The Washington Post, ever with its finger on the cultural pulse, offers “8 Tips for Officiating at a Wedding” for when one of your non-religiously-affiliated friend (i.e. a “none”) asks you. The author seems to get asked to do this regularly, perhaps because she is a yoga teacher and therefore the most spiritual person some folks know. In any case, her tips contain some good advice for presiding at any wedding (e.g. take charge, get to know the couple a bit, write out whatever remarks you are going to make). But some of the advice strikes me as an interesting window into contemporary attitudes toward life-cycle rituals.
In particular, the idea of “writing a liturgy” in which one picks and chooses among different traditions, along with the encouragement for the couple to write their own vows, reveals a highly voluntarist approach to ritual and tradition in which the role of ritual is solely expressive and, seemingly, not at all formative. This helps explain why some couples react so badly when confronted by a wedding officiant who adopts a these-are-the-rules-take-it-or-leave-it approach. I don’t think we should bow to people’s whims, but it can help us deal pastorally with couples if we recognize that there is a dominant cultural presumption that a wedding is more an exercise in creative free expression, and less an incorporation into a ritually-shaped tradition.
Very interesting post and and important one also.
The contemporary (Roman) Catholic liturgy compounds the matter by being rather low on specifically marriage content/ritual, high on choice (of readings and prayers), depends a lot on the personality and effort of the priest, and the typical Sunday and weekday celebration increases same.
In Ireland the “unity rituals” (candles, and now coloured sand and water) are the norm, the materials (candles anyway) are sold by religious shops, and its pastorally impossible to discuss them as problematic.
There is something to be said for the Byzantine approach which, I think, nobody would dream of adding to. It is rich in movement, words, symbols and music, and probably most importantly in dealing with the present climate: in beauty.
I take a different approach: I don’t “do weddings”, rather I assist couples in beginning their Christian marriage. My ordination calls me to be a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ, my work is always “In the Name of the Father, the Son (+) and the Holy Spirit.
“None’s” should have their wedding vows witnessed by a “none” such as a Justice of the Peace, or in this day of internet “ordinations” (a mockery of the sacrament, for sure) even your yoga teacher….
@Padre Dave the Lutheran:
In my experience at least, couple’s seeking to marry don’t sort all that easily into Christians and “nones.” Many seem to have a foot in each camp.
Agreed…though a mixed couple is a great opportunity for catechesis
In civil society today, marriage is essentially a private contract of limited duration. Couples who embrace this model of marriage should have the honesty to marry civilly. I acknowledge that family pressures can complicate these decisions.
Society offers marriage as a civil right to anyone who is of legal age; fills out the proper forms and is witnessed by a person that has been authorized by the State to preside at this ceremony.
The Church offers a man and woman a ritual/sacrament that is infused with the grace and presence of Christ in a life long commitment of love and the raising of children.
While we as Christians welcome all to our places of worship, it makes no sense for a “none” to request a church wedding. If one of the partners is a “none” than this becomes a teaching moment for the both of them.
I prefer the 1662 Prayer Book Solemnization of Matrimony, but it would be hard to justify this as a “none” wedding, even with the omission of a celebration of the Eucharist. Also, the 1662 Prayer Book is heavily Reformed in its wedding ceremony theology. The officiant must realize that this is the predominant theological message. Still, as a matter of prose there is no equal. Were I to ever wed, a historical Prayer Book (in an Ordinariate church?) would be my first choice by far.
EDIT: The homily and verses draw heavily on the imagery of Ephesians 5. This might render the above marriage liturgy unacceptable. I have not fully come to grips with this difficulty. Also, the vows call upon the bride to “obey” her husband, an asymmetric request. This is also troubling. I am not concerned with the “brute beasts”, as if marriage is for the elect. Given the theology behind the Prayer Book marriage, the characterization of the reprobate as beasts is quite fitting.
For the text: