Couples’ Ministry Resource Guide

The information in this resource guide has been assembled by members of the DignityUSA Couple's Task Force. This task force consisted of one couple from each of the seven regions of DignityUSA. The information in this resource guide has been compiled from data submitted by Dignity chapters.

No information in this guide may be duplicated without the expressed written permission of :

DignityUSA
PO Box 376
Medford, MA 02155
800-877-8797 | Fax: 781.397.0584
info@dignityusa.org

Copyright ©2008, DignityUSA. Permission is granted for use and alteration by any DignityUSA affiliated chapter without permission. For further use contact DignityUSA for permission.

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Greeting

Dear Reader, 

The document you are reading had its origins in the 1995 House of Delegates meeting of DignityUSA. Representatives from our Chapters gathered in Los Angeles authorized the establishment of a Couples Ministry Task Force to assess the needs of our members and Chapters and develop guidelines for a Couples Ministry throughout Dignity. Through the Task Force's research, it became clear that there was a groundswell of support for such a ministry, and a need for resources about how to conduct it. In addition, couples living in committed relationships wanted to understand how they could have their relationships validated within a Catholic context.

This document outlines a three-part response, recommended by the Task Force and affirmed by Dignity USA's Board of Directors. It includes:

  • Ongoing support for same-sex couples, through social and spiritually focused activities at the local level,
  • Guidelines for Holy Union services, and
  • Maintenance of a national Registry of couples whose relationships have been blessed by Dignity.

These processes allow Dignity to fulfill two important functions. First, we will be better equipped to respond to the growing desire among committed couples for validation of their relationships in the presence of their faith community. Secondly, we have established guidelines that enable us to take this responsibility seriously. To stand before God in affirmation of a relationship is a sacred duty, and one we do not take lightly.

We have also realized that this process is one through which we have tapped into deeply rooted traditions of the Catholic Church. Recent scholarship, particularly that of John Boswell, has demonstrated that the Church originated Holy Unions for same sex couples to fill a gap created by the societal emphasis on marriage as a way of documenting property transfers. Although hidden for centuries, sacramental celebrations of same sex commitments have existed for ages. It is time to bring them back into the light.

We believe that Dignity has a special responsibility to honor the faith, the love, the commitments and the goodness of our coupled relationships. We know that many in our society and our Church will believe this to be a radical step, but we believe it is our duty to act on our stated position that same sex relationships can and do model Christian love, and are loving, life-giving and life-affirming.

Finally, we commend the Couples Ministry Task Force for its exceptional and important contributions to our ongoing ministry. Through a process of listening to the needs of our members and collaborative deliberation, they have produced a resource guide that will offer excellent resources to our Chapters engaged in local ministry, and have produced a document that is a hallmark of Dignity's prophetic role in the Church. On behalf of all who will benefit from your efforts, we thank you.

The peace of Christ to all who use this resource guide.

Marianne Duddy, President &
Terrence Mischel, Vice President
July 1997

Chapter 1 Introduction

Same sex unions and the concept of lesbian and gay marriage have gained nationwide publicity in recent years with Hawaii's court case and the Defense of Marriage Act. In reality, lesbians and gay men have been struggling with and forming spiritually committed relationships as long as the heterosexual community. Dignity, as a Catholic ministry to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, believes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons can express and engage in sexual relationships in a manner that is consonant with Christ's teachings and Christian values. It is at the core of our mission to support these relationships that can be loving, life-giving and life-affirming. In light of these beliefs and in its commitment to meet its "Challenge for a Unified Tomorrow," that DignityUSA through its Board of Directors and House of Delegates established the National Couples Task Force to gather, compile and identify information and resources for the development of a couples ministry.

The National Couples Task Force, comprised of one couple from each region of DignityUSA, began meeting in March 1996. The Task Force initiated its efforts with the development and distribution of a survey that elicited the needs and desires of the local chapters with regard to Holy Unions. Results from the local chapters revealed that couples ministry is considered very important nationwide. So important that a few chapters have established well-respected ministries currently in place. The chapters further reported that they desire DignityUSA to provide direction and support in formulating guidelines for Holy Unions and in developing suggestions for resources for couples ministries at the chapter level.

As a result of the survey, the National Couples Task Force proposed the following recommendations to the DignityUSA National Board of Directors in October 1996:

  1. That DignityUSA formulate guidelines for Holy Unions.
  2. That DignityUSA develop a resource booklet for couple's ministry.
  3. That DignityUSA declare an annual National Couples Day/Month.

The Board of Directors accepted the recommendations of the Task Force and called upon us to continue our work and bring it to fruition. Therefore, we present this resource booklet as a part of our work in the hope that it will serve as a springboard to developing a couple's ministry in your chapter.

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Chapter 2 Guidelines for Holy Unions

For a Holy Union to be a valid and recognized covenant in the eyes of the DignityUSA community, the individuals planning a Union must meet minimum standards of conduct. These standards of conduct have been expressed in terms of guidelines, which have been established to ensure that each Holy Union conducted within the Dignity community be respectful of both the individuals concerned and the community at large. A Holy Union, conducted within the Dignity community, which has met these guidelines, set forth below, will be considered a valid bond between two individuals and recorded as such in the DignityUSA National Couples Registry.

  • Both members of the couple shall be at least the legal age of consent for marriage in the state in which the ceremony is to be performed.
  • Neither member may be bound by a prior marriage or unresolved commitment. 
  • At least one member of the couple must be an active member of a Dignity chapter. 
  • The couple must inform the chapter leadership of their intention and work with the individuals designated by the chapter for preparation for their Holy Union. 
  • A program of preparation, as determined by the local chapter, will be arranged with the individuals to address the specific needs of the couple. To assist in the development of a chapter program of preparation, the following program of preparation is provided as an example each chapter may use or modify to fit their needs.

 

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Chapter 2a A Sample Program of Preparation

Provided by Dignity/Washington

1. Due to the need for confidentiality and consistency in the pastoral ministry provided by Dignity/Washington with respect to Holy Unions, responsibility for implementation of that ministry will be entrusted to a Pastoral Team for Holy Unions that will be appointed by the Board of Dignity/Washington annually. The team will consist of six to eighteen persons who will perform the following functions:

Pastoral Leaders: two to four persons (including at least one priest and, if possible, one or more lay persons with theological and/or pastoral ministry training who are called to this ministry). Each couple seeking to celebrate a Rite of Holy Union under the auspices of Dignity/Washington will meet with a Pastoral Leader to explore their objectives. The Pastoral Leader will explain to the couple the preparatory options that the community makes available to them.

