My latest offering on YouTube is about Arthurian literature and how it represents an embrace of narrative fiction by Christians, with a discussion of symbol and a sacramental worldview that includes a digression about The Lord of the Rings.
If you are interested, I have translated and posted the Order for the Consecration of Marriage, Sarum Use, in the right-hand sidebar.
If you were wed in mediaeval England, this ceremony would have been what you’d have used — except that everything save the vows would be in Latin. This ceremony, like all traditional liturgies, is rich in symbol and beauty. When the groom gives the ring, he also places a bag of silver and of gold on the priest’s Bible for all three items to be blessed. Thus, he says by his action that he can support the new family that is made that day. Once the ring is blessed, it is given thus:
With this ring I thee wed, this gold and silver I thee give, and with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.
Then the husband shall place the ring on the thumb of his wife, saying: In the name of the Father,
Then on the forefinger, saying: And of the Son,
Then on the middle finger, saying: And of the Holy Ghost,
Then on the ring finger, saying: Amen.
Then he shall release the ring. For it is [taught] in medicine that there is a certain vein proceeding all the way to the heart, and in the melodiousness of silver is symbolised internal love, which now young ought always to be between them.
That manner of exchange of rings — without the gold and silver — was that used by my sister in her mediaeval wedding. Thus is the Holy Trinity invoked in the most common symbol of marriage, the endless circle of a ring. God is present with us in our marriages, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.
I like the canopy that is held above the bride and groom as the priest blesses their marriage. My sister also used this aspect of Sarum in her own wedding ceremony, and I understand that it symbolises the new household the bride and groom are creating that day.
Something you may wonder at in the ceremony is the Pax during the Communion. The Pax was a physical object, of wood or stone, with a picture of Christ or a saint on it, that was kissed and passed around during the Eucharist in the Sarum Use. This was a tangible symbol of Christ’s peace which He communicates to us in the Eucharist. We share it with him. We share it with one another. And with the Pax, it is sealed with a holy kiss.
This ceremony, as is common in mediaeval liturgies, comes complete with a wide variety of prayers, chiefly blessings upon the couple. The blessing upon the bride following the Sacramental benediction includes this lovely phrase:
May she endure among the saintly women. May she be as loveable as Rachel to her husband; as wise as Rebecca; as long-lived and faithful as Sarah.
Liturgy is not simply words upon a page, as we often imagine when we think of “liturgical” vs. “non-liturgical” churches or worship. Liturgy, or leitourgeia, is the work of the people. It include standing, sitting, kneeling. It includes hymns and prayers. It includes symbolic actions, powerfully demonstrated herein with the canopy, the exchange of rings with gold and silver, the Pax. In liturgy, we enact in the sanctuary the spiritual reality of our lives. We worship God there and leave there to bring the truths and symbols of the liturgy into “daily life” — the blessings upon our homes (canopy), the provision for our families (gold & silver), endless love between husband and wife (the ring) bound up in the Trinity, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding and permeates our entire existence (the Pax).
These symbols are all evangelical truths enacted for our benefit. Alas that the liturgies of today are so bereft of such depth and beauty!
In my previous post on the subject, we saw that a “cult” of the Cross was a natural development within Christian piety, and that such a cult properly focusses upon our Saviour who died for us upon the Cross. The Cross itself is incidental; it is a symbol or icon of the salvific event of Christ’s atoning death.
Keeping that in mind, although cults of crosses exist that demonstrate abuses and venerations verging on the idolatrous, what the Bible has to tell us about the Cult of the Cross is not the same thing as what it tells us about idolatry; in some circumstances, we are (possibly) to follow the teaching of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians re food sacrificed to idols — if veneration of a cross causes someone to think they are sinning, don’t venerate and don’t persuade to venerate.*
Yet if all we can see when we look at crucifices, such as the Bernini Crucifix in the Art Gallery of Ontario, is the excess of the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, or some of the oddities abroad in modern Roman Catholicism, then we’re missing the point of what men like Bernini were doing, and we possibly ignore the Biblical witness.
So here is the Biblical witness:
Matthew gives an entire chapter of 66 verses to the Passion of our Lord; depending how you count, the half-chapter before it as well. Mark and Luke are similar. By my previous reckonings, John gives one and a half to two chapters to the Passion of the Lord’s Anointed. The Crucifixion — eternally linked with the Resurrection that followed — is the centrepiece of the Gospel, the most important Event in the History of the Cosmos. The Apostles, the Evangelists, give it much attention.
Quickly the Cross comes to symbolise (at least linguistically if not more) that Event (my translations):
1 Cor. 1:17-18: For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the Gospel, not in wisdom of words (logos), so that the cross of Christ is not made void. For the teaching (logos) of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Gal. 6:14: May it not be unto me that I should boast unless in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.
Eph. 2:16: he [Christ] might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross
Phil. 3:18: For many walk about concerning whom I spoke to you often, and I now speak even weeping, the enemeis of the cross of Christ.
Col. 2:14: . . . and he has taken it [the indictment] out of the way, having fastened it to the cross.
According to Strong’s, the epistles have eleven references to the word cross. The idea is simple: The word cross has become shorthand for Christ’s atoning death; it is, thus, a symbol of what Jesus has done for us, an image of that Event which has wrought for us our salvation.
If you find yourself boasting in the Cross today, know that you are not an idolater but, rather, in very good company.
*Could we educate as well, though? To replace “meat sacrificed to idols” to “booze”, isn’t it better to gently bring our legalistic brother to a point where he can accept that drinking is not a sin than to leave him in his weakness and avoid “the drink” in his presence? Also, a priest in a village in Cyprus is known to tell his parishioners to get rid of their icons if they are starting to worship them.