422) that a marriage between a man and a woman needs at least two witnesses, that at least one of the parties must be baptized, and that the marriage in all respects conform to both the laws of the State and of the Church.

Moreover, the proposed change would undermine the liturgical authority of the BCP. Instead of the ceremony's taking the form prescribed in the BCP, it now may take any form "authorized by this Church." In tandem with the Task Force, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has drafted no less than four alternative ceremonies for the blessing or the solemnization of a marriage, and has proposed adoption of Resolution 2015-A054 in order to have General Convention authorize them for churchwide use.

The four proposed ceremonies are the following:

1. "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant" (pp. 77-86 of the document at this link). This rite is evidently for use in those States which have not yet legalized same-sex marriage, and for use by those couples who are content with having their "lifelong covenant" blessed by the Church, rather than solemnized in it. The Presider explains, in these words, the purpose of the ceremony to those gathered to witness it:
Dear friends in Christ, or Dearly beloved, in the name of God and the Church we have come together today with N.N. and N.N. to witness the vows they make, committing themselves to one another. Forsaking all others, they will bind themselves to one another in a covenant of mutual fidelity and steadfast love, remaining true to one another in heart, body, and mind, as long as they both shall live. Such a lifelong commitment is not to be entered into lightly or thoughtlessly, but responsibly and with reverence. Let us pray, then, that God will give them the strength to remain steadfast in what they vow this day. Let us also pray for the generosity to support them in the commitment they undertake, and for the wisdom to see God at work in their life together. [There follows an alternative invocation for couples who have previously made their commitment to each other.]
The vows to be exchanged also include two versions: one invokes the "grace of God ... the love of Christ ... [and] the Spirit's help"; the other omits those words entirely. After the exchange of vows, the Presider then says (with my bold emphasis added):
Now that N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I now pronounce that they are bound to one another as long as they both shall live. Amen.
The word "marriage" appears nowhere in the liturgy of the service, or in its rubrics. Let us call this ceremony, therefore, the "Marriage-Lite Rite."  Next in order, we have

2. "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage" (pp. 87-96 at the link). This ceremony, as indicated in the Presider's invocation, is "to witness the vows [the two partners] make [or reaffirm], committing themselves to one another in marriage according to the laws of the state [or civil jurisdiction] of X." In other words, they are to be married, and married by a minister in a church building (if they wish), but at their election it will remain only a civil marriage, and not one solemnized in a ceremony of Holy Matrimony. The partners are given the same alternate choices of vows to make as are in the Marriage-Lite Rite (#1 above), and the Presider then pronounces as follows (with my bold emphasis, again):
Now that N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I pronounce that they are married according to the laws of the state [or civil jurisdiction] of X. and bound to one another as long as they both shall live. Amen.
Since this ceremony accomplishes only a civil (and not a Church-solemnized) marriage, let us call it the "Civil Marriage Rite." Next, we have

3. "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage (2)" (pp. 97-106 at the link). The reason for the "(2)" in the title is that this ceremony has been adapted from the rite of the same name and title in the 1979 BCP, pp. 423-32; it is thus intended to be the full equivalent of Holy Matrimony, as far as General Convention is concerned. And indeed, the invocation says it straight out:
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.

The union of two people in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the gift of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
Into this holy union N.N. and N.N. now come to be joined.
[On equating this "holy union" with the "union between Christ and his Church," see below.]

Thus this ceremony is for those same-sex couples who want a full-fledged Church-sanctioned "marriage," and who live in a State that officially allows such "marriages." [I cannot yield to those who may resent the the quotation marks -- there is no other means for me to preserve the distinction between heterosexual marriage and same-gender "marriage", which is the entire basis for this post.]

But how did they modify the traditional vows? Ah, I'm glad you asked -- take a look at them:
N., will you have this woman /man /person to be your wife /husband /spouse; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her /him, comfort her /him, honor and keep her /him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her /him as long as you both shall live?

In the Name of God, I, N., take you, N., to be my wife /husband /spouse, 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 was, thus, no difficulty that impersonal words like "spouse" and "person" couldn't fix. (Yet one has to wonder how the words would have to be changed to accommodate those of a transgender persuasion who refuse to be constrained by a masculine-feminine duality.) The Presider then pronounces as follows (my bold emphasis):
Now that N. and N. have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of rings, I pronounce that they are wed to one another, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder. Amen.
He does not pronounce them "husband and wife", but that they are "wed to one another." So let us call this the "Wedding Rite." As in the BCP, there is an optional rite for "the Blessing of a Civil Marriage," and an alternative "Order for Marriage" that parallels that on pp. 435-36 of the BCP. The only difference is that the vows are changed as indicated above, with an optional vow that uses the traditional cadence: "... till death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."

 Finally, there is

4. "The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony" (pp. 106-08 at the link), which is a gender-neutral adaptation of the ceremony found in the 1928 BCP. The Presider declares the intention "to join together N.N. and N.N. in holy matrimony; which is an honorable estate, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church ..."  [Yes, you read that right: the joining of two people of the same gender in "holy matrimony" is to be seen by those performing it as "signifying the mystical union" that St. Paul describes in Ephesians chapter 5. The same blasphemous language is used in the "Wedding Rite" (see above). I will have more to say about this in my next post.]

The vows are the "plight thee my troth" version described for the Wedding Rite above. However, as with that rite, the phrase "husband and wife" has to go. The final pronouncement is as follows (emphasis added):
FORASMUCH as N. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same [by giving and receiving Rings, and] by joining hands; I pronounce that they are now and ever hereafter United in Matrimony; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
What to call this theological parody? It shall have to be the "Mystical Union Rite."

As one can see, Resolution 2015-A054 offers up a veritable smorgasbord of marriage services for all and sundry. If you are an atheist, the Episcopal Church (USA) is ready to meet you and marry you with its "Civil Marriage Rite"; if it is illegal to marry in your State, the Episcopal Church (USA) will still meet you and bless your union with its "Marriage-Lite Rite"; and if you want the full trappings for your same-sex ceremony, well, ECUSA offers it in modern ("Wedding Rite") and traditional ("Mystical Union") versions, according to your taste.

But the consequence is necessarily the dilution of Christian marriage into a virtually meaningless smear. The message that ECUSA is conveying with its cafeteria-style offerings is that it does not really stand behind any one of them; they all must be equally valid, liturgically speaking, and so "you pays yer money and you takes yer choice." Whether you are really married is between God and you; it is not for the Church to say.

Resolutions A036 and A054, as noted, work in tandem to accomplish this goal. The one would be meaningless without the other -- indeed, until A054 goes into formal effect and its marriage rites are authorized by diocesan bishops in their respective jurisdictions, the canonical violations described in the first Part of this post will continue unabated and unpunished.

In the next Part of this post, we will take a longer view of the Church's abandonment of traditional marriage, and the consequences of that abandonment for two Western institutions of paramount importance: the family, and the "one, true, catholic and apostolic church" itself. 

[Read Part III at this link.]


  1. What began with the proliferation of new and optional liturgies in the 1970's has progressed to the inevitable confusion see above. Pretty soon the TEc stack of optional liturgies, prayers, and hymns will be taller than the IRS stack of tax codes.

  2. How, how did you manage to avoid captioning this post "Four Weddings and a Funeral"?

    1. LOL, Jeff Gill -- I shall keep that for later use, it is so good! This won't be the final post on the four ceremonies. Thank you!

  3. The funeral, of course, being for . . . well, I try to stay hopeful. A psychiatrist friend of mine informally diagnosed me as "pathologically optimistic" a couple of years ago. As the folk tale concludes, perhaps the horse may yet learn to sing.