03 November 2023

Seven traditional blessings
recognise the intimacy
and the significance
of a Jewish wedding

A ketubah or traditional Jewish wedding contract in the Jewish Museum in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Most people are aware of how traditional it is at Jewish weddings to break glass at the end of the ceremony. As one writer puts it, ‘You can forgo almost every other element, but if you aren’t breaking the glass, folks will not believe you are really married.’

Traditionally, the man alone broke the glass. Today, some couples break the glass together or break two glasses. The glass-breaking is typically followed by a communal ‘Mazel Tov!’ In addition Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov is usually sung after breaking the glass.

To avoid injury, the glass is typically covered in cloth. Some people use a wineglass, others a lightbulb – which breaks very easily.

There are countless interpretations for this tradition of breaking glass. Some see it as a reminder of the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. Others say it is meant to remind us that marriage is as fragile as glass. It also has been interpreted to demonstrate how life is so fragile that the couple should enjoy every day as if it were their last together.

The glass is broken to protect this marriage with the implied prayer: ‘As this glass shatters, so may your marriage never break.’ It also reminds us that love, like glass, is fragile and must be protected. It ought to be as difficult to break the newly-married couple apart as it is to put the glass back together.

Breaking a glass is also a reminder that sweetness can only exist alongside bitterness, that although a wedding is a time of celebration and joy, the world is still in turmoil, and needs our care and love. Its breaking is a reminder of sorrow and an expression of hope for a future free from all violence.

However, this Friday evening, in my prayers, I am reflecting on the Sheva Brachot (שבע ברכות‏), literally ‘the seven blessings’ and also known as birkot nissuin (ברכות נישואין‏) or the ‘wedding blessings’ in Jewish tradition. These blessings are recited for the bride and groom as part of nissuin or wedding ceremony.

Although the Sheva Brachot are a stylistically harmonious whole, they are actually a mosaic of interwoven Biblical words, phrases and ideas. It is not certain who composed the benedictions; the text is recorded in the Talmud, but its origin is probably several centuries earlier.

The Sheva Brachot are recited under the huppah (wedding canopy) and then also at the meal following the wedding, as well as in the week after the wedding. The Sheva Brachot or seven blessings) are the heart of the Jewish wedding ceremony.

1 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

א בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי ‏
הַגָּֽפֶן׃ ‏

2 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created everything for His glory.

ב בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהַכֹּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ׃ ‏

3 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created humanity.

ג בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם׃ ‏

4 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created humanity in His image, in the image of the likeness of his form, and made for them an everlasting establishment. Blessed are you, Lord, who created humanity.

ד בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶֽלֶם דְּמוּת תַּבְנִיתוֹ וְהִתְקִין לוֹ מִמֶּֽנּוּ בִּנְיַן עֲדֵי עַד. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם׃ ‏

5 May the barren one (Jerusalem) rejoice greatly and delight in the ingathering of her children within her in joy. Blessed are you Lord who causes Zion to rejoice with her children.

ה שׂוֹשׂ תָּשִׂישׂ וְתָגֵל הָעֲקָרָה בְּקִבּוּץ בָּנֶֽיהָ לְתוֹכָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה ‏
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ צִיּוֹן בְּבָנֶֽיהָ׃ ‏

6 The loving partners shall rejoice as You caused your creatures to delight in the Garden of Eden of old. Blessed are you Lord who causes the groom and bride to rejoice.

ֳו שַׂמֵּֽחַ תְּשַׂמַּח רֵעִים הָאֲהוּבִים כְּשַׂמֵּחֲךָ יְצִירְך בְּגַן עֵֽדֶן מִקֶּֽדֶם. ‏בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן וְכַלָּה׃‏

7 Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates happiness and joy, groom and bride. Exultation, delight, amusement, and pleasure, love and brotherhood, peace and friendship. Soon, Lord our God, may the sound of happiness and the sound of joy and the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem — the rejoicing of groom from their huppahs and youths from their singing banquets. Blessed are you Lord who makes the groom rejoice with the bride.

ז בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה חָתָן וְכַלָּה. גִּילָה רִנָּה דִּיצָה וְחֶדְוָה אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה וְשָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת. מְהֵרָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ יִשָּׁמַע בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָםִ, קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה קוֹל מִצְהֲלוֹת חֲתָנִים מֵחֻפָּתָם וּנְעָרִים מִמִּשְׁתֵּה נְגִינָתָם. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן עִם הַכַּלָּה׃ ‏

During the ceremony, the seven blessings are traditionally chanted in Hebrew and may also be read in English. In the Sephardic tradition, a parent often wraps the bride and groom in a tallit (prayer shawl) before the recitation of the blessings, to recognise the intimacy and the significance of the moment.

