Of Christian blessing of civil or non-Christian marriages
The following is a brief consideration of the reasons for the provision of a blessing of an existing marriage that was conducted by a civil jurisdiction or by a religious authority other than Christian, and an understanding of the nature of such a blessing.
The tenor of formal blessings offered in public worship is plain: it is God who blesses, so the bishop or priest and the assembly are both seeking and announcing God’s blessing upon some person or persons. These blessings are not the Church granting God’s blessing, but declaring it. This involves confidence and trust that God is pleased to bless that which the Church blesses. In the case of blessing a married couple, that confidence is expressed in recognising God’s blessing already at work in the couple’s lives and rightly asking for God’s continued blessing.
In the case of those who have been legally married in a setting other than the Church, and who have not received a formal pronouncement of the blessing of the God we know in Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Church offers and announces that blessing for five primary reasons:
We are followers of Jesus Christ and know the blessing that comes through his life, death and resurrection as a result of his self-giving love. We also know this kind of love is a blessing when we live in the same manner with each other. Marriage is emblematic of this love. Moreover, in the depth of faithful and life-long commitments a couple finds a ‘living for the other’ that reflects the example of Jesus Christ’s living for the Church.
In the bond and union of body, mind, and soul, a couple finds in the quality of their companionship a fit such that their lives have greater meaning, value and purpose. This is an outworking of the abundant life that Christ promises to all.
A covenant is a sacred commitment. Marriage is one kind of commitment where the couple vows to life-long faithfulness, and hopes to emulate the faithfulness of God in keeping covenant with God’s people. Covenant entails constancy and faithfulness in love, which we know is a blessing from God.
The giving of oneself and receiving that is evidenced in marriage is a particular instance of the truth that God creates us to receive our lives as a gift both from God and from the community we inhabit. The intimacy of marriage is an intense form of this giving and receiving of selves in the interplay of gift and giving.
As a household, a ‘little church’ or ‘micro-basileia’, the married couple is, through their love for one another, a sign (mysterion) of Christ’s love for the world. Indeed, they are both a sign and a remembering (anamnesis) of Christ’s love. The couple is both an example of Christ’s self-giving love, and the parties themselves model their love on Christ’s example.
Finally, in receiving the pronouncement of God’s blessing and asking for that blessing to continue and deepen in their life together, it is the expectation that a couple become a greater blessing to one another and in the overflowing generosity of God, become a blessing to the world.