These options include, but are not limited to:

  • Meeting with one or more couples in committed relationships to identify and explore issues pertaining to the celebration and commitment they now seek to undertake; 
  • Meeting with a liturgical guide who will present the particulars and options for celebrating a Rite of Holy Union; 
  • Participation in a couple's retreat; 
  • Meeting with a legal advisor to discuss matters that they may wish to take up with an attorney of their own choosing.
  • The Pastoral Leader will meet with the couple periodically to discuss their use and experience of these options and to assist in their personal and spiritual reflections in connection with their preparations for the state of Holy Union. The officiant at the Holy Union ceremony will normally be the Pastoral Leader who has overseen the couple's preparation; however, another individual, chosen by the couple, may be designated.

Partners in Commitment: at least two couples (four persons) in long-standing, committed relationships to share experiences and ideas with couples preparing to celebrate the Rite of Holy Union. Ideally, these should include at least one female and one male couple. These couples will also undertake the coordination of at least two Couple's Retreats for Dignity/Washington each year (see item 2).

Liturgical Guide: one to three persons who will be available to:

Meet with couples preparing for the celebration of a Rite of Holy Union;

Present options with respect to ceremony formats and liturgical readings, ideas concerning ceremony particulars (seating arrangements, procession to the altar, etc.), music options, and potential sites for the celebration.

Legal Advisor: one or two persons who will be available to meet with the couple to present Legal considerations that they may wish to explore with their own attorney (wills, power of attorney, registration as domestic partner's, if applicable, etc.). The legal advisor may also offer the names of attorneys who are known to be experienced in assisting gay and lesbian couples with their legal needs.

2. A Couples Retreat should be organized twice a year, at six month intervals, if possible, under the direction of the Pastoral Team for Holy Unions, to assist couples preparing: to enter the state of Holy Union and to provide an opportunity for all couples within the community of Dignity/Washington to explore and deepen their relationship. This retreat is envisioned above all as a time for dialogue between partners about their relationship and for sharing by couples in committed relationships with couples considering the celebration of a Rite of Holy Union.

3. The Pastoral Team will undertake to prepare and to make available two publications:

  • A flyer for distribution at Dignity/Washington's Sunday Mass and, as appropriate, through other chapter activities, that invites all interested couples who are considering the celebration of a Rite of Holy Union to contact a Pastoral Leader and provides a brief description of some of the steps and options that are entailed in undertaking the celebration of a Rite of Holy Union and, 
  • A comprehensive list of pastoral resources and options to guide couples actually undertaking preparations for the celebration of a Rite of Holy Union.

4. The Pastoral Team will have responsibility of maintaining a single, permanent register of all Holy Union ceremonies performed under the auspices of Dignity/Washington. Each entry will include the names, address and religious affiliations of both partners, names of two designated witnesses and of the officiant for the Holy Union ceremony performed. A certificate testifying to the event will be provided to each couple.

5. The Holy Union Task Force, emphasizing individual self-discernment or a special calling, will facilitate determining who will serve on the first Pastoral Team for Holy Unions. The Task Force will submit the names of these individuals to the Board of Directors for appointment to the Pastoral Team. Thereafter, it will be the responsibility of the Pastoral Team to at least make annually consensus recommendations to the Board concerning the Team's composition. These subsequent names of persons who are called to this ministry will be submitted as needed for appointment by the Board. Individuals are discouraged from serving for more than two years on the Pastoral Team.

6. As soon as possible following appointment by the Board, each Pastoral Team will seek to take a retreat together, a weekend, if possible or a full day, at a minimum, to solidify its existence as a team and to seek the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit for its undertaking, mindful that it will be representing Dignity/Washington in this crucial aspect of its ministry.

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Chapter 3 Essential Elements of a Holy Union Ceremony

Entering into a Holy Union is a serious, intimate and sacred pronouncement that symbolizes the coming together of two lives. When a couple decides to have a Holy Union ceremony, careful thought, planning and the couple's creativity are required to tailor their ceremony to who they are as individuals and as a couple. The couple is making vows to one another before God and their community of family and friends gathered as witnesses. The couple, in turn, asks the community for their support and blessing in their relationship. Therefore, some essential elements that may be used as a framework on which to build their ceremony might be as follows:

  1. Vows
  2. Asking the community for their support
  3. Blessing of the couple by the community and a community-recognized Presider

This framework, with the addition of religious and cultural traditions, scripture, prayer, Eucharist, other symbols, creates a unique ceremony that presents the couple to their community. These outward demonstrations of commitment to one another as a couple add to the validity and stability of a relationship.

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Chapter 4 National Couples Registry

AttachmentSize
Holy Union Certificate113.06 KB

In its effort to support and validate committed relationships, DignityUSA has established a National Registry of Holy Unions. This registry is part of Dignity's commitment to recognizing and honoring couples who have made a decision to have a Holy Union that satisfies the Holy Union Guidelines set forth in this resource guide. It is also documentation that we, as lesbian, gay, bisexual and, transgender people, do have and desire long-term monogamous relationships that are consonant with Christ's teaching and Christian values, and are loving, life-giving, and life affirming.

DignityUSA would like to extend an invitation to all couples who have Holy Unions that satisfy the Holy Union Guidelines and any that may be in place at the local chapter to register their Holy Union with DignityUSA. Couples who have had Holy Unions prior to the release of the Guidelines may also register but must have met the Guidelines. While we want to support and validate all couples who have had Unions, we feel that for the Registry to be accountable, the guidelines must be adhered to. We suggest and encourage couples to use an occasion such as an anniversary to have a reunion that satisfies the Guidelines, thereby qualifying it for the registry.

The Holy Union Certificate is to be filled out by the chapter and signed by the couple, their witnesses, and the presider(s), and presented to the couple at the Holy Union. The registry form must be filled out and signed by the presider(s) and chapter leader and sent to the National Office for registry. A dated copy will be returned to the chapter. The chapter is then encouraged to make a copy for their records before issuing the form to the couple.

The Dissolution of Holy Union form is provided as the method of removing the record of a Holy Union from the National Registry of Holy Unions. The reasons for the removal need not be provided, but removal would be necessary before an individual could register another Holy Union. This form should be completed and sent to DignityUSA. A dated copy will be returned to the chapter.

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Dissolution of Holy Union

Dissolution of Holy Union

The persons listed have a Holy Union registered with DignityUSA National Registry. The persons hereby agree that the Holy Union is dissolved and wish to have their Union removed from the Registry of DignityUSA immediately.

 

 

 Please Print

First Person

Second Person

Full Name:

 

 

Address:

 

 

City:

 

 

State & Zip:

 

 

Signature(s):

 

 

Date of Holy Union:

Chapter:

 

 

Chapter President/Representative:

________________________________________________

The individuals listed above were united in Holy Union Service.

