A Prayer that Needs to Return to Use
For a very long time, Lutherans were content to use Luther’s marriage order (even placing it with the order of Baptism from 1526 into the 1580 Book of Concord). I suspect, though, that influence from the Book of Common Prayer in the English speaking world, led to a bit of borrowing from Anglican sources at several points (e.g., the use of marriage vows; Luther’s rite is blessedly devoid of them!). But what has gone AWOL above all in our modern rites is the great prayer for marriage falling near the end of the service. I offer it here in the form it appeared in Synod’s first English Agenda (Church Liturgy for Congregations of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession), where it was followed simply by the Our Father and the Aaronic Benediction:
Lord God, who didst create man and wife and didst destine them for matrimony, and, moreover, bless them with the fruit of the body, and didst signify therein the mystery (of the spiritual union) of Thy Son Jesus Christ and the Church, His bride: we beseech Thy infinite goodness, that Thou wouldst not permit Thy creation, ordinance, and blessing to be disturbed or corrupted, but wouldst graciously preserve them with us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
This is such a typical prayer from our dear Luther! What I find particularly striking is way it is not focused on the bride and groom, as though a wedding were a private affair and we were merely asking good stuff for them. In a way, it could not more clearly ignore them, could it? Oh, they are in front of us, kneeling as this prayer is offered over them, but it is clear that whatever the marriage rite is about, it is NOT primarily about the bride in her pretty dress with her handsome groom at her side. No, what is extolled is not the wedding and its participants, but matrimony itself as the great gift of God in which we glimpse the mystery of Christ and His Church. Luther’s original (relying on the Vulgate) even dared to read: “and didst signify therein the sacrament of Thy Son Jesus Christ and the Church, His bride.” And I ask, people loved by God, do we not deeply need in our own day exactly what this prayer begs from our Lord God? That God would not permit marriage as He has created it, ordained and blessed it, to be disturbed or corrupted, but graciously preserved for us? I think we do.