‘Hatch, Match and Dispatch?’ … setting the tone for rites of passage includes many liturgical considerations, including the use of colour and space (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality
Year II, 14:00 to 16:00, Thursdays, Hartin Room:
5 December 2011:
Liturgy 9.3: Rites of passage, e.g., Baptisms, Marriages, Funerals
‘Hatch, Match and Dispatch?’
The three rites of Baptism, Marriage and Funeral are sometimes referred to in a jocular way by clergy as the rites of “Hatch, Match and Dispatch.”
But at times I think this is unfair to the people involved in these rites. These are crisis moments, the most sacred moments in life, and they note merely rites of passage, when people publicly declare the most important stages of life in front of God and in front of the community they most value … even when they are not regular churchgoers.
They are not moments for evangelisation, but they are sacred moments, moments of grace, moments of joy and sorrow, moments that will most surely test your ministry.
People will forgive you a badly-prepared or badly delivered Sermon every now and then; they may not notice or may soon forget when you make what you regard as major mistake in my eyes on an occasional Sunday; and they may forget who baptised their child, forget to thank you for your part at their wedding or at the burial of one of their parents … if all goes well.
But they will never, ever forget, and perhaps never forgive you if you get it wrong at a baptism, wedding or funeral.
For that reason alone, but also because we all realise how sacred these moments are, most new curates, and even most new rectors fret for the first years when it comes to Baptisms, Marriages and Funerals.
We fret so much that we often concentrate or energies on the minute details, and forget that it all takes part within the context of the worship and the liturgy of the Church, and that we ought not be the centre of attention. We are the facilitators, the enablers, the “liturgical midwives,” but we should never be the centre of attention, or do anything that makes us so.
In recent weeks, we have looked at the origins and early understandings of Baptism. But do you feel liturgically literate when it comes to taking part in a baptism?
Like our other services, the Church of Ireland has revised the service of Baptism in recent years. And these revisions, like all others, have been informed by the insights of the modern liturgical movement.
For example, as long ago as 1968, the Anglican bishops agreed at the Lambeth Conference that “confirmation is not a rite of admission to Communion.”
The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation said as long ago as 1985 in Boston that “since baptism is the sacramental sign of full incorporation into the church, all baptised persons [should] be admitted to communion …”
Some of the understandings incorporated into the writing of Holy Baptism Two (The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004) include:
● there should be one baptism for all ages;
● Baptism should be the main service when it takes place, and not tagged on as an added extra, a sideshow or an appendix to the main service;
● Baptism comes as a response to the Word of God.
What do you think is the theological underpinning of these insights?
The Baptismal font in Ferns Cathedral, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
These insights are reflected in the outline of the Baptismal Rite:
1, The presentation (p. 371):
Candidates are presented;
Questions are put to Parents and Godparents of those who cannot answer for themselves;
2, The Decision (p. 372):
Questions to candidates’ sponsors; questions to the congregation;
The signing with the Cross (here or after the Baptism);
3, The Baptism (p. 373):
Water poured into the font;
The Thanksgiving Prayer over the Water,
including prayer of blessing and sanctification (see pp 363-364);
Questions about the Christian faith to the candidate or sponsors;
Interrogatory Apostles’ Creed;
The Baptism (dipping or pouring, but not sprinkling, see p. 174; this does not exclude immersion);
The signing of the Cross (if this has not already taken place);
The Baptistery and baptismal font in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Some observations and questions:
Note how the Baptismal Rite follows the sermon (see p. 376).
Who should be sponsors?
What are the responsibilities of godparents?
What about “private baptisms”, or family requests for a different time?
Be aware too of the need to make connection between Baptism and the other rites that are part of Christian Initiation (see p. 346 ff), including Receiving into the Congregation (p. 377 ff), Confirmation (p. 382 ff), the Renewal of Baptismal Vows (p. 398 ff) and Thanksgiving after the Birth of a Child (p. 402 ff).
A wedding in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge … how is the theology of matrimony reflected in the marriage rites? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The traditional Anglican understanding of matrimony is that Holy Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, acknowledging the presence and grace of God in the life of the couple. The form is manifested as the vows.
Despite popular belief and imagination, the blessing and exchanging of the rings is only customary, and neither is necessary for the rite of matrimony to be valid.
In marriage, the husband and wife seek God’s blessing, and through the mediation of the priest, the prayer is answered.