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Registration of Holy Union For the DignityUSA National Registry

 Please Print

First Person

Second Person

Full Name:

 

 

Address:

 

 

City:

 

 

State & Zip:

 

 

Signature(s):

 

 

If the last names will change after the Holy Union, please indicate the new names here:

 

 

 

Date of Holy Union:

Chapter:

Presider(s):

 

 

 

DignityUSA Guidelines

*The Chapter President/Representative must verify the following*

  1. Both members of the couple shall be at least the legal age of consent for marriage in the state in which the ceremony is to be performed.
  2. Neither member may be bound by a prior marriage or unresolved commitment.
  3. At least one member of the couple must be an active member of a Dignity Chapter.
  4. The couple must inform the chapter leadership of their intention and work with the individuals designated by the chapter for preparation for their Holy Union.
  5. The couple must have completed the program of preparation adopted by the local chapter for Holy Unions.

Chapter President/Representative:

 

_____________________________________________________

Please print & mail this form to:

DignityUSA, PO Box 376, Medford, MA 02155
info@dignityusa.org
or FAX to: 781.397.0584

Chapter 5 Examples of Holy Union

The following are samples contributed by members of DignityUSA.

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Holy Union Example Provided by Bill, Dignity/San Jose, CA

Welcome

Good evening and welcome. Thanks for being with us this day to celebrate and participate in this wonderful and very special occasion. I am(presider name), a lay minister of Dignity/San Jose, a local chapter of DignityUSA, an organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their friends, families and loved ones. I appreciate the invitation of (name #1) and (name #2) to serve as a lay presider and to be with all of you on this very important day of their lives.

(Music — as party enters area)

Why we are gathered

My sisters and brothers, we are gathered to witness, celebrate and affirm the joining together of (name #1) and (name #2) in a holy union as partners in life. Trusting in the Word of God that "Where two or more are gathered together in my name, I am in their midst," we come together in confidence and prayer to ask God's blessing on the joined and personal lives of (name #1) and (name #2) as they freely enter a bond of a loving, living relationship of shared commitment. (name #1) and (name #2) number you among their family of friends, and have invited you to share the loving joy of this milestone in their lives. They want it to be a happy, joyous occasion, not only for themselves, but also for you.

Recognizing their spiritual, social and physical relationship as wholesome and good, they wish to acknowledge God's enriching presence in their lives by proclaiming and solemnizing their union as life partners. This holy union is a joyful celebration and thanksgiving for the gifts God has given them. (name #1) and (name #2) invited you to be with them today and chose this ceremony to be an outward sign of their mutual love and a source of encouragement to the gay and lesbian community for the establishment and respect of similar relationships of commitment.

This will not be a home or Nuptial Mass. Nor will there be consecrated bread and wine. I will serve as presider of this prayer and liturgical service. All of you are encouraged to actively participate in this celebration. As with a Nuptial Mass and wedding, the couple freely enters into a contract with each other. (name #1) and (name #2) will exchange their vows of love and commitment to each other.

Opening Prayer

Let us take a few moments to quiet and center ourselves in God's presence and in prayer.

(pause)

And so we begin with the sign of the Cross.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We express our beliefs as Christians by praying AMEN at the conclusion.

We believe in God, Creator of the universe, of all humanity and all about us. We believe in Jesus Christ, God made flesh, who lovingly taught and redeemed us by his life, death and resurrection, and left us the Eucharist as a living memorial. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, who dwells amongst us and guides us to the truth. We believe that we are brothers and sisters of and in Jesus Christ, created in God's image and likeness, and share in God's unconditional love. Lord, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and trusting in your word, we come together in confidence and pray that you be with us this day and at these moments. Look into our minds and hearts and recognize the love that is there as we join in the celebration of life and the bonding of our brothers (name #1) and (name #2) in a loving partnership. We pray this through Christ Our Lord. AMEN.

A Reflection on Love (from works of the humanist poet and writer Walter Rinder)

"Spectrum of Love" by Walter Rinder

"I love you."

There is a much greater motivation than simply my spoken words.

For me, to love is to commit myself freely and without reservation. I am sincerely interested in your happiness and well being. Whatever your needs are, I will try to fulfill them and will bend in my values depending on the importance of your need. If you are lonely and need me, I will be there. If in that loneliness you need to talk; I will listen. If you need to listen, I will talk. If you need the strength of human touch, I will touch you. If you need to be held, I will hold you. I will lie naked in body with you if that be your need. If you need fulfillment of the flesh I will give that also, but only through my love.

I will try to be constant with you so that you will understand the core of my personality and from that understanding you can gain strength and security that I am acting as me. I may falter with my moods. I may project, at times, a strangeness that is alien to you, which may bewilder or frighten you. There will be times when you question my motives. But because people are never constant and are as changeable as the seasons, I will try to build up within you a faith in my fundamental attitude and show you that my inconsistency is only for the moment and not a lasting part of me. I will show you love now. Each and every day, for each day is a lifetime. Every day we live, we learn more how to love. I will not defer my love nor neglect it, for if I wait until tomorrow, tomorrow never comes. It is like a cloud in the sky, passing by. They always do, you know!

If I give you kindness and understanding, then I will receive your faith. If I give hate and dishonesty, I will receive your distrust. If I give you fear and am afraid, you will become afraid and fear me. I will give to you what I need to receive.

To what degree (amount) I give love is determined by my own capability. My capability is determined by the environment of my past existence and my understanding of love, truth and God. My understanding is determined by my parents, friends, places I have lived and been. All experiences that have fed into my mind from living.

I will give you as much love as I can. If you will show me how to give more, then I will give more. I can only give as much as you need to receive or allow me to give. If you receive all I can give, then my love is endless and fulfilled. If you receive a portion (part) of my love, then I will give others the balance I am capable of giving. I must give all that I have, being what I am

Love is universal. Love is the movement of life. I have loved a boy, a girl, my parents, art, nature. All things in life I find beautiful. No human being or society has the right to condemn any kind of love I feel or my way of expressing it, if I am sincere, sincerity being the honest realization of myself and there is no hurt or pain intentionally involved in my life or any life my life touches.

I want to become a truly loving spirit. Let my word, if I must speak, become a restoration of your soul. But when speech is silent, does a man project the great depth of his sensitivity. When I touch you, or kiss you, or hold you, I am saying a thousand words.

Prayer of invocation

As I pray to invoke God's blessings on the couple as they exchange vows, I invite each of you in the quiet of yourself and in your own way, also pray that God will bless (name #1) and (name #2) and their intentions.

Dear God, we pray that you look into the minds and hearts of your sons and our brothers (name #1) and (name #2) and see their love for you and each other. Find their intentions to join together in this holy union and commitment to each other are founded on Christian love and a depth of love and affection for each other. Understand that they have seriously considered what they are about to do in their exchange of vows.

Brothers and sisters, as the couple exchange vows you will be invited to participate in this ceremony by responding to the opening and closing questions with the words "We do" and "We will," respectively.

Exchange of Vows and Rings

Friends of (name #1) and (name #2), do you affirm their free choice of this holy union and joining as partners in life?

We do.

In the presence of God, loved ones and loving friends, do you, (name #1), take (name #2) to be your spouse and partner in life, to have and to hold, to love and cherish in joy and sorrow, for better or worse, in health and sickness, and in good as well as difficult times?

I do.

Do you promise to respect (name #2)'s spirituality and human dignity and the spirituality and dignity of this holy union to the best of your ability?

I do.

Do you promise to do your best to promote and be responsive to ongoing dialogue to enrich this holy union and to quickly search out ways of mutual reconciliation as the need arises?

I do.

In the presence of God, loved ones and loving friends, do you, ( name #2), take ( name #1) to be your spouse and partner in life, to have and to hold, to love and cherish in joy and sorrow, for better or worse, in health and sickness, and in good as well as difficult times? I do.

Do you promise to respect (name #1)'s spirituality and human dignity and the spirituality and dignity of this holy union to the best of your ability?

I do.

Do you promise to do your best to promote and be responsive to ongoing dialogue to enrich this holy union and to quickly search out ways of mutual reconciliation as the need arises?

I do.

Brothers, sisters and friends of (name #1) and (name #2) will you honor, respect and encourage them in their relationship of commitment?

We will.

Blessing and exchange of rings

Water is a symbol of life and nourishment. At Baptism, water is used in the cleansing away of sin and in the inauguration of our life with Jesus Christ. A circle is used as a sign of unity. The rings to be exchanged are symbols of unity of purpose and a mutual commitment of supportive love as partners in life. We use this holy water and ask that God will bless the couple.

Loving God and Brother Jesus Christ, with this holy water, we pray that you bless (name #1) and (name #2) in their commitment of loving support and affirmation towards each other. We pray that the Spirit will always be with them and give them the strength and courage to fulfill their shared vows of commitment to each other in a living partnership.

We pray that you will bless them in their individual and shared lives with your blessings of love, joy, inner peace and genuine happiness. May their lives and loving partnership be further extensions of your love in our community.

Symbolic Ceremony of Unity of Purpose

(Name #1) and (name #2) have chosen to express their commitment, solidarity and unity of purpose by a Unity Candle Ceremony. They symbolically merge the light and warmth of their individual lives into a living and loving partnership in a shared journey -- two separate candles of light and lives become as one light and life in the sight of God and humanity.

Exchange of Feelings and Sentiments

(Name #1) and (name #2) exchange sentiments towards each other.

Community prayer - a symbol of unity and a calling of God's love on the couple

All join hands and pray the Lord's Prayer.

A symbol of reconciliation, joy, and loving family - exchange of the Kiss of Peace

Brief closing prayer and remarks

As we leave this celebration today, let us remember that we are Christ for one another in our daily lives. Remember (name #1) and (name #2)in your prayers. Be supportive of them in their personal lives and in their partnership in life.

God of the Universe, we your children thank you for gathering us together to celebrate this holy union of our brothers (name #1) and (name #2). Thank you for giving us this day and being present with us. Be with us daily and help us do your will by being sensitive towards our sisters and brothers. Guide us to be channels of your peace and reconciliation as we go forth and be Christ for one another. This we pray through Christ our Lord. AMEN.

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Holy Union Example Provided by Brian and Ken, Madison, Wisconsin

Prelude For You, My Friend (written by Karin Scott)

Opening Greeting

Entrance Song City of God

Affirmation of Intention

Affirmation of Family & Friends

"Sts. Serge & Bacchus" (J. Boswell, translation)

Meanwhile the blessed Serge, deeply depressed and heartsick over the loss of Bacchus, wept and cried out, "No longer, brother and fellow soldier, will we chant together, 'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!' You have been unyoked from me and gone up to heaven, leaving me alone on earth, made single, without comfort." After he uttered these things, the same night the blessed Bacchus suddenly appeared to him with a face as radiant as an angel's, wearing an officer's uniform, and spoke to him. "Why do you grieve and mourn, brother? If I have been taken from you in body, I am still with you in the bond of union, chanting and reciting, 'I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou hast enlarged my heart.' Hurry then, yourself, brother, through beautiful and perfect confession to pursue, and obtain me, when finishing the course. For the crown of justice for me is with you."

Response Song: For All The Saints

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: 1-13

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them, and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn't love others, I would only be making noise. If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn't love others, what good would it do? Even if l had the gift of faith so that l could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love. If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn't love others, it would be of no value whatever.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone you will be 1oyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him; always stand your ground defending him.

All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever. Someday prophesy, and speaking in unknown languages, and special knowledge -- these gifts will disappear. Now we know so little, even with our special gifts, and the preaching of those most gifted is still so poor. But when we have been made perfect and complete, then the need for these inadequate special gifts will come to an end, and they will disappear. There are three things that remain -- faith, hope and love -- and the greatest of these is love.

Alleluia Song: Seek Ye First

Gospel

Presider: A reading from the Gospel according to John (John 4:7-21)

Homily

Prayers of the Faithful

Presider: For heavenly peace,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: For the peace of the entire world,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: For this holy place,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: That these thy servants, (couple’s names), be sanctified with thy spiritual benediction,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: That their love abides without offense or scandal all the days of their lives,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: That they be granted all things needed for salvation and godly enjoyment of life everlasting,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: That the Lord God grant unto them unashamed faithfulness and sincere love,

Response: we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Presider: For all those invited to join our joyous celebration today, who have been kept away by their own or other's fears,

Response: Loving God, hear our prayer.

Presider: In thanksgiving for all who have gone before us, and for the gifts, lessons and legacies they have left us, and in particular for (couple’s names),

Response: Loving God, hear our prayer.

Presider: For all who are lonely,

Response: Loving God, hear our prayer.

Presider: That we may all hear when God's Spirit is speaking within us, and find the strength to act when we hear God's call,

Response: Loving God, hear our prayer.

Presider: In peace we beseech thee, O Lord, Have mercy on us, O God. Lord, have mercy. (shall be said three times)

Offertory Prayers

We rejoice today, O God, as we've come together to marvel in the beauty of your human creation. We, your people, stand in awe of the gifts you have bestowed on us, in us, and through us. We rejoice especially today that you have given us (couple’s names), whose love draws each one of us here together and creates of us a brilliant tapestry of life. May they continue to weave strong bonds of family, friendship and love throughout their lives, so that through them many will know the meaning of communion. Amen.

