Philip Murphy considers some advice on how to get married in Church

There was a time in the Church of England when ‘brute beasts that have no understanding’ may have been a couple seeking marriage. Nowadays that title may be better applied to some of Diocesan Communications Departments.

Hot on the heels of the atrocious booklet on Baptism (see New Directions Feb 2001, p12) the Diocese of Chelmsford has permitted an equally consumerist booklet on Marriage to be published entitled From This Day Forward. It includes 49 glossy advertisements from hotels to cars and from Punjab Catering Services Ltd (Leyton) to the skills of a toastmaster. (It is useful to know in this ‘Christian’ booklet that he is available for bar mitzvahs should the Baptism booklet have been the last straw for a young couple).

Once again, however, the bishops wisely keep a noticeable distance, offering up ‘Our Jenny’, the Communications Manager ,as the Page Three girl who avoids all mention of purple shirts at all. (Well, she is a Page One girl if you don’t count the cover).

The sad fact of the matter is that I could almost reproduce my February article on the Baptism booklet, merely substituting the ‘Sacrament of Marriage’ where ‘Baptism’ was mentioned (although no idea of the Sacramental nature of marriage is even considered in this booklet).

Spend, spend, spend

It has to be admitted that like its predecessor, the quality of the production is first rate. Some articles may be of use, although in such a saturated market I doubt it, because they once again focus on the ‘icing on the cake’ rather than the matter at hand. We are reminded from time to time that spending great amounts on the day is not necessarily the way forward, but these prove to be hollow words when we learn that

‘it’s worth paying a little more than you originally planned to get exactly what

you want’ or ‘We heavily recommend a professional photographer – there are just too many risks associated with placing such an important task in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur’.

Risks? What risks? The risk that the marriage may be null and void? Never consummated? Or that the new spouse may turn out to be a serial adulterer? Come on, Jenny, get real!

And there is even a throw-away remark that ‘As a grand finale you might even light up the sky with a firework display … it’s worth hiring a specialist firework company.’

And there was me thinking that fireworks came free with every marriage!

What to do with the children

We are looking at a publication from the Anglican Church, so naturally sex is talked about a lot, whilst children are seen as rather a nuisance. ‘Sheila’ (who boldly answers all those questions you were afraid to ask) thinks that it is lovely to have your children help out at your wedding, but she is more concerned with the mechanics of how they can be ‘removed’ with ease so that the wedding vows are not drowned out by screaming. (It would be more likely the screams of the priest having read the booklet, I would have thought.)

But then, it is unlikely that the couple would desire children anyway. The book sees procreation as an ‘option’ within marriage. It suggests that the couple may prefer to have the prayers for children omitted – ignoring the fact that the omission of such prayers is only if the couple are beyond child-bearing age.

To be honest, there are some ‘traditions’ which I have learnt from reading the articles. I had always thought that it was a pure selfish rudeness which caused a bride to be late, but we are informed here that it is actually a ‘tradition’. I must also admit that I did not know that another tradition was to give a slice of cake to unmarried guests to put under their pillow and so ‘increase their chance of marrying’. Gay wedding guests beware when the Mother of the Bride offers you slices of fruit cake to take home!

It will be no surprise to readers of New Directions that the remarriage of divorcees is only seen as a problem if the local ‘vicar’ will not do it (now we know why the bishops are invisible in this booklet – they are preparing for the abdication of their responsibility in any future legislation on remarriage).

We are informed that the law on marriage is ‘surprisingly strict’. Why surprising? It may be a surprise to the Church of England and it may indeed be a surprise to endless numbers of clergy but it should only be a surprise to those who think that they can have a couple they have never seen before perjure themselves onto the electoral roll and thus fill the wedding collection plate at the expense of the couples’ real parish church. But I am sure that most people would hope that the law on marriage was strict.

Of all the 44 pages of this work, only two are taken up with preparing the service itself. You will not be astonished if I inform you that the possibility of a nuptial mass is not mentioned, nor any idea that if it is not a nuptial mass, the couple should receive holy communion ‘at the first opportunity after their Marriage’ (BCP).

Wise disclaimer

It is a sad indictment of the Church of England (and particularly of the Diocese of Chelmsford) that it can allow a booklet on the Sacrament of Marriage to be published and to note in the front that ‘the views contained herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers.’ To opt out of bothering with any form of Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur and be happy that, yet again, struggling young couples are given a Church publication which is weighted towards the peripheral events of a wedding and bombards them with luxury advertising is surely a sin of omission on the part of those in authority.

As a ‘murder mystery theme’ is put forward as an idea to consider for the wedding reception (I jest not) I look forward to Chelmsford’s next booklet. Perhaps it will be on planning your own funeral. One can imagine the articles: ‘Whether the shroud you wear on your funeral day is the fulfillment of your

childhood dreams or something that has never really crossed your mind until the day you died, it will always hold a special place in your memory’ or ‘It is quite customary for the corpse to be a little late, but after about half an hour everyone wonders if they are in the right Church.’

And of course all items will be available from one of the many advertisers such as

In the February edition of New Directions my article claimed that Chelmsford was theologically and spiritually bankrupt. Perhaps now they will do the job properly and become financially bankrupt so that the souls of East London and Essex will no longer be subject to such wretched works.

Father Philip Murphy SSC is now the Rector of the Parish of Benalla in the Diocese of Wangaratta, Australia having moved recently from the Diocese of Chelmsford

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Pull Quote: the Bishops are invisible in this booklet – they are preparing for the abdication of their responsibility in any future legislation on remarriage.