Many contemporary couples use the theme of ‘blessing’ to creatively interpret the reading of the Sheva Brachot. They may invite seven friends or family members to each recite one of the blessings or have the traditional blessings sung in Hebrew while friends or family members offer seven non-traditional blessings in English.

There are many English interpretations of the Sheva Brachot. Some use neutral or feminine God language instead of the traditional male imagery. Often couples will include the Sheva Brachot in Hebrew and/or English in their wedding programs so that guests can fully participate in this important moment in the ceremony. Traditionally, everyone present joins with the leader in singing parts of the final blessing.

It is customary for the Sheva Brachot to be recited again during the wedding celebration over a glass of wine, following the Birkat Hamazon or grace after meals. In this case, the first blessing (Kiddush) is moved to the final position. This second sharing of the blessings gives couples an additional opportunity to honor their loved ones by inviting them to offer one of the blessings.

Another beautiful custom for this sharing of the Sheva Brachot is for the wine to be divided into two different cups — representing bride and groom — that are then poured together into a third cup. The wine that has been mixed together is poured back into cups for the bride and groom, and also poured into the third cup, shared by the community. This tradition shows how the couple is now connected, and how their life together is intertwined with community.

Shabbat Shalom

A ketubah or taditional Jewish wedding contract in a synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (153) 3 November 2023

Southwark Cathedral on the south bank of the River Thames has been the cathedral of the Diocese of Southwark since 1905 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI, 29 October 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (3 November 2023) remembers Richard Hooker (1600), Priest, Anglican Apologist, Teacher of the Faith, and Martin of Porres (1639), Friar.

I am catching a train to London later this morning. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, with the exceptions of All Saints’ Day on Wednesday (1 November) and All Souls’ Day yesterday (2 November), my reflections each morning this week are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Southwark;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Southwark Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1420, is the first Gothic church in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Southwark Cathedral:

For many visitors to London, there are three main church buildings to see: Saint Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in the Church of England, and Westminster Cathedral in the Roman Catholic Church.

Although Westminster Abbey is a ‘Royal Peculiar’ rather than a cathedral, all three are seen by many as the cathedrals of London.

However, London has two other cathedrals that are often missed, even by regular visitors. Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames has two cathedrals, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic.

Southwark Cathedral, or the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour and Saint Mary Overie, is on the south bank of the river, close to London Bridge. Alongside Westminster Abbey and Saint Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield, it is one of the three remaining great monastic churches of London.

Southwark Cathedral is at the heart of one of the most vibrant and diverse communities in London and has been a constant witness in a place of change. It has been the cathedral of Church of England Diocese of Southwark since 1905, but there has been a church on this site for more than 1,000 years.

Over the course of history, Southwark Cathedral has had links with many famous and influential figures, including Saint Thomas Becket, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens.

Local tradition says it was founded as a nunnery around the year 606 by a young woman named Mary, on the profits of a ferry across the Thames. Later it was converted into a college of priests by ‘a noble lady’ named Swithen. In time, people s tried to identify Swithen with Saint Swithun, Bishop of Winchester, who died in 863.

However, the earliest reference to the place is in the Domesday Book in 1086, when the minster at Southwark was controlled by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

Southwark Minster became an Augustinian priory in 1106, under the patronage of the Bishops of Winchester, who had a London seat at nearby Winchester Palace from 1149. The Priory was dedicated to the Virgin Mary or Saint Mary, but it had the additional designation of ‘Overie’ or ‘over the river’ to distinguish it from other churches with the same name.

The cathedral retains the basic form of the Gothic structure built between 1220 and 1420, making it the first Gothic church in London.

The earlier church was severely damaged by fire in 1212, and was rebuilt in the 13th century. The rebuilt church was cruciform in plan, with an aisled nave of six bays, a crossing tower, transepts, and a five-bay choir. Beyond the choir stood a lower retro-choir or Lady Chapel, which was a group of four chapels with separate gabled roofs.

The church was damaged by another fire in the 1390s. The Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, helped rebuild the south transept and complete the tower around 1420.

The Chaucer Window depicts 14th century pilgrims found in Georffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The poet John Gower (1330-1420), a friend and contemporary of Chaucer, is buried in the cathedral.

The priory was dissolved at the Tudor Reformation, and in 1540 Saint Mary Overie became a parish church with the new name of Saint Saviour, and it remains the parish church for the people of Bankside.

The High Altar in Southwark Cathedral and the Great Screen above, first erected by Bishop Richard Fox in 1520 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Because Saint Saviour’s was close to the Globe Theatre, it had close connections with the great Elizabethan dramatists. A large stained-glass window dedicated to William Shakespeare depicts scenes from his plays, and an alabaster statue at the base of the window shows Shakespeare reclining, holding a quill. His brother, Edmund Shakespeare, was buried there in 1607, and two dramatists, John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, were buried in the church.

The connection with the Bishops of Winchester continued after the Reformation. Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and one of the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible, was buried in the ‘Bishop’s Chapel’ in 1626. After the chapel was destroyed in 1830, his tomb was moved to a new position beside the High Altar.

The fabric of the church had fallen into disrepair by the early 19th century, and all the mediaeval furnishings were gone. The tower and choir were restored by George Gwilt in 1818-1830, who sought to return the church to its 13th-century appearance and removed early 16th-century windows. The transepts were restored by Robert Wallace, who removed the Bishop’s Chapel and the parochial chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen.

The vestry decided to remove the nave roof in 1831, leaving the interior open to the weather, and services were held in the choir and transepts. The roofless nave was demolished in 1839, and a new nave was built to a design by Henry Rose.

The new nave was criticised by Augustus Pugin (1812-1852), the leading architect of the Gothic Revival who said, ‘It is bad enough to see such an erection spring up at all, but when a venerable building is demolished to make way for it, the case is quite intolerable.’

The Harvard Chapel in the north transept commemorates John Harvard, who was born in the parish and was baptised in the church on 29 November 1607. The tabernacle in the Harvard Chapel was designed by Pugin.

The nave was once again rebuilt in 1890-1897 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, who tried to recreate its 13th-century predecessor.

The church remained in the Diocese of Winchester until 1877, when Saint Saviour’s and other parishes in South London were transferred to the Diocese of Rochester. The Diocese of Southwark was formed in 1905, with Edward Stuart Talbot (1844-1934) as the first Bishop of Southwark, and the Collegiate Church of Saint Saviour became the new cathedral. Bishop Talbot is also buried beside the High Altar.

The cathedral and the surrounding area were heavily damaged by German bombing during World War II, and shrapnel damage is still visible on the outside of the building.

Nelson Mandela opened Lancelot’s Link, a new north cloister, in 2001 on the site of the old monastic cloister, with a refectory, shop, conference centre, education centre and museum.

The Right Revd Christopher Chessun has been the Bishop of Southwark since 2011. He is a strong advocate for the parish system as the most effective means of church presence and engagement in the life of local communities.

Under his oversight, the Diocese of Southwark developed the ‘Hearts on Fire initiative’ and the ‘Southwark Vision’. He has used his place in the House of Lords to speak out on matters concerning refugees and people who are suffering because of their faith as well as matters related to poverty and injustice.

The Very Revd Mark Oakley, who has been the Dean of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, since 2018, is being installed as the Dean of Southwark in a month’s time (3 December 2023). Ian Keatley, former Organist and Director of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, has been the Director of Music at Southwark Cathedral since 2019.

Southwark Cathedral was at the heart of the new movement in theology in the 20th century known as ‘South Bank Religion,’ which has asked challenging questions about faith in the modern age. These questions continue to be explored today at Southwark Cathedral, which describes itself as ‘inclusive: faithful: radical.’

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes beside the High Altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Luke 14: 1-6 (NRSVA):

1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ 4 But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, ‘If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?’ 6 And they could not reply to this.

An alabaster statue of William Shakespeare, reclining with a quill in his hand (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Friday 3 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is inspired by a Reflection – ‘He restores my soul’ – by Revd Dale R Hanson, introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (3 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for all who need restorative time. May they be given the gift of time, to be able to rest and have the space to be revitalised in the love of God.

A side aisle in Southwark Cathedral … at the Reformation, the priory church became a parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

God of peace, the bond of all love,
who in your Son Jesus Christ have made the human race
your inseparable dwelling place:
after the example of your servant Richard Hooker,
give grace to us your servants ever to rejoice
in the true inheritance of your adopted children
and to show forth your praises now and ever;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with your saints to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Lancelot’s Link was opened by Nelson Mandela in 2001 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Southwark Cathedral was at the heart of the new movement known as ‘South Bank Religion’ in the late 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)