We thank you, most generous God, for giving us this gift of bread, made of earth and water and sun. We ask that in breaking and sharing this loaf today we might learn to break open and share ourselves with each other; and in so doing be fed by the food of one another's souls. Help us to remember that you bring us together in love for a purpose, to strive together, hand-in-hand, until all people taste the bread of community and are filled in body and nourished in soul. Then we will know the fullness of communion. Amen.

We celebrate you, Sweet Spirit, as we share the gift of wine. It runs deep and red as the blood coursing through our veins. We ask that in sharing this cup today we might know the fire in our own blood, the vibrant life that calls us into love beyond fear. For we know that it is only this kind of love, deep and true, honest and brave, that has the power to make our hearts whole and heal our broken world. Only in this love can we truly live as communion. Amen.

And so, behold these gifts -- our brothers, our bread, our wine. We invite you to come forward, to claim your place at the table, created by God, prepared by friends, offered as gift. Come share in this banquet of hope and love and joy.

Communion Sharing

Communion Song: Blest Art They

Exchange of Peace

Benediction

Site Index Terms: 

Holy Union Example Provided by Michael and Dennis, Dignity/Washington

Gathering and Entrance Rites

Prelude

Procession (stand)

Trumpet Tune

Greeting

Presider:

In the name of the God Who Creates us, Who Redeems us and Who makes us Holy.

Response:

Amen

Presider:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Response:

And also with you.

Penitential Rite

Presider:

My brothers and sisters, to prepare ourselves to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, let us call to mind our sins. Your were sent to heal the contrite of heart, Lord have mercy

Response:

Lord have mercy,

Presider:

You came to call all Sinners, Christ have mercy.

Response:

Christ have mercy.

Presider:

You plead for us at the right hand of the Father, Lord have mercy.

Response:

Lord have mercy.

Presider:

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life

Response:

Amen.

Opening Prayer

Presider:

Let us pray.

Oh Lord our God, You bestowed all things on us for salvation and commanded us to love one another and to bear with one another's weakness. You yourself were a friend to humankind; therefore grant unashamed devotion and unfeigned love all their days to {first name} and {second name}, Your servants, who love each other in a Holy and Blessed love and have come into Your Holy Temple to be blessed by You. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Response:

Amen

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: A reading from the First Book of Samuel. (1 Samuel 16:19.23; 18:1-5; 20:35; 20:40-43)

Saul sent messengers to Jesse, saying "Send me David your son who is with the sheep." Jesse took five loaves, a skin of wine and a kid, sent them to Saul by David his son. And so David came to Saul and entered his service; Saul loved him greatly and David became his armor bearer. Then Saul sent to Jesse saying, "Let David enter my service; he has won favor. And whenever the spirit from God troubled Saul, David took the harp and played; then Saul grew calm, and recovered, and the evil spirit left him.

After David had finished talking to Saul, Jonathan's soul became closely bound to David's and Jonathan came to him as his own soul. Saul kept him from that day forward and would not let him go back to his father's house. Jonathan made a pact with David to love him as his own soul; he took off the cloak he was wearing and give it to David, and his armor too, even his sword, his bow and belt. Whenever David went out, on whatever mission Saul sent him, he was successful, and Saul put him in command of the fighting men; he stood well in his people's eyes and in the eyes of Saul's officers.

The next morning Jonathan went out into the fields for the agreed meeting with David, taking a young servant with him.

Jonathan then gave his weapons to his servant and said, "Go and carry them to the town." When the servant went off, David rose from beside the hillock and fell with his face to the ground and bowed three times. Then they kissed each other and shed many tears. Then Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace. And as regards the oath that both of us have sworn in the name of Yahweh be witness between you and me, between your descendants and mine forever.

The Word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm: We Have Been Told

Second Reading: A reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Church at Corinth

(1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:4-13)

Set your hearts on the greater gifts. I will show you the way, which surpasses all others. If I speak with human tongues and angelic as well, but do not know love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. If I have the love of prophecy and, with full knowledge, comprehend all mysteries; if I have the faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give everything to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not selfish, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.

Love never fails. Prophecies will cease, tongues will be silent, and knowledge will pass away. Our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect. When the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became an adult, I put childish ways aside. Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall face to face. My knowledge is imperfect now; then I shall know even as I am known. There are in the end three things that last: faiths, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. Love never fails.

The Word of the Lord.

Response: Thanks be to God.

Gospel Acclamation: Celtic Alleluia (stand)

Gospel

Presider:

The Lord be with you.

Response:

And also with you

Presider:

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 5: 13-16)

Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But what if salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot."

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and then put it under a basket. They set it on a stand where it gives a light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before all so that they may see your goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Creator."

This is the Gospel of the Lord

Response: Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

Holy Union Address and Statement of Intention

Presider:

My dear friends, you have come together in this church so that the Lord may seal and strengthen your love in the presence of the Church's minister and this community. In this way you will be strengthened to keep mutual and lasting faith with each other and to carry out the duties of your Most Holy Union. And so, in the presence of the Church, I ask you to state your intentions.

{first name}, you come here freely and without reservation to affirm your covenant of love and fidelity to {second name} and your intention to live together in a committed relationship. Will you love (him/her), comfort (him/her), honor and keep (him/her), forsaking all others, and be faithful to (him/her) as long as you both shall live?

1st person:

I will.

Presider:

{second name}, you come here freely and without reservation to affirm your covenant of love and fidelity to {first name} and your intention to live together in a committed relationship. Will you love (him/her), comfort (him/her), honor and keep (him/her), forsaking all others, and be faithful to (him/her) as long as you both shall live?

2nd person:

I will.

Presider:

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their covenant?

Witnesses:

We will.

Consent and Exchange of Vows

Presider:

Since it is your intention to enter into this Holy Union, join your hands and declare your consent before God and the Church.

1st person:

In the presence of God and our community, I, {first name}, take you, {second name}, to be my companion in a covenant of love, comfort, forgiveness and faithfulness; in times of ease or unease, whether we are rich or poor, in sickness and in health, as long as both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

2nd person:

In the presence of God and our community, I, {second name}, take you, {first name}, to be my companion in a covenant of love, comfort, forgiveness and faithfulness; in times of ease or unease, whether we are rich or poor, in sickness and in health, as long as both shall live. This is my solemn vow.

Presider:

You have declared your consent before the Church. The sweet smell of love is lovely to us and much desired. It was the foundation of our ancestors, the guide of prophetic voices sanctified through the preaching of the Holy Apostles, because love is superior to all beautiful things of earth. Where there is love, enmity cannot harm, demons have no power, and sin has no reality. May the Lord in His goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with God's blessings. What God has joined, men and women must not divide.

Blessing and Exchange of Rings

Presider:

Lord, bless these rings which we bless (sign of the cross) in your name. Grant that those who wear them may always have a deep faith in each other. May they doYour will and always live together in peace, goodwill and love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Response:

Amen.

