The Angelus

Volume 13, Number 45

From the Rector: Consent and Marriage

Kenneth Stevenson was a parish priest and then bishop in the Church of England.  He was also one of the leading liturgical scholars of his generation.  Among his many important writings were Eucharist and Offering (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986) and To Join Together: The Rites of Marriage. Studies in the Reformed Rites of the Catholic Church, Volume V (New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1987) – yes, he was the one non-Roman Catholic who was invited to write one of the commentaries in that well-known series on the Vatican II rites.  Born and reared in Britain, he was the grandson of a Danish Lutheran bishop.  He and his wife had four children, one of whom is a priest.  He was a remarkable person.  He died on January 12, 2011.  He was only sixty-one years old.

I met Bishop Stevenson twice, the first time was here at Saint Mary’s.  He attended Evensong on the first Sunday in December 2003.  At the door, I recognized his name and I remember seeing just a bit of purple peeking out under his coat.  I almost nabbed him as a concelebrant for our patronal feast the following night – Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold was to be celebrant and Jeffrey Lee, now bishop of Chicago, was preacher.  As I recall, Bishop Stevenson had a daughter in New York to take out to dinner and he kept his commitment to her.  He was scheduled to come to Saint Mary’s to celebrate and preach for Annunciation in 2006.  But, he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005, and began to travel less frequently.  He was able to serve his diocese until 2009.  When he died, there were many tributes to this accomplished and generous person.

Just before Christmas 2010, he finished editing a collection of three essays, one of which he wrote, on the marriage rites.  This was in preparation for the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation held at Canterbury in August 2011 (Joint Liturgical Studies 71: Anglican Marriage Rites, ed. Kenneth W. Stevenson, [Norfolk, UK: Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd, 2011]).  The second article in the book, “‘Wilt thou have this woman?’ – Asking God’s Blessing on Consenting Adults” by Thomas Cooper, has undone most of what I thought I knew about these matters.

One particularly important issue is that the meaning of the verb “to will” has changed since Thomas Cranmer’s time.  “Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony?”  It seems that there was no future tense in earlier forms of English.  For Cranmer, “I will” was the English translation of the present-tense Latin verb volo.  The change in language will come to change the ordinary understanding of the text.  By the time of the adoption of our present Prayer Book, “Will you have this man (woman) . . . ” will be called “The Declaration of Consent” (Prayer Book, 424) – and “I take you . . . ” will be identified as the “The Marriage” (Prayer Book, 427).  Simply put, our present marriage rite obscures the centrality of what makes a marriage: mutual consent.

All is not lost.  Despite the confusion in our rite, mutual consent still clearly takes place in our service and makes a marriage in law and in theology.  What we call “common-law marriages,” legal in some states, reflects the older tradition.  It requires no witnesses, no blessing, but a plain statement of present-tense choice between a man and a woman to enter into marriage.

Since the twelfth century, when a theology of “seven Sacraments” started to take hold of the West, marriage began to acquire an ecclesiastical overlay, as it were.  Over time, Church and state bring marriage out of the private sphere and into the public one.  Notices of marriage come to be required – originally to make sure that people weren’t too closely related or already married.  I’m not sure why more people over the years did not notice that the ordinary meaning of the verb to will, i.e., “I will” [give my consent], had changed in language but not in law and theology, yet that seems to be what happened.

So, where do things stand now?  The 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in response to the previous convention, is going to address in some way questions about who can be married in the Church – the larger question being the place of homosexual persons in the Christian community.  I think this is a discussion the Church needs to have.  I am concerned that we will not be having the discussion we should have, especially in relationship to marriage.

The Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has published its “Outline of Theological Principles” for the work they have been directed to do to develop “theological and liturgical resources” on the issue of same gender blessings.  After reading the book Stevenson edited, I was surprised to read from the commission, “The proposed rites must be an expression primarily of the entire Church, not the couple seeking a blessing.  These rites must allow for robust communal participation, reflecting the Baptismal ecclesiology of the Prayer Book.”  I’m not sure how thinking about marriage or, potentially, the blessing of a same gender relationship, in this way can be reconciled with history, theology or legal reality.  Again, marriage is about consent.

“The faith once delivered to the saints” sounds good, but like much that sounds good, it’s too good to be true.  A better thing to call to mind is a wonderful prayer we use during Eastertide, the work of Cranmer based on an ancient collect,

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  (Prayer Book, page 225)

As one of my good friends likes to say, “More will be revealed.”  Stephen Gerth


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Valerie, Donald, Sharon, Bob, Julia, Dianne, Dorothy, Gert, James, George, Charles, Julia, James, Rick, and Emil, religious; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark, Christine, and Rob; and for the repose of the souls of Robert McDermitt; Mary Michael Simpson, OSH, priest and religious; and William Hargett, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . October 2: 1901 Georgiana Jackson; 1920 Catherine O’Connor Whitney; 1928 Jane Bufield Disbrow; 1945 Jewell William Hill; 1961 Beatrice Irwin Packington.


IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Robert McDermitt, who served as associate organist at Saint Mary’s for many years, died on Friday, September 23.  He had been ill since June.  Robert was a very fine musician, a gifted teacher, and a coach to many a nervous priest and seminarian.  He was kind, extremely generous, and he had a brilliant sense of humor.  He made important contributions to our common life.  He was a good friend and colleague to us here at Saint Mary's; and he has died too young.  At the time of his death, Robert was a member of the Church of Christ and St. Stephen.  Funeral plans have not yet been finalized.  We will announce those plans as soon as we are able . . . Philip Dean Parker’s funeral will be held at 2:00 PM on Friday, October 21st at Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2301 North Sylvania Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas.  Philip died on August 27, 2011.  At the time of his death, he had been a member of Saint Mary’s for thirty-three years.  In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations might be made to God’s Love We Deliver here in New York.  Please keep Philip, Robert, their family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.


THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Sunday, October 2, Fall schedule begins: Sung Matins at 8:30 AM; Mass at 9:00 and 10:00 AM; Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 9:45 AM, Solemn Mass at 11:00 AM; Organ Recital at 4:40 PM; Evensong and Benediction at 5:00 PM . . . Sunday, October 2, 10:00 AM, Adult Education: Bishops in the Episcopal Church – How do bishops minister in and to the Church? What are the origins of this office and ministry? Why do Episcopalians think bishops are so important? How do we elect a bishop? Led by Father Jay Smith . . . The Vestment Exhibit continues in Saint Joseph’s Hall on Sunday morning.  The exhibit is curated by Sister Laura Katharine and parishioner Wayne Mahlke . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on October 5, at 6:30 PM, in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House.  This semester, the class will be reading The Letter to the Ephesians.  The class will be led by Father Smith . . . Father Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, October 1.  Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, October 8.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . Saturday, October 1, 3:00 PM in the Lady Chapel: Concert by Joao Kouyoumdjian, classical guitar.  Admission is free . . . Brother Emil Denworth, FMS, was at Lenox Hill Hospital this week for treatment.  He expects to return home on Thursday . . . The Reverend Canon Carlson Gerdau is now at home after undergoing surgery last week . . . George Handy fell and injured his hip last year.  His condition continues to improve and he is now able to worship with us on many Sunday mornings . . . Julia Heard Miranda had knee surgery last week and is now recovering at home . . . Sharon Singh is preparing to begin a series of treatments at Sloan-Kettering’s outpatient clinic.  The treatments will continue for the next four to six weeks . . . Doreen Swan is now a resident at Amsterdam House, 1060 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025.  Her room, on the second floor, affords her a fine view of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.  She worships at the Cathedral on many Sunday mornings, but hopes to visit Saint Mary’s again soon.  Please keep Brother Emil, Canon Gerdau, George, Julia, Sharon, and Doreen in your prayers . . . Altar flowers are needed for October 16 and 23, and November 6 and 13.  If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the finance office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 202.


CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD . . . Church School for children ages 3 to 6 years old resumes on Sunday, October 2, at 9:45 AM, in the newly-renovated Atrium on the second floor of the Parish House.  The class is led by Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins.  Rebecca will be assisted this year by seminarian Mary Julia Jett.  If you have friends, colleagues, or family members who are looking for a church-school program for their young children, please let them know about Saint Mary’s.  You can contact Rebecca through the parish office at 212-869-5830.


FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . .  This Sunday, we welcome the choir of Saint Mary’s back from their summer break.  The fully professional choir, comprised of some of New York City’s finest singers, sings at Solemn Mass from October to Corpus Christi, and for major feasts during the week.  (Please see the website for the full music schedule.)  The prelude is Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele, BWV 654, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750).  The setting of the Mass ordinary is Messa a quattro voci da cappella by Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643), published in Venice in 1650.  Monteverdi wrote a great deal of music, both sacred and secular, and served as maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s, Venice, where he revolutionized a deteriorated music program.  This work is composed in what is known as stile antico, or a Palestrina–like polyphonic style that by the early seventeenth century was decidedly old–fashioned.  It is one of only two masses surviving from Monteverdi’s years at Saint Mark’s (he was contracted to compose one each Christmas).  Though organ continuo and various instruments typically would have accompanied a performance in Monteverdi’s day (with the instruments doubling the vocal parts), this morning organ alone is used.  At the ministration of Communion, the motet Laetentur coeli by William Byrd (1543–1623) is sung.  The setting for five voices, published in London in 1589, is particularly fine.  James Kennerley


STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2012 . . . The Stewardship Committee plans to mail stewardship packets during the week of October 24.  The members of the committee are MaryJane Boland, chair; Steven Heffner; and Marie Rosseels.  We invite you to give the appeal your prayerful consideration.  Please pray for the success of this year’s campaign . . . The Episcopal Church Office of Stewardship has developed a six-week series of readings, reflections, and questions called “Feasting on Gratitude” to assist in discerning the practice of intentional giving to one’s faith community.  “Feasting on Gratitude” invites individuals and congregations to reflect on and discuss stewardship principles and practices, based on the Sunday gospel readings from Matthew for October 2 through November 6, which is the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.  Series resources may be accessed at


PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Our annual Oktoberfest and Hymn Sing is on Saturday, October 15, 6:00-9:00 PM.  Dinner is potluck.  Please contact Grace Bruni or Father Smith if you think you might be able to bring a dish to share. Beverages will be provided. All are welcome! . . . Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday, November 6, 2011, 2:00 AM . . . Monday, November 14, 6:30-7:30 PM, New and Prospective Members Reception, in the Rectory, after Evening Prayer at 6:00 PM.  Please speak to Father Smith, if you would like to attend . . . Sunday, November 20, The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King & Commitment Sunday.  Pledge cards are offered.


CHRISTIAN EDUCATION FOR ADULTS . . . Sunday, October 9, 10:00 AM.  Saint Francis, Giotto and the Revival of Humanism Giotto di Bondone, inspired by the Christian humanism of Saint Francis of Assisi, ushered in a new naturalism in painting.  This presentation examines Giotto’s work in the context of the late Middle Ages in which he worked, in the several cycles of murals dedicated to Saint Francis, and in his crowning achievement, the life of Christ in the Arena Chapel in Padua. Led by Dr. Dennis Raverty . . . Sunday, October 16, 10:00 AM.  Episcopal Traditions & Customs: The Principles of Gothic Architecture – Come and learn the basic architectural principles of construction in the magnificent Gothic churches and cathedrals of Europe.  From the pointed arch and the flying buttress to the stained-glass windows and the sculpted portals, find out why Gothic architecture is said to represent one of the pinnacles of world culture. Led by Dr. Dennis Raverty . . . Sunday, October 23, 10:00 AM, Episcopal Traditions & Customs: Using the Prayer Book – The Structure of the Eucharist. Led by Father Stephen Gerth . . . Sunday, October 30, 10:00 AM, Episcopal Traditions & Customs: Using the Prayer Book – What is the Ministry to the Sick?  Is it a “sacrament”? What do we think it does and when do we do it?  Why do we anoint the sick?  Should one call a priest when one is sick?  Led by Father Jim Pace.


VERTICAL TOUR OF THE CATHEDRAL . . . The tour will take place on Sunday, October 23.  The group will meet Dr. Dennis Raverty and Mother Kathleen Liles inside the Cathedral (near the Amsterdam Avenue entrance, at the head of the center aisle, at the entrance to the nave, at 1:30 PM).  The vertical tour will begin at 2:00 PM.  Latecomers should meet the tour group at the same place in the Cathedral at 2:00 PM.  There are still a few places available for the tour.  Please contact Father Jay Smith if you would like to join the group.  There is a fee of $16.00.  Scholarship funds are available.


THE ARTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, October 1, 3:00 PM, in the Lady Chapel: Concert by Joao Kouyoumdjian, classical guitar. Admission is free . . . Saturday, October 22, 8:00 PM, The New York Repertory Orchestra.  Admission is free. Dvorak: Othello Overture; Patterson: Saxophone Concerto (New York City Premiere); Sibelius: Symphony No. 4 . . . American Globe Theatre (AGT), October 28–November 19, 2011.  Hamlet.  Directed by John Basil, AGT’s Artistic Director.  Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 PM, Sunday at 3:00 PM.  For tickets and information, call 212-869-9809 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM.