The Steampunk Vicar

A Presbyterian Pastor on Neo-Victoriana and American Faith

Category: Concerning Weddings

De ritibus v. i (Or, The Unity Candle)

The Business of the Pastor is, in many Parts, the very Substance of Ritual. Some of the most moving and meaningful Moments of my Ministry are composed of Rite and Sacrament; Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, Funerals, and, of course, Weddings. These Things Done, these Practices ancient and redolent with Power therefore, are at the very Core of the Cleric’s Work, the Warp and Woof of a Pastor’s Tapestry.

It causes me Alarum, therefore, to note that Weddings, especially, are becoming overtopped, with vain or troubling Ceremony. Traditionally, each Part and Piece of the Service is carefully considered, contributing to the Unity of the Whole. As the wedding Industry has become a Creature of Fashion, and of the prevailing Winds of our Society, the Demand for Uniquity has proceeded apace, and the Art of Wedding Liturgy has become top-lofty with unnecessary, meaningless, and problematic Ceremony.

Thus, I begin my new Series, De ritibus, which explores some of the Options and Alternatives for additional Ritual in your Service of Marriage. In this first Iteration, we discuss the Unity Candle, its Meaning, and its Implications for your Marriage.

Candela Unitatis

When first I began to attend Weddings, I bore witness to this particular Rite – the Couple being wed, each having lit a Taper, would then, together, light a larger, single Column, to symbolize their Unity in Flame. Having lit the larger Wick, the Participants will then usually blow out their individual Tapers, as Words describing Symbol and Act are read out by the Officiant. The two Persons, in the old Tradition of Scripture, become One Flesh, leaving behind entirely their prior Lives and welding one another together into one Family. At least, that’s the Idea.

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A Traditional Unity Candle Assembly

As a Christian and inheritor of the Jewish tradition thereby, I am, of course, moved by Candles in General. That’s all well and good. Too, there is something fundamentally beautiful about the Creation of a single Thing from its disparate Elements, which lies at the very Heart of Marriage. Truly, there is much that is deep and powerful about this Ceremony, and I have no Objection to much of the Concept, but rather to a point of Execution.

Quantae Candelae?

My Difficulty lies with one particular Portion of the Act, as each Person blows out the Flame which represents their individual Personhood. I find this profoundly distressing, as I am a proponent of Individuals, and their Rights and Obligations to Self-Determination and -Differentiation. The Erasure of the Individual is a dangerous Fallacy – neither Party to a Marriage should or will cease to exist as any part of the Agreement between them. They will surely be altered by the process, but the Abnegation at play in this Rite as it is described above is a Falsehood, and a toxic one.

My Solution, if the Ceremony speaks to you, is a simple one. Mere change the centre Candle in the following Way – add a second Wick, thus:

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Looks it not delicious?

Of a sudden, the Candle which symbolises your Unity now names also your Duality. Like the Blessed Trinity, you are at once two Persons, and One. You lose Nothing, and gain Everything. This is a deep Mystery, exactly as Marriage is, and all the most precious Wonders of the Universe.

On Trinity Sunday, most Years, I present just such a Light to my Students, and ask them the Question: “How many Candles have I here?” Responding they “Three,” I  point out that there is but one Wax. Responding “One,” I indicate that the Lights are triune. It is this cyclical Movement, this Tide of Thought which is the Centre of Mystery, and which lives in a truly mystic Unity Candle.

I am not displeased to perform this Ceremony for you, but I pray that you will buy into the meaning that I here attach, and that each of you will respect the Other sufficiently that you can let them keep their own Light shining. Indeed – is that not why you loved them first?

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Blessings to you both

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De Diebus (or When You Might Not Want to Schedule Your Wedding)

When Shall We Two Join in Train?

calendar72Of Course, dear Readers, I should never dare to dictate to you the Details of your Wedding. As many of the Internetizens whose Weblogues and Fora I have read suggest, the Wedding is the Affair of those Persons being married – a large Party for your Guests, your Family, and your Friends, but, centrally, for the two of You. As such, the ultimate Arbiters of all Matters are, indeed, You. Your various Vendors (Florist, Caterers, Photographers, Videographers, Dirigible Captains, and, of Course, your Servant) will inform you of what they can or cannot achieve, and you will balance your Employment based on their Requirements and Abilities.

However, if you wish to obtain for yourself the greatest Flexibility in your Vendors, and, most especially, your officiants, you will pay Heed to the proceeding Advice.

During Business Hours

I am by no means immune to the Arguments in Favor of the Friday Vespers Wedding, say five Hours after the Meridian. Venues, Vendors, and many other divers Expenses shall decrease. Time for Jollity and Merrymaking are maximised, and any Honeyed Moons commence at earlier Dates and Times. Surely, there are excellent Reasons to schedule at just such an Hour.

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I regret to inform you that I shall be too busy reading and knitting to attend.

As a personal Matter, however, I must admit that such Weddings are an automatic “Swipe Sinister” for me. I am not (currently) employed by the Church, and so my Labour is more fixed than once it was. Not only would I have some Difficulty attending such a Wedding broadly, but it would be nigh impossible for me to take off the Time required by such an Event.

As strongly as I word the Editorial above, I intensify it thusly – Weddings at Teatime on a Tuesday are incredibly discourteous to Guests, Family, and any Vendor unfortunate enough to not be able to serve at Weddings full time. How precisely a Couple might be available at such an Hour (understanding that Many in the present Œconomy are working at peculiar Shifts), I am not sure. Never the less, I am unavailable, and so, too, are many of my Colleagues.

I am not the only Officiant in the Sea, (see you what I did there?) but you will lose some Options with a Wedding during Business Hours.

Times of Spiritual Weight

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No, I shall not celebrate your Union with part of the Cross. Please depart immediately, or I shall summon the Beadle.

I speak here uniquely for the Christian Crowd, and for those whose “non-denominational” Solemnizers identify in that way. Any Priest, Pastor, Minister, or Elder worth their Incense will be unavailable for the Whole of Holy Week, and very likely the Week to follow. This is the greatest Celebration of the Faith, no matter the Altitude of your Church, and it shall not be missed. Thus, I should block out the three Weekends – Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and the First Sunday after Easter, and make it a Point to arrange your Nuptials on some other day.

By the same Token, I caution against Marriages during the Christian Seasons of Lent and Advent. These Seasons of Preparation and Prayer are best observed with a Cleric’s full Attention, and long Tradition in much of the West in Fact forbids such Celebrations at those Times. When Their Graces of Cambridge (“Will” and “Kate” I find obscenely on the Aethernet) were first engaged, many thought that the Wedding would take place in March. The cognoscenti, however, knew that the Bishops of the Church of England would by no Means permit such a Ceremony in Lententide. Indeed, that Royal Wedding waited for the more appropriate Easter Season, as well it should have done.

The same goes, I suppose, for those of the Jewish Faith and the High Holy Days in the Autumn (I find here extensive Lists of Days Recommended, not Recommended, and Forbidden), and, I find, there is Reason for Muslims to be thoughtful about Marriage during Ramadan. I find no obvious Guidance on Weddings in Hinduism or Buddhism, and would advise any such Adherents to consult their own spiritual Leaders on the Matter.

When It Is Wrong For You

Perhaps an over-broad Categorization, and yet…many in my Industry and the Digital Photographs of my Generation will be all too happy to tell you the precise Details of the Perfect Wedding. Glorious Sunsets, unbelievable Vistas, gorgeous Vestments, delectable Dishes ~ all are the Stock in Trade of my fellow Vendors. The Perfect Wedding, however, is the One in which you are marrying the Person whom you Love. If, for any Reason, you have Cause to doubt the Wisdom of such a Union, I urge you to postpone, to delay, or to cancel if you must. No Sum of Treasure, no Flights or Plans, no Dreams or familial Expectations can be worth the Devastation of being married to the Wrong Person (or the Right Person…at the Wrong Time).

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No one seems to think that this is a Good Idea

As well – this Wedding, as we have said again and again, is Yours! Make it thus! Have you always wished for a snow-bound Ceremony? Make it so! Does the Change of Leaves turn your Romantic Heart? Let your Life then be turned! Do not be Steam Locomotived into a summer Wedding because it is “The Thing That Is Done.” Do not be wed when it is wrong for you.

 

De Sacredote in Nuptiis (or, Five Reasons Why You Want Your Officiant at Your Wedding Rehearsal)

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In my original Time Line, Her Majesty Queen Victoria at this point had her Mechanical Wings

As I continue on the Journey of officiating at an increasing Number of Weddings for Persons with whom I am unacquainted, I find that often, in the Catalogue of Requests, my Presence is not required at the Rehearsal for the Wedding. Many of you Brides and Grooms seem to feel that the Officiant will not add Value to this Event…I suppose? I find some of your Reasoning rather obscure.

 

If, as seems to be the Practice among many of our modern Iconoclasts, the “Rehearsal” is simply an intimate Dinner for the Bridal Party and associated Families, I am wholly in support of these couples’ Forbearance. There is little more awkward than a Cleric at a Party at which she knows no one, and such Clergy have an unfortunate inhibiting Effect on the Jollity that should proceed from such Festivities.