Exchanging Rings, each person says to the other:

{the other person's name}, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and commitment. In the name of God The Creator, The Redeemer and The Sanctifier.

General Intercessions

Presider:

(petitions) We pray to the Lord.

Response:

Amen.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Presentation of the Gifts

Prayer over the Gifts

Presider:

Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to Almighty God.

Response:

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of God's name and the good of all God's Church.

 

(stand)

Presider:

Loving God, accept our offering for {first name and second name}. By your love and providence you have brought them together May the mystery of Christ's unselfish love, which we celebrate in this Eucharist, increase their love for you and for each other. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.

Response:

Amen.

Eucharistic Prayer

Presider:

The Lord be with you.

Response:

And also with you.

Presider:

Lift up your hearts.

Response:

We lift them up to the Lord.

Presider:

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

Response:

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Preface

Holy, Holy, Holy

Memorial Acclamation

The Great Amen

Communion Rite

The Lord's Prayer

Nuptial Blessing (Adaptation from a Twelfth Century Roman Catholic Marriage Rite for Two Persons of the Same Gender)

Presider:

My dear friends, let us turn to God and pray that God will bless {first name} and {second name} and that through the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, God will unite in love the couple joined in this Holy Union. For these two persons joining themselves in the loving union of life.

Response:

We pray to the Lord.

Presider:

For these servants, {first name and second name} and for their union in Christ.

Response:

We pray to the Lord

 

 

Presider:

That the Lord our God unites them in perfect love and inseparable life.

Response:

We pray to the Lord.

Presider:

For the holy gift of the precious Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that they should receive it in holiness and it should preserve their union without jealousy.

Response:

We pray to the Lord.

Presider:

Oh Lord Our God, Benefactor and Friend of the human race, these two servants of Yours, who love each other with the sacred and holy love, have come to Your holy temple wishing to receive your sanctification and blessing. Grant them unashamed fidelity and sincere love in all things needed for salvation and eternal life and union for the rest of their lives through God, the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.

Response:

Amen.

Sign of Peace

Presider:

Lord, Jesus Christ, you said to our Apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom, where you live forever and ever.

Response:

Amen.

Presider:

The peace of the Lord be with you always.

Response:

And also with you.

Presider:

Let us offer each other the sign of peace.

Breaking of the Bread

Lamb of God

Communion

Presider:

This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to this supper.

Response:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed

Communion Song We Remember

Meditation A Nuptial Blessing (Choir)

Prayer after Communion

Presider:

Lord, in your love you have given us this Eucharist to unite us with one another and you. We pray for our friends, {first name and second name}, whom you have joined together in this Holy Union. May their love for each other proclaim to all the world their faith in you

Response:

Amen.

Concluding Rites

Blessing

Presider:

The Lord be with you.

Response:

And also with you.

Presider:

(Blessing)

Response:

Amen.

Dismissal

Presider:

Go in the peace of Christ.

Response:

Thanks be to God.

 Closing Hymn: Now Thank We All Our God

Site Index Terms: 

Holy Union Example Provided by Nick and Kurt, Brandon, Florida

Gather and Greeting

Welcome

Presider:

Dear friends in Christ We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the union of (first name and second name) in a lifelong commitment of love. The calling to live in the bond of a covenant is a gift from God, in whose image we are created and by whom we are called to love, to reason, to work and play, and to live in God and one another. In celebrating this covenant we are reminded of our highest vocation to love God and to love one another.

 

(first name and second name) are here to bear witness to their love for each other and to their intention to embody Christ's love in their relationship. Each has found the other to be a gift of God in the midst of a broken world. We are now called to share in their happiness and to witness this exchange of vows, because we believe God, who is love and trust, sees into their hearts and accepts the offering they are making.

 

The joining of (first name and second name) in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy, for the health and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity, and for the greater rnanifestation of love in the lives of all whom they encounter. Therefore this commitment is to be undertaken and affirmed seriously, reverently, deliberately and in accordance with God's intention for us.

Opening Prayer (Presider)

First Reading (harp begins) A reading from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

(silent pause)

Second Reading A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

(silent pause) (harp ends)

Reflection on why we are gathered (Presider)

Exchange of Vows

1st person:

In the name of God, I, (first name), take you, (second name), to be my companion and partner. I solemnly promise before God and those present that I will be with you always. I love you now and wish to grow with you...to challenge, as the years pass, how we love our God, each other and those whom God puts in our path. I promise to love you in the times of celebration and of sadness in times of pleasure and of anger, in times of sickness and of health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

2nd person:

In the name of God, I, (second name), take you, (first name), to be my companion and partner. I solemnly promise before God and those present that I will be with you always. I love you now and wish to grow with you...to challenge, as the years pass, how we love our God, each other and those whom God puts in our path. I promise to love you in the times of celebration and of sadness in times of pleasure and of anger, in times of sickness and of health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

Blessing of the rings (Presider)

Rose Ceremony

1st person:

(partner's name), I offer you this rose as a symbol of my love for you, a love that I will express by kindness, respect, trust and faith in you to the end of my life.

2nd person:

(partner's name), I offer you this rose as a symbol of my love for you, a love that I will express by kindness, respect, trust and faith in you to the end of my life.

Prayer of Gratitude

The Couple:

We would like to thank each of you for being an important part of our lives. We thank you for coming together to celebrate the public declaration of our commitment to each other. We extend an invitation to all of you to be as important a part of our tomorrow as you are of our today.

 

We would like to especially thank our families for the love and support that they have given us. I would like to thank my mother and father for their love and acceptance. We would like to remember all those who have gone before us and could not be here today to share in our joy but will always be present in our hearts, especially (names). We would like to thank our family and friends who are separated from us by distance, but have sent us their love and blessings.

Intercessory Prayer

Presider:

(Invite the people to join in prayer. The response will be: "Lord help them to grow in love.")

 

That they will have a steadily deepening love, which grows in understanding and unselfishness; for this we pray.

 

That they will have a measure of patience, especially in the early years when life must fall in step with life; for this we pray.

 

Grant them the ability to communicate that they may be saved from hurtful words spoken in anger or grudges nurtured in silence; for this we pray.

 

Bless them with a sense of humor, that they may laugh at themselves and with others; for this we pray.

 

That theirs be a happy home, where they may find and give serenity and strength; for this we pray.

 

Give them a sense of values, that they may care for people more than possessions, for giving rather than receiving, for loving rather than being loved, for understanding rather than being understood, for honor more than honors, for the dimensions of a home more than the details of a house, for your approval more than the world's approval; for this we pray.

 

Plant within them a growing faith, that finds your sufficient love and grace in every joy and sorrow and responds in lives of steadiness and service; for this we pray.

 

Make them instruments of your peace; for this we pray

 

We ask your blessing upon them. In health and in sickness, in abundance and in want, in life and in death.

