Sunday, July 26, 2009

The eighth sacrament

Thanks to the Diocese of Niagara (Canada), and to Thinking Anglicans and More than a via media for drawing it to my attention, we can reflect on the introduction of the eighth sacrament to Anglicanism. Let us hear no more about Anglicans only having two sacraments according to the 39 Articles. Nor are we to be limited by the numerically constrained vision of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches with their seven sacraments. It is time to move with the times. The more sacraments the better equipped we are to respond to changing seasons in the life of the world :)

Here is the announcement on the Diocese's webpage:

"Niagara Rite of Blessing of Civil Marriage

The Niagara Rite is intended for the voluntary use of priests who wish to offer a sacrament of blessing regardless of the gender of the civilly married persons who wish to receive the blessing of the church and wish to affirm their life commitment to each other before God in the community of the church.

As such it does not imply nor is it intended to suggest that those who do or do not make use of this rite are excluded from the economy of God’s salvation. The rite is a means for the church to extend affirmation, support, and commitment to those who present themselves seeking a sign of God’s love in response to the love and commitment they express for each other and have already affirmed in a civil ceremony.
It is designed for the blessing of any couple who have been civilly married. It may also be used for the blessing or renewing of marriage vows for a couple celebrating a significant moment in their married life together.

Effective September 1, 2009, permission will be granted by Bishop Michael Bird for the use of the Niagara Rite as outlined in the protocols that are included."

Three things stand out here in response to the phrase 'sacrament of blessing':

(1) Does the Diocese of Niagara (and/or the Canadian Anglican church) understand that formal Anglican theology knows of only two sacraments, and those are not expandable, being determined by our Lord?

(2) Even if we permit the thought that there is a widespread Anglican talk, much influenced by Anglo-Catholicism, that speaks readily, if theologically loosely, of seven sacraments (including the sacrament of marriage), the question arises, is 'the sacrament of blessing' a new sacrament (i.e. an eighth sacrament) or a form of the 'sacrament of marriage', and if the latter, what theological justification is offered by the Diocese of Niagara for understanding the partnership of two people of the same sex to be a 'marriage'?

[Note: on the Niagara site a PDF concerning theological background to the rite of blessing offered is made available here. But it's focus is on how one might theologically support same sex relationships and not on the theology of sacraments, nor on the theology of marriage per se].

(3) The fact that the first two questions can be raised gives rise to a third question: is the Anglican Communion in disarray, not only because we disagree on certain matters, but on other matters we do not even share a common understanding of basic elements of Anglican theology?

PS: I acknowledge that there are actions which some might wish to discuss as candidates for the 'eighth sacrament' such as The Holy Kiss, and Foot-washing. Note that these candidates are squarely and clearly grounded in Scripture, in one case in the instructions of St Paul, and in the other case in the example of our Lord himself. This is not the case for the blessing of same-sex relationships.

Update: The Anglican Journal (of ACCan) reports on the breaking controversy re Niagara within Canadian Anglicanism here.

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