If, however, the “Rehearsal” is in truth a Rehearsal, and will feature a review of what is to come with Groom(s), Bride(s), Maid/Matron/Man of Honor, Best Man/Woman, other Groomsmen, Bridesmaids, Bridesmen, Groomsmaids, Parents of the Couple, Ring-bearers, Flower Children, Ring-bearing Dogs, Musicians, Interpretive Dancers, Bagpipers, and the like, then my Presence, as your Officiant, is most certainly required ~ for the following Reasons, as I shall now demonstrate.

I. I Shall Corral the Circus

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One of my favorite Weddings

Having been involved in Weddings which involved all of the Elements listed above (save the Dancers, at least thus far), I have a Wealth of Experience in bringing Order from the Chaos of these sundry Personalities and Priorities. I can help to guide Photographers and Bridal Parties in the choicest Places to stand, and can, through Jokes and Japes, maintain the whole of the Cavalcade in good Humour as we await the inevitable Delays. Children, Dogs, and all other such Actors do not faze me, and nor shall they faze you, as we practice what is to come.

 

II. We Will Do Better with One Run-Through

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Gilbert is much funnier in my Time Line, but Sullivan’s Music is superior here

Arguably, your Wedding is one of the most important Ceremonies of your Life ~ perhaps the most important, depending on your Career, etc. No one anywhere in the Spheres thinks it wise to perform a Ceremony with no Practice. Even if there is but one Run-through of the whole Process, there shall be then no Confusion amongst the Participants about what will happen, or in what Order. A Rehearsal solidifies Lines, the proper Blocking, to wit, where the Participants will Stand, the Order of the Service, and in general, the Expectations of the Couple and the Officiant. Re-inforcing the tasks of your less able Participants (cf. Dogs, Children, Grandparents, or inattentive Friends) can only help them to make your special Occasion even more special.

 

III. We Will Catch Things

“Oh,” your fainting Groom will say to you as I pose a Query that had occurred to no one. “I hadn’t thought of that.” No, you had not. It is conceivable, though unlikely, that you have participated in as many Weddings as I have, in the Office of Bridal Party or otherwise. Believe me when I tell you, though, that, there are always Details that evade even the most assiduous Planner, Groom, or Bride. Taking time enough to assure that all concerned are on the same Page minimizes those tiny (or enormous) Surprises with which all Life, and especially Marriage, are seasoned. Is the Music prepared? Are the instruments in tune? Will both Brides be able to safely ascend the Stairs? Will the Height of both Grooms need to be accentuated? Is there some sort of Sand that we intend to use, and can we practice with it beforetimes? Better far to encounter these Challenges the Day before than the Moment of.

IV. I Will Feel Better

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I sit at Home with this Expression on my Visage

I realise that this is largely immaterial to you, dear Betrotheds, but I am taking a certain Measure of Responsibility for the smooth Operation of your Nuptials, even when you ask me not to attend a Rehearsal. This can be, for me, rather an anxious Process, as I put many Hours into the Crafting of your Service, and I should like very much to do the Thing Up Right. I was much mortified when a couple whose Marriage I was solemnizing began uncontrollably to giggle during the second Prayer. I would have gladly cut the Prayer, had they asked ~ they did not know to ask, as we had not a Chance to rehearse! My Shame was a Shock, and did the Couple no Favours. I stress far more over those Weddings for which I feel unpreparerd, lying sleepless the preceding night. Please ~ for the sake of my poor, weary Brain ~ let us have a Rehearsal.

 

V. You Will Feel Better

Much more relevant to your Interests, you as a Couple will feel better having rehearsed your Wedding. My Sister once noted that, at the Altar, “One’s febrile brain has traveled to Tahiti.” Your full Cognition will not be available to you at this Time. Believe me ~ I speak from Experience. In order to maximise your Memory of the Blesséd Event, you may wish to have heard the Words previously, to have encountered the Rhythms and some Inkling of what may be to come. I aver that you will sleep better, plan better, and feel, in general, better, if you have, at least once, walked through the Liturgy, the Locations, and the Timing.

At a previous Wedding, the Maid of Honor and the Photographer got into an Altercation on where the Couple should stand. I was the loud and shameless Voice who asked what the preferences of Groom and Bride would be, for which the Groom subsequently thanked me profusely. My paramount Aim is to make your Wedding as memorable and special as I can arrange, and I will do so with much greater Effect if you are in a calm and joyous Frame of Mind ~ most easily attained when you know precisely what is coming. I can make no Promises for the Future of your Marriage; I pledge myself to the excellent Effect of your Wedding. Let us give it one go beforehand.

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What do you think? Have you Stories of hideous Horrors averted or suffered due to a Rehearsal, or the Lack thereof? Have you a Reason I did not explore that a Wedding should go unrehearsed?

