Saturday, March 04, 2006

Wedding

I know you've all been waiting on pins and needles to see what I said about the wedding/eucharist situation. So I'm going to satisfy you. No need to thank me, although you may send gifts.

I updated my profile with a few more books. Nothing super exciting but maybe you'll find something in common with me.

Please forgive me if I go under for a couple weeks. It's that time again.

Anyway, here's what I finally came up with:

Case Study #2: Wedding Eucharist

Marriage has always been a sacred institution. It was celebrated by Jesus while on earth[1] and became a major symbol of the union between Christ and the Church.[2] A wedding is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, for the couple unites “the offering of their own lives…to the offering of Christ for his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving the Eucharist…they may form but ‘one body’ in Christ.”[3]

Rachel and Dan are concerned about the length of time it would take to commune their many wedding guests. Having worked as a wedding coordinator, I understand their desire for everything to be perfect – and done their way. However, by choosing to get married in the church, Rachel and Dan are relinquishing some measure of control over their wedding ceremony. By getting married as part of a worship service, they are celebrating – and acknowledging – the church’s wedding traditions above their own.

Early English Prayer Books prescribed (or assumed) marriage to take place within the context of a Sunday service, a departure from the medieval rite on the porch of the church. In the 1549 Prayer Book, marriage was in church after Morning Prayer and the Litany, prior to the Eucharist – which the couple was required to receive.[4] In 1662, this was relaxed, with the couple simply urged to take communion then or sometime very soon. “This was a concession to the Puritans who objected to having weddings on Sundays or at the Eucharist because of the festivities traditionally associated with weddings.”[5] Nevertheless, holding a wedding as part of a (Sunday) worship service, including full communion, is our most traditional form.

Ideally, I believe weddings should go back to being part of a regular Sunday morning service,[6] as baptisms have again become. But that won’t work for most couples (and especially their families!). Even so, when we celebrate a wedding in church, we are praising God and recognizing God’s grace in bringing these two together. We affirm the couple’s commitment to one another in the context of worship and Christian community. We celebrate the Eucharist, because it is the central act of any Episcopal worship service. And because the wedding is primarily a worship service, we cannot prevent anyone from receiving communion as they would at any other worship service.

The Eucharist can never be private: it is God’s gift to all. Its institution was in the context of a Jewish religious meal, and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 addresses the problems that arose in that church from individualism creeping into the Lord’s Supper. The early churches celebrated communally: for example, the Didache requires that the members be at peace with one another, by mutual confession of sins, prior to partaking.[7] The Reformers reinstituted weekly communion of the faithful in both kinds (as mentioned in our lecture, this was one clearly positive outcome of the Reformation). From the earliest Anglican Prayer Books, Eucharist has included communion of all. And according to the ecumenical statement Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry:

“The eucharistic communion with Christ who nourishes the life of the Church is at the same time communion within the body of Christ which is the Church. The sharing in one bread and the common cup in a given place demonstrates and effects the oneness of the sharers with Christ and with their fellow sharers in all times and places. It is in the Eucharist that the community of God's people is fully manifested. Eucharistic celebrations always have to do with the whole Church...”[8]

Historically, theologically, and biblically, we can see that communion has always been understood as communal action. This must be the case whenever we celebrate, even at weddings.[9]

As for the question of fencing the table, I would follow the normal practice of the church in which I was serving. My current home church communes only baptized Christians, but more and more Episcopal churches are welcoming all regardless of where they are on their faith journey. The Methodist idea of communion as a potentially converting element has taken hold of my imagination, and if I had my druthers, I think I would commune any who felt called to the table (at a wedding or otherwise), including new Christians like the father of the groom.

To address their specific concerns, I would remind Rachel and Dan that we commune about 500 people every Sunday and nobody seems to mind. On a positive note, it provides ample time for a nice solo, anthem, or hymn, which would otherwise have to be left out. Most brides have trouble narrowing the music they want to use – so this is an unexpected blessing!

Prior to communion, I would ask Rachel and Dan to serve as oblation-bearers as a sign of their first offering as a married couple on behalf of their congregation. In the service, the congregation has agreed to “uphold this couple in their marriage”[10] and to be there to support them in their commitment to one another in the years ahead. By receiving “sacramental reinforcement of the civil action”[11] together, the Body of Christ affirms this common aim.
Whenever we send out communion to the sick and others unable to be in church, we state: “We who are many are One Body because we all share One Bread and One Cup.” Rachel and Dan now have the opportunity to fully live into this statement by welcoming all to the table at the celebration of their marriage.

[1] We can probably assume Jesus was celebrating at Cana (his miracle does point to being in the party spirit).
[2] See especially Mark 2:19/Matt 9:15/Luke 5:34; John 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2; Revelation 19:7, 9, and 21:9.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 1994), 405. Although this is the Catholic Catechism, the sentiment is appropriate to my and my church’s theology.
[4] Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book (New York: Seabury Press, 1981), 429-430.
[5] Ibid, 430. Unfortunately the Puritans shaped our country’s customs, and weddings eventually separated entirely from Sunday worship.
[6] This also has precedent in German and Reformed Church orders, see Hatchett, 429.
[7] For examples of the fellowship theme in early Eucharist, see Ferguson, Everett, Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries, 3rd ed (Abilene: ACU Press, 1999), ch 8 (p 97 referenced above). Ferguson explains how Ignatius, Didache, Justin, and Apostolic Tradition all presume communal participation in the Lord’s Supper.
[8] Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, Chapter 2 (Eucharist), paragraph E19.
[9] Note that the position of the bride’s mother in the church does not affect any of these arguments (although it would be wise to proceed cautiously when explaining this to her!).
[10] Hatchett, 430.
[11] Ibid, 430.

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

This is lovely. I hope the professor appreciates it.

Rebecca said...

I was curious what the term "oblation-bearers" meant as it is not one I am familiar with from my tradition.

Thank you for sharing this essay (and your blog generally)

The Feminarian said...

Oblation-bearers bring up the wine, water & bread to the altar during communion. Usually laypeople representing the congregation at large. Oblation carries connotations of "offering" and "sacrifice."