The couple are thus generally regarded as the ministers of the sacrament or the rite through their voluntary exchange of vows. And for this reason they should face each other during the marriage, and not the officiating minister.
However, in the traditional Anglican understanding, the sacrament or rite must be celebrated before an ordained priest (or, in exceptional circumstances, a deacon), who witnesses and mediates the prayers. The priest or deacon has been described by Michael Perham as the “chief witness” or “the master of ceremonies,” and only takes over, so to speak, when the couple are married, in order to pronounce God’s blessing on the couple.
For those who count seven sacraments, then matrimony was the last of the seven to be added to the list.
Its origins can be found in the civil necessity that arose in the Middle Ages to regularise intimate relationships and to legitimise children.
As Bishop Harold Miller points out, the Church of Ireland has always recognised the total validity of civil marriage services, as marriage is essentially an ordering of society. But it is also a “holy mystery” and a sign of the “mystical union … betwixt Christ and his Church...” (The Book of Common Prayer (1960), p. 266; The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 406).
In these islands, the “Form of Solemnisation of Matrimony” remained almost entirely unchanged in these islands from 1662 until the 1980s.
The Wedding at Cana ... a modern icon
The introduction to the marriage service in that older form says quite quaintly that marriage is “for the increase of mankind … and for the due ordering of families and households; … for the hallowing of the union betwixt man and woman, and for the avoidance of sin; [and] … for the mutual society, help and comfort, that the one ought to have for the other, both in prosperity and adversity.” (The Book of Common Prayer (1960), p. 266; The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 406).
However, things changed with the introduction of the Alternative Service Book (Church of England, 1980, pp 283-304). However, the Alternative Prayer Book (Church of Ireland, 1984) did not include a revised marriage service, and this only came about with the publication of the “White Booklet” in 1987 and the Alternative Occasional Services in 1993.
We know teach that marriage is about love, comfort, “living together in plenty and in need, in sorrow and joy,” that it is about knowing each other in love “with delight and tenderness,” about a bodily union that strengthens the union of hearts and lives,” and – only later its – about “the children they may have” (Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 417). So the flesh, love, comfort, delight, tenderness, bodily union, are all stressed before we even mention children, and there is no mention in this second form (pp 416-430) of the “increase of mankind,” the “due ordering of families and households” or the “avoidance of sin.”
A little more adult and mature an approach, I should suggest; certainly a reflection of how society has changed, and a realisation that not every couple can have or choose to have children.
But the wording of the services continue to agree that the Church teaches that marriage should be monogamous, life-long and between one man and one woman.
In the section on Marriage Services (pp 405-438), The Book of Common Prayer (Church of Ireland, 2004) includes two marriage services, a traditional rite from The Book of Common Prayer 1926 (see Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 406-413), with an option for “Holy Communion at the Time of Marriage” (pp 414-415), and a revised, contemporary rite (pp 416-427), with extensive notes on many of the legal requirements (see p. 413, and pp 428-430). In addition, there is “A Form of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage” (pp 431-438), again with a number of notes and guidelines on how this service is to be used.
There are legal requirements that are going to concern you, and they vary between jurisdictions and may change even before you are priested. There are also canonical requirements that you need to be aware of too.
For example, when it comes to a couple where one or both have been previously married and divorced, the clergy involved must, under the provisions of legislation passed by General Synod in 1996, apply to the diocesan bishop first of all for permission, and listen carefully to the advice the bishop gives in reply.
If the ceremony goes ahead, the couple are required to go through a service of preparation, which has been devised by the Liturgical Advisory Committee but is not in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), although it is included by Bishop Miller in The Desire of our Soul (see pp 250-253).
From a pastoral point of view you will also need to learn how to prepare a couple properly and appropriately for both the wedding ceremony itself and for future married life.
All these you will learn as you go on. But of course they also impinge on how you behave at a wedding itself.
And it is important to know why you are doing something, so that by understanding what you are doing you are doing it properly. If the couple are not married according to rites and customs of the Church of Ireland, there may be serious consequences for your actions.
But this morning we are looking at the marriage rite itself, from the point of how you prepare yourself for it, what you do within your understanding of the liturgy and common prayer of the Church, and how you relate in that to the life of the Church and to those for whom you provide this office – and they are not just the couple being married!
