Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Revising the Marriage Liturgy in the Church of England: Towards Clarifying Issues and Possibilities

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Revising the Marriage Liturgy in the Church of England: Towards Clarifying Issues and Possibilities

Article excerpt

BRYAN D. SPINKS*

This article makes no pretence to qualify as a piece of liturgical wissenschaft. Rather, it seeks to show how the study of liturgy and ancillary disciplines, and the social setting of a Church converge in a practical pastoral application. I wish to outline some of the social expectations, insights from anthropology, theological reflections-or lack of them-and lessons from liturgical wissenschaft which together are setting the scene for the revision of the marriage rite in the Church of England. First, however, the current situation needs to be outlined.

The Church of England is the Established church in England (not Scotland, Wales or Ireland). Though it is often assumed that it therefore receives State financing, this is not so. It does, however, have certain State and Public roles, and also obligations. One of the latter is that it is the legal right of an English citizen to be married in his or her parish church, providing that at least one of the parties is baptised, and that both are legally free to marry. The issue of divorced persons will be discussed in due course, but such persons do have this legal entitlement too.

At present two marriage liturgies are in use in the Church of England. The first is that found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which in turn was a revision of the rite complied by Thomas Cranmer over a century earlier. Some older clergy also use a revision made in 1928. The second rite is in modern English and was compiled during the later 1970s and included in the 1980 Alternative Service Book.

This is by far the most commonly used rite for marriage. Whereas the Book of Common Prayer rite remains available until Parliament was to decide otherwise, all the rites contained in the Alternative Service Book have a life span only until the year 2000. Since 1986 the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England has been working on revision of most of those services-some light, some more drastic. The 1980 marriage rite provided only a marriage service and propers for the communion, and certainly in comparison with the provisions of a number of American rites, looks rather slender. Only at the very end of 1995 did the Commission begin work on the revision of this rite. A sub-group has been given the task of preparing the revision.

What factors, then, have been taken into account as this process begins?

1.The wider social and popular media concerns

Given the Established nature of the Church of England, there is a public interest in what the Church says and does about marriage which spreads beyond the defined ecclesial boundaries. Marriage and its implications for family life and social stability mean that popular concerns about these areas are frequently aired in the media, and unsolicited advice and demands are bounced into the Church's arena. These are often incoherent and conflicting, and assume some easy answer will be immediately forthcoming from Church spokespersons.

First there is the popular concern about family life and values, which are a favorite hobby-horse for politicians in relation to crime figures, joy-riding, drug-taking, and social security benefits. Usually there is an implication that the Church, normally warned not to meddle in politics, will rescue the politics of the day by wading in to uphold and promote "traditional" family values, which usually means the modern middle class nuclear ideal, and to strengthen marriage in a country which the tabloids report every month as having the highest divorce rate in Europe, and where there is an ever-growing population of one-parent families.

There is of course a certain hypocrisy in that it is the very same tabloids, often only a page further on, which tell in enthusiastic and graphic detail the busy sex lives of pop-stars, models and celebritiesincluding a number of politicians-and promote uninhibited sexual satisfaction as the most important goal in life. …

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