The Wedding, Anglican Style
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At an Anglican wedding, almost everyone can leave happy. I once officiated a wedding in which the groom’s family was Baptist and the bride’s was Roman Catholic. Both grandmothers gave me a kiss on the cheek after the ceremony. The Baptist grandma loved hearing Scripture read, and the Roman Catholic grandma loved the sacramental reverence. Everyone loves the Prayer Book service, as it is so familiar. And the surplice and black tippet on the minister is exactly right for every wedding. Do not use a stole that matches the color of the bridesmaids dresses. Trust me on that.
Here are a few areas in which our weddings differ (or should) from your typical American wedding. Other areas are included because of contemporary relevance. I offer this in the hope of explaining what we do, but also in persuading people to see that the reasons behind what we do, or won’t do, are related to imporant Christian understandings of the Church and marriage.
First, we see the wedding as taking place within a communion service. The setting is worship, and the occasion is worship. Jesus Christ himself is present. People are praying and singing together. A man and woman are united in Holy Matrimony. But the service is not “just” a wedding, and the Communion and the singing, praying, are not an ornament to the wedding. The wedding is taking place as part of worship. It is a holy moment.
That expains why we don’t just give commmunion to the bride and groom. We can’t do that. The communion table is the table of the Lord. It is never a private meal, or an individual meal. It is always a holy meal shared by all baptized believers. To make communion private, to only serve the bride and groom, is to imply that the Lord’s table is “our” table. But it is not our table, it is his, and he calls all of his children to it. At its worst, the private communion practice can imply, unintentionally, that the communion is a mere ornament, or sentimental moment for the bride and groom. But no, they are joining the community as a married couple, for the first time. They are not doing this privately, but are sharing the communion of the Lord.
Because the wedding is a gathering of worshippers, in the church, it is also a time for married couples to reflect on marriage, and to be renewed.
Second, we don’t like unity candles. This is not to say that they don’t happen. But we don’t encourage them, and I personally won’t have anything to do with them. The unity candle is not a Christian symbol, and it works against the Christian understanding of marriage. Christian marriage unites two distinct persons in a union. It does not extinguish the personality of the man or woman. They remain distinct as persons. Instead, they are mystically united in such a way that the two become one. They are still two, but the two are also one. I know this sounds like splitting hairs, but its not. Its not because we can see the damage when a person loses him or herself in another, even their spouse. By lighting the center candle, and blowing out the bride and groom candles, we imply that the bride and groom’s unique personalities are gone, and what remains is one personality.
I’m sure not everyone sees it that way when they see the candles snuffed out. But it is important to me that the bride and groom leave the service with the assurance that God has united them without destroying their personalities in doing so.
Third, we don’t let people write their own vows. We must use the vows in the prayer book. When a couple is getting married, they are entering into Holy Matrimony. The institution of marriage already existed before they were called to it. They can’t make it up as they go along. It is highly personal, but it is also historic and sacramental. Writing your own vows implies that you are entering into a contract of your own creation. Taking “the vows” teaches that you are entering into a holy, sacred relationship that God has made for you. That said, it might be a great thing to write personal promises or expressions to each other, and to read those at the reception. The personal aspect is so important, it just can’t overshadow the moment of the vows. They must be said from the heart, but must bind the bride and groom to marriage itself, as much as to each other personally.
Fourth, we believe that the rings are a sign of the marriage. They are sacred objects which are blessed in the ceremony, and serve as sacred signs of the marriage. This is not that controversial nowadays, but it was a few hundred years ago. The main idea here is that the rings both remind us of our vows, and also they seal those vows upon us. We carry this sign upon us every day, and with the right intention, the rings help us keep those vows.
Fifth, we only marry a man to woman, woman to man. It is the complimentary nature of the genders that makes marriage possible. If we married two men, we would be implying, or saying, that marriage is simply two people who love each other. But we aren’t saying that. Christian marriage says that it is a man and woman who love each other. To change that understanding is to change it for everyone. In other words, the unique bond between a man and woman becomes equated with other possible relationships. This has nothing to do with civil rights or equality for gay Americans. It is simply impossible to call marriage anything but a man and a woman uniting in a lifelong union. This is an absolutely unique human relationship that is only possible between a man and woman. And with that, we are supporting the raising of children, in this context, by their mother and father. This all flows from the singular complementarity of the genders.
Sixth, and last, we are okay with dancing and drinking champagne at the reception. Just added that for fun.
Weddings are wonderful. I love them. The notes above are areas that have drawn a lot of questions over the years, and that’s why I chose them. How to live out a marriage is a deeper and more profound question.
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