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Begun in church, ended in court. Where is the Church for the divorcing?

Begun in church, ended in court. Where is the Church for the divorcing?

A Presbyterian asks Roman Catholics a questions that should be asked of all denominations: how well does the Church care for divorced (and divorcing) persons?

Bill Tammeus, writing in NCR, rehearses the traditional teaching of the RC Church and describes his own story:

I confess that this is one aspect of Catholic practice that I, as a Protestant, simply don’t understand well. Oh, I know the official explanation based on Canon 915 that says, as the author of the NCR analysis wrote, “civilly divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist at Mass because they are living in a state of grave sin, that sin being the adultery that they commit with their second spouse every time that they make love.”

But I’ve never understood what I consider the rigidity of that position. I agree that divorce happens too often in our culture, and sometimes for frivolous reasons. However, there certainly are cases in which divorce is the least evil of a series of terrible choices. Divorce can be an acknowledgement that something has gone terribly wrong and that opportunities to redeem lives are needed — lives of both spouses and children.

What went terribly wrong in my own first marriage was that my wife entered into a romantic relationship with another man — our pastor, in fact — without first either fixing or ending her relationship with me.

Although I continued to believe (naively) that the union was fixable, she was adamantly convinced otherwise. We were divorced. It allowed me the freedom to meditate on what went amiss and eventually to enter into a second marriage that has been extraordinarily redemptive.

Then he reflects on his experience in his own Protestant church in the midst of his own divorce:

Indeed, in my own divorce, I felt my faith tradition failed me. A marriage that began in a church ended in a civil courtroom. There was no church ceremony, no ritual to bind up my wounds or my former wife’s wounds and bless us as we entered this new phase of our lives.

We still don’t do that very well in the Protestant world. But my hope for Catholics is that your church will find ways to stand with people in the angst of divorce and provide compassion and a way (perhaps even a sacramental way) forward, not doctrinal roadblocks.

The Episcopal Church is well known for our comparatively open stance towards divorced persons seeking a new marriage. But what is your experience on how the Church supported you through the process of your divorce and how could the Church mark the end of a marriage ritually?

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Ann Fontaine

An Episcopal Church liturgy that was around for awhile:

The Gathering of the People

Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the separation of this man and this woman who have been bonded in the covenant of marriage. The courts have acknowledged their divorce and we, this day, gather to support them as they give their blessing to one another as each seeks a new life.

In creation, God made the cycle of life to be birth, life, and death; and God has given us the hope of new life through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. The Church recognizes that relationships follow this pattern. While the couple have promised in good faith to love until parted by death, in some marriages the love between a wife and a husband comes to an end sooner. Love dies, and when that happens we recognize that the bonds of marriage, based on love, also may be ended.

God calls us to right relationships based on love, compassion, mutuality, and justice. Whenever any of these elements is absent from a marital relationship, then that partnership no longer reflects the intentionality of God.

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are forgiven our sins and our failures, we are raised from the dead and restored to a new life. The death of love, like the death of the grave, has no power to rob us of the life that is intended for the people of God.

Thus we gather this day to support and bless N. and N. as they confess their brokenness, forgive each other for their transgressions, receive God’s blessing, celebrate the new growth that has occurred in each of them, and make commitments for a new life.

The Declaration of Consent

Celebrant: (to the man)

N., do you enter into this parting of your own free will; do you confess before God, N., and the Church that you repent your brokenness that kept you in a destructive relationship? Do you seek forgiveness for the mutual respect and justice that you have failed to give and set your spouse free of this relationship, that you and she may receive from God and from each other the gift of new life and move toward health and wholeness once again?

Man: I do.

Celebrant: (to the woman)

N., do you enter into this parting of your own free will; do you confess before God, N., and the Church that you repent your brokenness that kept you in a destructive relationship? Do you seek forgiveness for the mutual respect and justice that you have failed to give and set your spouse free of this relationship, that you and he may receive from God and from each other the gift of new life and move toward health and wholeness once again?

Woman: I do.

The Ministry of the Word

Celebrant: The Lord be with you.

People: And also with you.

Celebrant: Let us pray.

O gracious and ever-living God, you have created us male and female in your image. Look mercifully upon N. and N., who come to you seeking your blessing. Forgive them for forsaking their vows and for the pain that they have caused each other. Restore each of them by your grace to a new life of hope, renewal, and growth, and keep them ever in the love of your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

A Reading from Scripture

Luke 15:1-7(Repentance and forgiveness.)

Luke 9:42b-48 (Your faith has made you well.)

Psalm 55:12-23 (Women who feel rejected.)

The choice of a reading depends upon the individuals’ need, whether for forgiveness or wholeness, or both.

The Undoing of the Vows

The MAN faces the woman, takes her right hand, and says:

In the name of God, I, N., release you, N., from your vow to be my wife. I thank you for the love and support you have given me. I ask your forgiveness for my part in the failure of our marriage.

The WOMAN faces the man, takes his right hand, and says:

In the name of God, I, N., release you, N., from your vow to be my husband. I thank you for the love and support you have given me. I ask your forgiveness for my part in the failure of our marriage.

The CELEBRANT asks each in turn to return their rings:

N., I give you this ring, which you gave me as a symbol of our marriage. In returning it, I set you free. I pray you will find peace and joy in your new life.

The rings are given to the celebrant, who places them upon the altar, or the man and woman may place the rings there themselves.

The CELEBRANT says:

I place these rings upon the altar to symbolize that your lives are lived in the mercy and love of God.

Or, if the couple chooses to place their own rings on the altar, the CELEBRANT may say:

These rings are placed upon the altar to symbolize that your lives are lived in the mercy and love of God.

The Prayers

The Lord’s Prayer

O God in heaven,

You who are Mother and Father

to us all,

Holy is your name.

Your reign has come.

Your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sin

as we forgive those

who sin against us.

Deliver us from evil.

Save us from the time of trial.

For all time and all space,

all power and all glory are yours;

now and forever. Amen.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of salvation and giver of grace: Look with favor upon the world you have made and for which your Son gave his life, and especially upon N. and N., who come to you seeking your blessing. Grant unto them grace in moving from the old ways and wisdom in the ordering of their new lives. Amen.

Grant that each may know the power of your love to transform death into life and to bring forth the discovery of new identity out of pain. Teach them to trust once again and restore their hope, that once more they may view the world through love-filled eyes. Amen.

Bestow on them your Spirit, that N. and N. may be guided and sustained by you in the choices they individually make. Inspire the service they offer to the world that it may be distinguished by compassion for all. By your grace, may each become a witness to your forgiving and healing love as they reach out to care for the needs of others. Amen.

Make their individual lives a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that forgiveness may heal guilt, joy conquer despair, and trust be forever placed in you. Amen.

The man and woman kneel.

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. Defend N. and N. from every enemy. Lead them both into all peace, to a renewal of life, and the hope of wholeness and love. Bless them in their separate lives, in their work, in their rest, and in their play, in their joys and in their sorrows, in their life and in their death. Finally, in your mercy, bring each to that table where your saints feast forever in the blessing of your presence and love, through Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Benediction

The blessing of God whose breath gives life

be with you always.

The blessing of God whose

love is forgiving

set you free from guilt and despair.

The blessing of God

who sanctifies your living

be with you this day,

to lead you to a new life

of hope, peace, love, and service.

May God be praised and glorified through your lives,

now and forever. Amen.

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Ann Fontaine

Donald Schell wrote on divorce for Episcopal Café

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