Private Happiness - Public Dignity
Saints Felicity & Perpetua Saints Sergius & Bacchus
Better two than one alone, since thus their work is really rewarding. If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls?
Suitable bidding prayers for Civil Partnerships
Let us pray to our loving God who, in Christ, did not disdain to be born of humankind, but gloriously raised our flesh to be an instrument of grace. May our sisters and brothers … NN … who have registered their partnership(s) in the past month be graced by your presence, that they may be strengthened through faith, and by the love of the Holy Spirit. Supported by your martyrs and saints, Sergius and Bacchus, Felicity and Perpetua, renowned for their one for another, may they abide in the same love all the days of their life.
God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Let us pray to God who creates us all in the same image and likeness, as Christ our beloved Redeemer, for our sisters and brothers who have registered their partnership(s) in the past month: … NN … Through the intercession of your martyrs and saints, Sergius and Bacchus, Felicity and Perpetua, renowned for their love, one for another, along with (other saints’ names could be added …) grant them love without enmity and without stumbling, all the days of their life. God, in your mercy: Hear our prayer.
Let us pray to our loving God who wills that no person should be alone, but rejoice in love, and has destined people one for another. We pray for … NN … who have registered their partnership(s) during this past month. May their love be like strong trees bearing good fruit; their homes as places of openness and hospitality, especially to anyone in need; their lives like a course over which refreshing waters stream, where fatigue is eased and well-being celebrated. Let their work be creative, their silence speak powerfully, and their words spread goodness, until they come to rest in the sleep of peace.
May the faithfulness of God confirm you in friendship; the love of Jesus, our companion on the way, accompany you on life’s journey; the fire of the Spirit enliven your faith and commitment now and all the days to come.
4) - Before the blessing & Dismissal at the end of Mass:
We celebrate the friendship and mutual commitment of … NN … who have registered their partnership(s) in this past month. May they be sources of healing for themselves and the wider community, prophets of a vision of reconciled relationships, pointing to a new heaven and a new earth. Let us now recommit ourselves to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.
We commit ourselves to celebrate and value the bonds of friendship as gifts of God; to hold a concern not for ourselves only, but for those most in need, the powerless and voiceless; to welcome our diversity as sisters and brothers, each gifted with unique dignity in a rainbow creation; to witness to a new humanity, the reign of God’s justice and love, through the integrity of our words and deeds, now and for all days to come.
Called to blessing - A pastoral letter on Faith and Homosexuality (1989), Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors, WKHP, Postbus 59, 6850 AB Huissen,
The Netherlands. – firstname.lastname@example.org
Prepared to give blessing - A pastoral letter concerning the celebration of friendship (2003) Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors, WKHP, Postbus 59, 6850 AB Huissen, The Netherlands. – email@example.com
Covenant of Love - Service of Commitment for Same-Sex Couples, Union of Liberal & Progressive Synagogues (2005), The Montagu Centre, 21 Maples Street, London W1T 4BE.
A HOMILY PREACHED AT A CELEBRATORY MASS FOLLOWING THE REGISTRATION OF A CIVIL PARTNERSHIP
This homily was given at a private celebration, and not during a Soho Mass. The Soho Masses do not hold celebrations of this kind.
The Revd. Dr. Bernard J. Lynch
Only through the body does the way, the ascent to the life of blessedness, lie open to us.'
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon on the Song of Songs
The Song of Songs has long held a privileged place in the mystical theology and monastic tradition of the church. Commentary on this erotically charged enigmatic love poetry of the Bible runs like a thread from Origen to St. John of the Cross-. It is natural to wonder why the Song of Songs and its erotic imagery informed the spiritual life of so many monastics. Perhaps no interpretation has exerted a greater influence on Western Christian spirituality than that of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, whose commentary -86 sermons composed over a period of 18 years-, is rightly revered as the masterpiece of medieval monastic literature. Like many others before and after him, Bernard saw the song as a sublime allegory on the love of God that can be experienced through contemplation. It was the paradigmatic text for monks, because its poetry vividly describes the pursuit that is the basis for the whole program of monastic life and all life: 'love's union' with God, of which the monk may enjoy a sweet foretaste here below.
Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth.' Bernard requires no less than seven sermons to expand on this opening verse of the song, and to find here an allegory of ascent to the sweetest -indeed, almost sexual- mystical union with Christ the bridegroom, the mediator between the sinner's soul and the hidden God. Echoing the sensual imagery of the song itself, Bernard provokes the imagination with comparably vivid physical imagery. 'How then should you go?' he asks. He invites his hearers to imagine being grasped and bodily lifted out of the mud by the merciful hand of Jesus, and finally drawn to the Lord's mouth, 'which is so divinely beautiful, fearing and trembling, not only to gaze on it, but even to kiss it.'The affection Bernard conveys for Jesus here is truly beautiful. 'Even the beauty of angels seems tedious to me. For my Jesus outshines them so far in his beauty and lovliness. That is why I ask him, not any other angel or man, to kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.'
