Boston Gay Marriage – TEC has completed the circle


PLease visit An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy.  Where this article originated

My thanks to Charlene Smith of the Episcopal Divinity School in the US who has supplied me with a copy of the liturgy used last Saturday for the marriage service in Boston Cathedral.

You can download the service yourself here and the 1979 TEC Prayer Book marriage service is here.

Examining the two liturgies side by side, it is very clear that the Boston liturgy is to all intents and purposes identical to the 1979 marriage liturgy, with small textual changes to reflect the fact that there are two women being married rather that two people of the opposite sex. Rather than publish all of the liturgies side by side like I did with the service at Great St Barts, instead what I’m going to do is highlight some key sections where decisions have been made that advise of us the theological understanding of those who shaped the service.

Pastoral Introduction

1979 Prayer Book Boston Cathedral Service Comment
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. Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of these women in Holy Matrimony. Identical language, merely adapting for two women
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. Language of “established by God in creation” and Jesus at Cana ommitted in Boston Ceremony.
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. Holy Scripture tells us that all love
is from God, and the commitment of marriage signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and the Church.
Ephesians 5 is applied to all unions in the Boston liturgy without the husband / wife – Christ / Church distinction clear in the language of the Scripture. There is also the addition of the “Holy Scripture tells us that all love is from God” phrase.
The union of husband and wife 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 procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. The union of God’s children 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. Significantly, the Boston liturgy recognises the physical impossibility of two people of the same sex to procreate.
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. 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 Katherine Hancock Ragsdale and Margaret Ewing Lloyd now come to be joined.
Identical language

The Pastoral introduction makes three significant adaptions from the 1979 prayer book service. First, it ommits reference to the wedding in Cana and the concept of marriage as established by God in creation. Secondly, it adapts the Ephesians 5 passage to apply to all unions, not just those of man and wife. Thirdly, it ommits reference to procreation as a divinely intended fruit of marriage. What is presented then is not the model of a divinely instituted order specifically of male and female for procreation and mutual support, but rather a blessing of God on any union of two people who chose to commit to each other.

I wrote more on the adaption of the Ephesians 5 theology in my theological analysis of the Great St Bart’s ceremony and you might also want to read my commentary on Dr Jeffrey John’s exploration of this.

The Readings

Two very interesting readings. The first is Ruth 1:16-18 (which I have dealt with here) and the second is from the original court ruling making gay marriage legal in Massachusetts.

From “Goodridge vs. Department of Health” by Massachusetts
Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations….Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the highest importance.” … Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family…. Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of selfdefinition.

The Prayers

There are two significant changes to the prayers.

The prayer

Bestow on them, if it is your will, the gift and heritage of children, and the grace to bring them up to know you, to love you, and to serve you.
Amen.

is adapted to

Watch over their children, nieces and nephews as they grow into adulthood, that they may be sure of Mally and Katherine’s love and support, and yours.
Amen.

This prayer is often omitted or edited in normal marriage services and you might expect a husband and wife who already have children to receive such a prayer.

The second alteration is from

Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.
Amen.

to

Grant that all couples who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.
Amen.

This is more significant because the choice was made not just to bless all those in marriages and civil unions, but all couples. Even if I was a liberal I’d be alarmed by this choice of words because it leaves one questioning what is intended by the phrase “all couples”? Is it enough to have hooked up with someone the previous evening? Given that the State of Massachusetts recognises gay marriage, would not a more appropriate choice have been “married persons” or “all those united in sight of God”?

Summary

In some senses there is nothing remarkable about this liturgy and that is what makes it so significant. To all intents and purposes it is a normal marriage service with adaptions for the presence of same-sex spouses. The area where significant theological innovation has occured is the re-interpretation of Ephesians 5 and the removal of references to divine intent for procreation. Putting these aside, it is very clear that TEC has now completed the circle it began to draw over the past decade or so – a Diocesan bishop has, in the diocesan cathedral, conducted a same-sex marriage that is a similar to the 1979 prayer book as to not matter except in the finer detail of the theology.

The next theological question to be asked is whether such references that have be altered or excised in this liturgy (Ephesians 5 / Divine institution for procreation etc) will now be removed from the marriage liturgies of man and wife? If so then the Diocese of Mssachusetts will be engaging in a fundamental redfining of the doctrine of marriage. If not, then the Diocese of Massachusetts is left with a variant theology of marriage for same-sex couples from other-sex couples – they are seen in the liturgy to be of notable difference.

To participate in a discussion of the theology of this service PLEASE GO TO An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy.

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