In Christian marriage, husband and wife become one flesh for the purpose of mutual joy, comfort and procreation. Marriages are also practical arrangements. Until relatively recently, they were usually contracted for economic reasons (ever heard of a dowry?) that look cynical to modern Westerners. Yet it’s modern marriages for romantic love that are most prone to ending in divorce and messing up kids. Even when those marriages are unions between Christians.
When people marry partners that their families disapprove of, or without concern for their finances, or aren’t in agreement about raising children, their unions rarely last. An entire industry makes huge amounts of money on the divorces that result. It also ruins church attendance because women usually get custody, but it is a father’s religiosity that most often determines the religiosity of children. Did I mention that it’s hard on kids? Once again, the Enemy drags us to a fight on his own terrain, and curb-stomps us.
Let me put this in perspective. Some of you grew up with The Rifleman, a white hat vs. black hat Western. My father tells me that it was controversial because it portrayed a single father, widowed by the death of his wife. Let’s compare that to a popular modern television show. Any of them. Like I said, it ain’t Mayberry anymore.
According to the 1928 BCP, the Solemnization of Matrimony is to occur “in the body of the church” or “in some proper house” after the Banns have been read three times. Bride and groom present one another with rings. Interestingly, the 1662 BCP provides for church weddings only, and no ring for the groom! I’m arguing for a resurrection of tradition, but it’s clearly absurd to enforce rules where none existed in the past.
Even so, a strict BCP marriage occurred in my parish (at the request of the couple!) after the “third time of asking,” with its ominous language about “impediments.” It was clear to all: For these two, faith was serious business.
While we are known for obscuring the BCP with our altar missals and other supplements, mass culture has discarded it almost entirely . The rubrics make no mention of dresses with trains, big cakes, gaudy rings, rented evening wear or wedding planners. When it mentions rings, it doesn’t say what sort of stone (if any at all) should occupy their settings. For the most part, our assumptions about those things come from advertising, not tradition.
There’s been so much of it for so long that people have literally lived and died without ever learning that their “traditions” were invented to make a buck, and are not an authentic link to anything greater than themselves. In the spirit of obedience to the BCP, our remnant community should abandon these lawless practices and replace them with better ones.
The “wedding industrial complex” was only able to market made up traditions because tradition has been replaced with mass culture. On the whole, even the faithful now see weddings as celebrations of themselves. They overspend on lavish ceremonies. They treat clergy like the help in their own churches. They choose those churches just to get wedding pictures in historic buildings! The resulting debt and self-absorption doesn’t strengthen marriages.
In response, there is a fad called “elopement,” in which couples marry alone while on vacation to avoid the expense and drama of “average” weddings. On one level, that’s sensible. I respect the nonreligious people who do it. But elopement presents a problem for us because it takes the community out of marriage and lacks precedent. In that sense, it’s just another mass culture commodity. It’s selling point is that it’s the cheapest one.
What if clergy encourage Anglican couples to set an example by having sensible BCP weddings? I don’t mean replacing bridezilla with a spike. Remember, I’ve only argued that we insist on the BCP, while advising the betrothed that outrageous catering is “proper” according to no recognized standard. Nobody will be taking a bride’s ability to plan her reception or choose her dress. If we do, Anglicanism will soon have a celibate priesthood!
On the contrary, I’m saying that we should encourage couples to be even more active in their weddings – at the expense of over-priced planners. Couple A might have a simple wedding Mass, but Bride A always dreamed of a dress with a train so she’ll keep that, thanks; Couple B might be quite popular, and so have a beach wedding with lots of guests, but their priest insists on financial restraint and solemnizing the union before the bonfire. We’ll ban wild bachelor parties and other “customs” that are foreign to our ways – saving money, punishing secular institutions and setting an example at the same time.
Our marriages will be in better taste, and permit couples to steward their resources wisely. Large families will come within the realm of possibility. We’ll coalesce as a tribe. When children grow up with BCP marriages, confirmations, etc. a generation will grow up with Christian culture, rather than being taught things they should have just absorbed in the first place. Then they’ll start to imitate those things as they currently imitate TV. That’s more valuable than catechism and Bible study can ever be.
And when the in-laws insist that a “real” wedding is about vulgar affectations, the couple will have a perfect excuse. Sorry, the priest says we have to follow the service exactly as it’s written, and we’re super religious.
 … except when majestic Prayer-Book language is used to make movies sound more dramatic. Some in Hollywood are militantly secular, but they still know the good stuff when they see it. They hate us cuz they ain’t us.
The Anglican tradition, the Prayer Book and its supplements give us lots of cool things that we can use to build a distinctively Anglican subculture, identity and community life. If you want, clergy, give this list of underused customs (yeah, the Office is in there) to some laity, and let them experiment with things. If they want to try something new and deepen their discipleship, they have to take ownership of making the project happen. You could get a much thicker community with no effort on your part, because the laity chose for themselves. I learned this from teaching.
Offices of Instruction
The Churching of Women
Anointing of the Sick
Communion of the Sick
Matins, Litany and Ante-Communion
The Daily Office
Hot cross buns
The Festival of Lessons and Carols
Everything C.S. Lewis ever wrote
Everything Enid Chadwick ever illustrated
The Christian Year, Keble
Wine tastings after Mass
Talking about bringing back the Use of Sarum
Trying to bring back the Use of Sarum
Bringing back the Use of Sarum
Fish on Fridays