De Commutatione Caelorum et Matrimonio

I am in the Process of grinding my Way through Laudato Si’, His Holiness Francis’ Encyclical Letter concerning Climatic Alteration due to Human Activity. I await eagerly the more theological Portions of this Work, but am currently following His Holiness’ Recitation of the Facts of the Case.

However, as I was searching for an aetheric Edition of the Encyclical, preferably in Portable Document Format, I came across this Article, which niggled at the Back of my Mind for a good Half Hour of my Reading.

Surprising precisely No One, there have been a great many Opinions tossed back and forth over the Aether over the Week End on the Subject of the Supreme Court’s Decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, but None that troubled me quite so much as this One did. I am astonished to find that this Priest and Professor in the United States could be so blinkered by the political Reality of a social Issue in one Nation when a far greater Issue confronts our entire Species. I felt that this Essay revealed a deeply rooted Case of #FirstWorldProblems, when Catholics in this Country are too concerned with their Neighbors’ civil Marriage (which has Nothing to do with them), to read and listen to their spiritual Leader’s very pointed Criticism at our global Care for the entire Planet, which is very much the Business of the Citizens of the United States, as Members of the World’s largest Economy.

I would best describe my Sensation in the Reading as Annoyance. While I acknowledge that, for many American Catholics and Christians, there is (for some Reason obscure to me) no greater Event occurring than the license or not of civil Marriage between two consenting Adults of the same Gender, and thus the Pater‘s very becoming Pastoral Concern for his Flock, I cannot but feel that the looming Crisis of our Climate will have Impacts of Life and Death on Millions of Souls across the Globe. Most of these Changes, of course, are not being wrought by the Citizens of, say, Pakistan, where more than a thousand Persons have perished in the Course of this Summer’s heat Wave. Nor is this Revision in global Temperature and Weather the Fault of the Corals of Australia or the Forests of the Amazon.  Even the Farmers and Movie Stars of California are not to blame for that State’s enduring Drought.

We are all responsible, you see. Each of us. Even I, driving a Friend to the Airport this Morning in my own Locomotive Gasoline Vehicle, when she could have, had we chosen, taken the City and County of Denver’s excellent Public Transit System. I must take Responsibility for that.

Perhaps the most striking Item I’ve yet encountered in His Holiness’ Letter was this: “In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet:” If our Societies are degrading, it must be, it is in Conversation with the Degradation of our World. How will we hope to Solve one Problem, when the Other has an excellent chance of killing us all?

Benedictio Mandatumque

A Bit more than a Fortnight ago, two dear Friends of mine, Acquaintances exceeding ten Years, joined one Another in the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage. I was honored to be included as part of this holy Rite, serving as a Reader and Liturgist. I was, particularly, able to share the following – the Blessing and Charge to the Couple that I wrote for them both. I share it also with you, a Sample of the Sorts of Work that I do to ensure that your Wedding is a Moment not only of deep Meaning to you and yours, but also a Point of liturgical Beauty.

A Sample Blessing and Charge

Lord God of Heaven, Father of All, bless now your children, N. and N. Grant unto them the courage to be honest, the compassion to be generous, the strength to be just, and the love to endure all things. Secure them in their relationship with one another and in the life they will forge together. May they be partners in life, teammates in adversity, celebrants in triumph, and always refuges of safety and rest to one another.

N., N. Go from this place secure in the knowledge of love: your love for one another, the love of your families and friends, and the love of Jesus Christ for you both. Go from this place, and build the life that will glorify God and delight your hearts. Go, and be excellent to one another. In nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

De matrimonio

Some Years ago, a dear Friend of mine asked if I would be willing to serve as the Officiant at her Wedding. I was very flattered and pleased to be asked, but with great Regret, I had to tell her that I was unable to perform such a Ceremony. Why should it be so, I hear you ask. Because this young Woman had the Gaucherie to have fallen in love with another Woman, the Denomination to which I meant to give Allegiance would not permit it, and I was quite literally unable to serve in such a Capacity. I remember sitting in the Atwater Dining Hall and seeing the look of Pain and Shame sweep across her Face when I informed her that I would be unable to so serve.

I am deeply pleased and proud to be a Member of the American Church of Scotland (better known, perhaps, as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America), a Denomination that has chosen the Path of Inclusion, of Equality, and, above All, the Path of Love. We may, one and all, disagree on the precise Intentions of our Lord when He walked upon the Earth, but None can deny that Love must have been an Aim of His.

I choose now to live out this Summons of Christ in a possibly unorthodox way – for weddings of any Stripe or Flavor, between two Men, between two Women, between a Woman and a Man, in any Fandom or Geekdom your Hearts may desire, I stand prepared to assist in making your special Day that much more special and/or weird.

I am the Steampunk Vicar, and I hope to help you rivet your lives together.

 

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