The outline of the service is:
1, The Entry (p 416 ff):
(Greeting of the Bridal or Marriage Party);
(Hymn or Music);
The Introduction: Introduction;
2, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word (p. 418):
3, The Marriage (p. 419 ff):
Questions to the congregation;
Words to the couple;
Giving and receiving of a ring;
The Declaration, including the joining of hands;
The Blessing of the Couple;
Affirmation by the People;
(The Registration of the Marriage);
(A Psalm or Hymn).
4, The Prayers (p. 423 ff):
(Prayer by the couple);
The Lord’s Prayer;
(The Grace or the Blessing).
Exchanging the στέφανα or wedding crowns as the Gospel story of the Wedding at Cana is read … not part of the Church of Ireland tradition
What is missing?
Is there a place for giving away the bride? Or for saying: “You may now kiss the bride”?
Who chooses the readings and the hymns?
How suitable are the Wedding March (Mendelssohn) – written for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
How suitable is the Bridal Chorus (Wagner) – sung after the wedding in the opera Lohengrin by the women of the wedding party as they accompany the heroine Elsa to the bridal chamber?
Ave Maria (Bach and Gounod or Schubert)?
Which customs and traditions do you accept?
Separate sides of the church for the families of the bride and groom?
The bride being walked up the nave (aisle) by her father?
The bride’s white dress?
The “giving away”?
Signing the register in the vestry?
When are these meaningful?
When do they perpetuate the myth that the church sanctions patriarchy?
When do they become “liturgical” and sideline the liturgy itself?
What about the way the pledge to “obey” has been dropped?
Who should lead the prayers and intercessions?
Would you be embarrassed by the prayer giving thanks for the gift of sexual love (see p. 426)?
Michael Perham says that at a marriage, more than at one other service, it is right to let the participants have a say in the form that it takes, “and the wise minister will not make too many rules about what will or will not be allowed to be said, sung, or done.”
Should there be a sermon (see p. 418)?
The sermon gives the minister the opportunity to say something about marriage and about the Gospel in a less formal way than the words of the liturgy provide.
But we need to take care not to repeat what has already been said, and not to end up repeating what has been said at every previous wedding we have been involved in.
When and where do you allow photographs?
Should there be a celebration of Holy Communion (see p. 428, note 5)?
Do you accept an invitation to the reception and to say grace?
Some dioceses, particularly in the US Episcopal Churches, allow for the blessing of same-gender marriages. How do you respond to this?
Services of Prayer and Dedication:
In many parts of the Anglican Communion, there is a provision to bless civil marriages. This rests on the understanding that a couple cannot be married twice.
Some Anglican provinces allow the marriage of divorced people, others do not, still others require the permission of the diocesan bishop.
We often think of Services of Prayer and Dedication as option for people who have already been married and divorced, and for whom a church wedding may pose problems or difficulties.
But there are other reasons for choosing this option:
A couple who have been married in a civil ceremony, which is a legal requirement in many other countries, may then want a Church occasion in Ireland.
A couple who not legally resident in terms of marriage legislation, but would still like what they will see as a “church wedding” in Ireland for family, romantic or sentimental reasons.
Although we ask God’s blessing on the new marriage, notice how this ceremony is not called a “blessing” and should not be referred to as such. It is really a form of prayer and dedication.
Nor is it a wedding, so there is a stipulation (p. 438) that no rings should be given or received during it – even if it happens that the woman who has already been married wants to arrive in a veil and white dress, and with sisters or friends she may call “bridesmaids.” This ceremony does not repeat what has already happened, and in the pastoral preparation beforehand this should be explained clearly.
If it be your will ... (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)
Eventually you are going to accumulate a collection of unusual stories about Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals. To make the connection between Weddings and Funerals, I heard once of a elderly rector who came out to meet the bride as she arrived at the church, and led her up the aisle, reading the words: “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live …”
But I also heard the distressing story of a rector who would meet the funerals of the landed gentry at the lych gate entering the churchyard; the middle class coffins were met at the steps before the church door; and he waited at the top of the chancel steps for the coffins of working class parishioners to be brought into his church.
But every funeral is different, every funeral is important for everyone involved, and everyone involved is important.
Who do you think “owns” a funeral?
It is not a sacrament, when you consider Baptism, nor is it sacramental in the way that a wedding is. Nor is it merely yet another rite.
But where and when it takes place, and how it is conducted is more than providing the pastoral care of the church at a moment of crisis.
A church and churchyard on Achill Island, Co Mayo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
A Christian funeral has several purposes, which are difficult to achieve in hour in a church or in 20 minutes at a crematorium.
A Christian funeral seeks to bring a community together:
● to honour a life;
● to commend the dead to God;
● to give space for grief and yet to move people on;
● to express the love and compassion of God to the bereaved;
● to proclaim the Gospel message of Christ’s death and resurrection;
● to warn of the inevitability of death and to encourage them in walk in this with an eye to eternity;
● to take leave of the body and to say farewell;
● to dispose of the body reverently.
How are these objectives fulfilled in the Funeral Services in The Book of Common Prayer (2004)?
A grave in Kerameikós, Athens … what is customary and what is liturgical at a funeral? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
The structures of the funeral service are like this (see p. 481):
A, The Funeral Service:
1, Gathering in God’s Name, p. 482):
Receiving the coffin at the door;
Sentences of Scripture;
2, Prayers of Penitence (p. 483):
The Penitential Kyries;
3, The Collect (p. 484):
4, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word (p. 484):
(Old Testament or New Testament reading);
New Testament reading (always a Gospel reading when there is Holy Communion).
The Apostles’ Creed or Te Deum Part 2 (but the Nicene Creed when there is Holy Communion).
5, The Prayers (p. 486):
Thanksgiving for the life of the departed;
Prayer for those who mourn;
Prayer for readiness to live in the light of eternity.
Other prayers including the Lord’s Prayer.
6, The Farewell in Christ (p. 487):
Silence by the coffin;
The Easter Anthems;
7, The Committal (p. 488):
Sentence of Scripture;
Prayers when the body has been lowered into the grave, or at a cremation;
Sentence of Scripture (Revelation 14: 13);
(The Lord’s Prayer).
8, The Dismissal (p. 489):
The Grace or a blessing.
B, The Funeral Service with Holy Communion;
1, Gathering in God’s Name;
2, Prayers of Penitence;
3, The Collect;
4, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word;
5, The Prayers;
6, The Peace;
7, The Great Thanksgiving;
8, The Breaking of the Bread;
9, The Communion;
10, The Farewell in Christ;
11, The Committal;
12, The Dismissal.
Note the resources and prayers that are also offered (pp 491-497).
A sculpted gravestone in Kerameikós, Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
One of the most difficult situations you may face is the Funeral Service for a Child (pp 504-513).
Other resources and options include a Form for Use in the Home, Funeral Home or Crematorium (pp 514-516).
Like weddings, there are customs and traditions associated with funerals that are not necessarily part of the funeral service:
● members of the family carrying the coffin;
● throwing earth clods into the grave on top of the coffin;
● draping the coffin in a purple pall;
● sprinkling the coffin with the water of baptism.
The Raising of Lazarus, Juan de Flandes, Museo del Prado, Madrid
Who chooses the hymns and readings?
What prayers should you use when you arrive at a house or in hospital to find the person has just died?
What prayers do we say at an evening removal before a morning funeral (see p. 498 ff)?
Are we providing two funeral services?
What if the person who died had no apparent faith?
What if the person who died had faith, but none of their friends or family members has?
Should the funeral service take place in the home? In the undertakers’ chapel?
What makes a crematorium chapel different?
Who chooses the readings and the hymns?
What about secular readings, poems, songs?
Is a eulogy or address appropriate? And, if so, when?
Do you have another funeral service when it comes to the burial of ashes returned from the crematorium? (see p. 501.)
Are you aware of the differences in funeral customs in different parts of Ireland?
What about memorial services?
What about general memorial services in November?
What do you do when it comes to a miscarriage or stillbirth? (see p. 512.)
4, Other rites
Earlier today, we looked at the theology and rites of ordination; and issues in debates about ordination, including gender (for the Ordinal, see pp 517-590).
But you will also need to be familiar with the Confirmation services, even if you are never elected a bishop, for you will be involved in preparing candidates for Confirmation, and be involved in many ways in Confirmation services.
Some of the other liturgical resources provided in The Book of Common Prayer include the Service of Ash Wednesday (p. 338), Harvest resources, Ember and Rogation prayers, and Ministry to those who are Sick (pp 440 ff).
Michael Perham, New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy (London: SPCK, 2000).
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay was prepared as supplemental reading to accompany a lecture and seminar on 5 December 2011 in the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.
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