The book of experience' as Bernard called his life, looks different, to say the least for Christians today, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Why must the song we may well ask be understood as an allegory of union with God, or in terms that presume a dichotomy between union with God and sexual union with a beloved? Today the more important questions are both theological and psychological: how to plumb the depths of sexuality through the eyes of God, the divine artist who fashioned it, and where possible to let the mystery be deepened through meditation on Scripture itself.Without diminishing the riches that have been gathered from allegorical readings of the Song of Songs, one may still insist on the value of a more literal reading for us. The Catholic Christian has less to fear and much more to celebrate in the God-given mystery of human sex, rightly and reverently embraced. Surely same gender sexual relationships may be one of the best-kept secrets in the sacramental life of the church, to be ranked among the church's most sacred objects. Before recoiling from this perhaps surprising statement and draining its force with a thousand qualifications, we ought to think about the thousands of millions of hidden saints who discover some part of their own stumbling sanctity in lover relationships.
The following is a section of twelveth century love poem, of which there are many by two German nuns from a convent in the Rhineland, Southern Germany
To G. her unique rose
A.sends the bond of precious love.
'Much strength have I that I may bear your absence. Is my strength the strength of stones that I can wait for your return? I never cease from aching night and day, like someone missing a hand or foot. Without you anything happy and delightful seems like mud trod underfoot. Instead of rejoicing I weep. My spirit never seems joyful. When I remember the kisses you gave me: the way you refreshed my little breasts with sweet words, I would like to die since I can no longer see you. If my body had ben committed to earth until your longed for return, or if I could go on a journey like Habekuk, so that just once I saw the face of my lover, then I would not care if I died that very hour. There is no one born into this world so lovable and dear as you. No one who loves me with so deep a love. I ache without end until I am allowed to see you.
'It is in lover relationships like this that many pilgrims meet beauty: the luminous landscape of the lover's body, the rise of the shoulder blade, the bowel of the navel, the curve of the lips, and myriad other primordial shapes pressing and receiving like the role and tumble of fecund nature. By sharing with each other this dance of play and joy and gratitude, lovers give glory to God by being in that moment precisely who God wants them to be. Here, as Merton might say, 'their inscape is their sanctity.' It is in loving relationships like the one we celebrate today, that many pilgrims meet knowledge, the grace of coming to know another deeply and being known not through heroic effort and applied technique, but through slow-paced trust, honesty, friendship and grace. In Christian terms, sexual love is a manifestation of the Incarnation -its goodness- attains not just in spite of our sinfulness, but because of it. To say it more personally: it is the lover's acceptance, affection and sheer delight in the beloved that, perhaps more than any force, sets one free from failings and teach one the gratuitous nature of divine love.
But experience has taught Catholics to be wary of their own myths. Highly idealized notions of 'Christian marriage' can be just as illusory and damaging to persons today as idealized perceptions of the celibate life have been in the past. Should we not be able to celebrate the God-given goodness of sex and sexuality -and the vocation to celibacy or the single life- without staking out a dangerous caste system? The seriousness of these difficulties, made worse by the cultural wars of our own time here in theU.K. threatens to cloud the waters around sexuality so badly that we loose all confidence in the credibility of the tradition. Above all it must not be forgotten that the Catholic view of sex rests in the biblical vision of creation itself: 'It is very good.' The Song of Songs can help us form our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered children and ourselves in that tradition.
If St. Bernard's account of the spiritual life is anything, it is holistic: 'Only through the body does the way, the ascent to the life of blessedness, lie open to us.' This profound intuition, the fruit of an incarnational faith, permits us to welcome in the mystery of sex more than an echo of the final joy of heaven. Especially for those in relationship or desiroius of relationship, meditation on the Song of Songs can nurture both gratitude for the gift of love's union now and a shimmering hope for the reign of God yet to come. But let us not overlook the prophetic and sign-bearing power of sexual love on this side of history. The woman and woman, man and man, woman and man who delight in each other, though fragile and hidden in the general cosmic dance, lie together in the margins and shine like a silver moon in a dark night sky, their whole being echoing the sublime refrain of the Song of Songs: 'Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.'
We celebrate with joy and gratitude that perennial truth today.
We wish joy in that which of its nature is joyful. And a profound sorrow in that which of its nature is sorrowful.
For both are beautiful. Beautiful are your hearts, for having found God in both.
Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes 2006