Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

What Do We Bless and Why?

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

What Do We Bless and Why?

Article excerpt

On the question that gives this short paper its title, I have one thesis to advance, two theological premises that support the thesis, and three comments to make by way of elaborating it. The context of my thesis is liturgy-"primary" theology, as it is sometimes called. This I take to be a suitably Anglican way to proceed. And I shall start from a concrete question about a specific liturgical practice that has been under discussion in my own diocese.

The discussion concerns postulants and candidates for holy orders, more particularly those who aspire to ordained ministry as vocational or permanent deacons. There are four or five such persons in the diocesan program of training and instruction, which includes a year of field education in a parish church. The question that has come up is this: In addition to their other ministries in their respective parish settings, should deacons-in-training be allowed to do the things that deacons customarily do at the eucharist? Should they read the liturgical gospel, prepare the bread and wine at the altar, say the dismissal, and so on? Should they, in other words, act like deacons now, before the bishop has ordained them?

The question was discussed at a meeting of instructors and supervisors, one of whom insisted that the answer is yes. Deacons-in-training should not only be allowed to take the deacon's liturgical role, as though it were a concession or a special case; taking that role should be required as part of their formation. The argument that was presented went like this:

"The rite or ceremony of ordination is like the rite of matrimony. Everybody knows that when two people present themselves for marriage, they are already living together in physical intimacy. Clergy presume that wedding couples 'know' each other in the sexual sense. Couples presume that clergy will presume it. That is how things should be when it comes to ordaining a deacon. In the same way that the couple who take part in the rite of matrimony are already doing what married people do precisely as married people, so a candidate taking part in ordination to the diaconate should already be doing what deacons, precisely as deacons, do."

Such was the argument. It posits an analogy, and from it draws a practical implication. I am not entirely convinced the argument is sound. But let me make the best case I can for it, and then examine what I take to be its presuppositions and implications.

According to this argument, there would seem to be three components in marriage, which fit together in a certain way according to an inherent "logic." The same three components, ordered in the same way, are involved-or ought to be involved-in ordained ministry. Marriage and ordained ministry alike involve (1) a ceremonial event, (2) a social fact, and (3) an operative or constitutive action. The analogy that the argument posits thus falls nicely into a table with two columns and three rows.

The middle row of the table lines up marriage and diaconate as "states" or conditions that consist in certain relations between the persons who are "in" these states, and other persons. Below these, I have put the "constitutive acts," to show that (on the argument I am considering) they are the basis on which everything else in the table is built-the acts that most directly and decisively signify what diaconate, or marriage, is all about. In each case, the "constitutive act" focuses the meaning that makes the institution what it is, and performing the acts is what brings the institution into being. This is what married people do, as married, and what deacons do, as deacons. So, if a sacrament is an effective sign, the really sacramental component is the foundational, bottom row rather than the one at the top. The top-row components, the ceremonial events, may be more conspicuous, but (according to the argument) they presuppose the social facts in the middle row, and you have the middle row, to all intents and purposes, when you have the bottom row. …

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