Circle of Blessing (all) (harp plays quietly)

Closing Prayer (presider)

Gifts to Family, Friends (the couple)

Site Index Terms: 

Holy Union Example Provided by Rosemary and Janet, Dignity/Maine

Order of Liturgy

Entrance Hymn

Gather Us In (Haas)

First Reading

Isaiah 62:1-4

Responsorial Psalm

What You Hear In The Dark (Schutte)

Second Reading

1 John 4:7-16

Celtic Alleluia

 

Gospel

Mark 4:21-25

Homily

 

Commitment Ceremony

Reading

Magnificat of Betrothal, "Mairyam of Nazareth" Anne Johnson, page 21-22

Community Blessing

We gather today to witness and celebrate your love and commitment to each other. As your family and friends, we bless you with our love for you and pray that you may always have the strength of community to support you May you endure the challenge of committed life and always find joy in the celebration of it. We pray that you may continue to grow together in God's light. Amen.

Creed

We believe (Walker)

Response:

We believe in one God! We believe in one Lord! We believe in one Spirit!

Preparation Hymn

All I Ask Of You (Norbet)

Eucharistic Acclamations

Mass of Creation (Haugen)

Communion Hymn

Lover of Us All

Recessional Hymn

Stand Up Friends (Hass)


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Chapter 6 Couples Support

The following pages contain examples of couples support program and events sponsored by some Dignity Chapters. These are ideas, which you can use or consider when you create your own couples support programs and events.

 

"Our problem in relationships is how to have an ongoing intimate life with another person at the same time as we invite this completely unpredictable depth to have a significant place in our lives. It isn't easy to live with the power and mystery of another's soulful personality.... The only solution to this problem I know is for both parties to respect soul, to acknowledge the mystery that is inescapably contained in the soulful life, and to come to treasure that very unpredictability." 
— Soul Mates - Thomas Moore

 

Being in a same-sex relationship eliminates us from much of the support, both psychological and concrete, which heterosexual couples enjoy. Because of that, we need to create our own supportive atmosphere. The following are suggestions, which might be helpful if your chapter needs to build such a support network. Avoid forming a Couple's Committee. Being in a relationship is already a lot of work. One more committee takes time away from couplehood.

Support Groups: Solicit volunteer couples to facilitate a couple's support group. Get 4 or 5 (maximum) couples together once a month to discuss topics such as money issues, dealing with families, how to deal with conflict, control issues, communication.

Education: Offer educational/supportive topics for larger groups of couples about such topics as: legal issues of ownership, wills, children and child rearing, becoming pregnant.

Ministry as a Couple: Have couples perform their various ministries together, whenever possible (e.g. greeters, readers, homilists, etc.).

Retreats: Either formal or informal, directed or free-flowing, gathering couples for an extended time (e.g. 1-2 days) to pray together, discuss the issues of couplehood, break bread, relax and have fun together. These activities can be life-giving experiences.

Anniversary Recognition: Announce anniversaries in your bulletin, pray for couples during the Prayers of the Faithful.

Peer Couples: Encourage established couples to "sponsor" new couples.

Social Gatherings: Couples night at the skating rink or a couple's dinner dance.

These suggestions are meant to be guidelines to get you started. By no means are they required of any chapter. We would like to encourage each chapter to develop their own local resources and/or look to local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender agencies for committed support for those among us who have entered into a committed relationship.

Site Index Terms: 

A Homily Given by a Priest Celebrating a Holy Union

Provided by Dignity/Washington D.C.

“In Celebration of Ordinary Life”

This is an occasion of great joy. We gather to witness the exchange of vows between Michael and Dennis, vows by which they will solemnly commit themselves to love, comfort, honor and remain faithful to one another for the rest of their lives. This is an occasion that is joyful, first of all for Dennis and Mike, as well as for their families and friends. It is also a joyful occasion for the church, meaning especially Dignity, a faith community in the Catholic tradition of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and families and friends.

Probably just about all of us have seen a man and woman joined together in a union that the church blesses and considers holy. But few of us, I imagine, have had the occasion to witness the exchange of vows between persons of the same gender and the blessing of their union. That happens to be true of me, as well. While I have attended and officiated at dozens of heterosexual marriage ceremonies, this is the first time that I have either been present for or officiated at a ceremony for a same-sex couple.

Nevertheless, what we gather to celebrate today is neither extraordinary nor without precedent. There is nothing extraordinary, really, about two persons choosing to get married. Most of us grow up with the expectation that someday we will get married, that someday we will share life with a partner, who will be there for us in all of life's joys, challenges, difficulties and sorrows -- a partner with whom we will create a home, a comfortable and safe haven where we can relax and be ourselves and welcome close friends. Nearly everybody seems to get married. The desire to marry is an expression of the desire to be a whole person, which, as we normally think of it, includes finding someone to love and by whom to be loved and simply taking one's place as part of a couple, a family, alongside other couples and families.

In many respects, Dennis and Mike fit into this pattern. In my seventeen years of priestly ministry, I have, as I said before, officiated at many weddings and worked with heterosexual couples in preparation for their marriage. What I found in working with Dennis and Mike is how very much the same it is as working with any other couple. These are two individuals who are attracted to each other, who have fallen in love and want to be together for the rest of their lives. They experience the same fundamental challenges and hopes as heterosexual couples. And they seek support and guidance from friends, family and the church.

This year has been one of major developments for Mike and Dennis -- buying a house and preparing for this ceremony -- and they have experienced pretty much the usual range of hassles that surround such activities. But their love and commitment are evident and I would expect that this time next year will be a quieter time of taking it all in and simply savoring their love and life together.

So, in a certain sense, all of this is quite ordinary. As it should be. Would that society and the institutional church would simply let it be! But all of us gathered here recognize that there is also sometiiing quite extraordinary about that which we celebrate here today. There is a reason that most of us have never before been to a ceremony celebrating the loving union of two persons of the same gender, even though some ten percent of the population is gay and lesbian. It is because gays and lesbians have long been an oppressed people. As they grew up, their desires for marriage were generally dashed by the recognition that they dare not even let people know who they are.

Just two weeks ago, only a couple of blocks from here at the Capitol, the United States Congress voted 235 to 173 to approve a motion that effectively killed the D.C. Domestic Partnership Law that had been passed by the City Council earlier this year. Although domestic partnership laws have been

adopted in many jurisdictions around the country to secure the rights of people who happen to live together, for whatever reason, the opposition of bigots has focused on the notion that such a law constitutes a step in the direction of gay marriage. And so, even Congressional representatives who

consider domestic partnership to be a just and fair measure are afraid to vote in a manner which might be construed by some demagogue at home as showing support for "gay marriage."

Moreover, we gather for this ceremony not in a Roman Catholic Church building, that is, one belonging to the faith community of Mike and Dennis, but in St. Mark's, an Episcopal church. This is because the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington does not permit Dignity to meet on Catholic property, let alone celebrate a holy union service there. We are grateful to the Episcopal church for the welcome extended by St. Mark's today and St. Margaret's, where some 400 to 500 of us meet for Sunday worship every week.

Some of you may have noticed that my full name and that of our concelebrant, Fr. R., do not appear in the program. That little detail also points to the extraordinariness of this occasion. We take a risk by being here. Any of the priests who associate themselves with Dignity/Washington take a risk simply be being there. Why do we do this? Speaking for myself I can say that I fear far more the consequences, both for myself and for our society, of remaining silent in the face of oppression than I do the risks associated with speaking the truth. This gospel text, which is taken from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, states it well: we are the "light of the world." We are called to let our light "shine before all." The time has come to stand firm against the fear, ignorance and oppression that keep gay persons silent, fearful and hidden from view and to announce to church and world that yes, here too, is love and life and goodness. Here, too, are gifts and talents and resources for our communities. Here, too, is the Spirit. Here are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters. Let their light shine forth brilliantly for all to see.

Later in this service, following the Lord's Prayer, Fr. R. will bless Dennis and Mike, using the words of a twelfth-century text. That text is a translation of one of hundreds that John Boswell, a medieval historian at Yale University, has uncovered during several years of research. Professor Boswell has discovered something that many would find quite extraordinary, and that is that there is an official Catholic text for gay marriage ceremonies and that gay marriages were celebrated in churches in Europe, including Rome, over a period of some 1500 years. Boswell plans to publish a book with these texts, and I have no doubt that when he does so it will cause quite a stir. He is, however, quite certain about what he has discovered, because the format of the service and the language, even the word "gamos," the Greek word for marriage, is the same.

Heterosexual marriage was, following Roman practice, at first primarily a civil and family event which emphasized marriage as a contract between families -- the father "giving" his daughter to a man who "takes possession" of her as his wife. And these are precisely the terms that were employed to talk about marriage, and this is reflected in the traditional wedding ceremony in which the groom waits at the altar for his bride who is walked up the aisle by her father. These arrangements existed principally to safeguard property and to maintain family lines for its transfer. Marriages were frequently arranged by parents or state authorities. Marriage for love was rare. Eventually, beginning in the 11th and 12th centuries, heterosexual marriage was celebrated as a church ceremony -- first on the steps and then finally inside of church buildings, and only at this time did it come to be regarded as a sacrament of the church.

Gay marriages, on the other hand, were celebrated in Christian churches as early as the 4th century. In fact, two saints, Sergius and Bacchus, who suffered martyrdom for their faith, are called, in official texts, "erostai," meaning lovers. They were a couple and were recognized as a couple. Bacchus died before Sergius and appeared to Sergius, who was suffering torments, urging him to remain strong and faittiftil to the end because he, Bacchus, was the reward awaiting him in the next life. These Roman martyrs were cited as an ideal in the rite of gay marriage. The emphasis of that rite, in contrast to the rite of heterosexual marriage, which focused on procreation, rather than love ("be fruitful and multiply"), was on the ideal of interpersonal love as a means of spiritual growth that looks forward to the next life in the Heavenly Jerusalem, where all will be based on love.

This historical background serves, I think, to point the way toward reclaiming a vital part of our Christian tradition. The celebration of the holy union between two persons of the same gender, while unfanuiliar to the experience of most of us, is, as it turns out, nothing new. It has a place in the life of the church. It has, moreover, a gift to offer us in the witness that it provides to the ideal of interpersonal love as a spiritual good in itself

Joyful as this occasion is, when we gather to celebrate the love of these two men for each other, I cannot forget the oppression and fear that have afflicted gays and lesbians for many centuries. While the church has been much more tolerant toward gay persons than has been recognized, there has also

been persecution, especially beginning in the 13th century. Since that time, our people have often been arrested, maimed and executed. For much of the past century, we were regarded as mentally ill, with the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association dropping this diagnostic label in the 1970s, when it became clear that it reflected a societal prejudice and was without scientific merit. And while much progress has been made in changing laws and securing rights, we are still subject to arrest and discrimination in many parts of this country. And we should not overlook the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt honoring some 27,000 persons who have died from AIDS, most of them gay men, which has been placed this weekend on the grounds of the Washington Monument. This dreadful disease, which struck the gay male population in this country first and now spreads to others, testifies, in part to the terrible plight of a people for whom marriage has not seemed a viable option.

There are many who would say, "I am a tolerant person. I have nothing against gays and lesbians, as long as they keep quiet and don't flaunt their sexual orientation or demand special rights." Well, my friends, silence is our worst enemy. It is precisely this silence that has prevented gay people from enjoying the ordinariness of finding a life partner and settling down as a couple with the support and recognition of families, friends, coworkers, church and society.

But we are living in a historical moment, a time when gay people will be silent no more; a time when many, like Mike and Dennis, are choosing to let their love shine forth as a light for all to see. This is not flaunting anything or demanding rights that are not available to others, it is simply a coming forward to take one's rightful place in society. And as more and more follow their example, as inevitably they will, this will come to seem less and less extraordinary. Twenty-five, fifty, one hundred years from now, as friends and family gather for holy union ceremonies, it will no longer be the first one most will have attended.

Dennis and Mike: God give you strength to remain faithful to each other and to the love that you find in your hearts today. You are a sign for all of us, a sign of the primacy and power of love, a sign of courage and a sign of hope. You are a "city set on a hill" -- and not just Capitol Hill! And. while the gloom of ignorance and bigotry continues to encircle us, the sweet light of your love, lived out in ordinary circumstances, day by day, is a sure sign that darkness will not prevail. God give you courage and grace and many years together.

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Bibliography

Berzon, Betty, Ph.D. Permanent Partners: Budding Gay and Lesbian Relationships That Last. Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, 1990.

Berzon, Betty, Ph.D. The Intimacy Dance: A Guide to Long-Term Success in Gay and Lesbian Relationship. Penguin Books USA Inc., New York 1996.

Boswell, John. Same-Sex Unions in Pre-modern Europe. Villard Books, New York, 1994.

Curry, Hayden and Clifford, Denis. A Legal Guide for Lesbian and Gay Couples. Nob Press, Berkeley, CA, 1990.

DeCecco, John, ed. Gay Relationships. Harrington Park Press, New York, 1988.

Driggs, John and Finn, Stephen E. Intimacy Between Men: How to Find and Keep Gay Love Relationships. Dutton, New York, 1990.

Duff, Johnette and Truitt, George G. The Spousal Equivalent Handbook: A Legal arid Financial Guide to Living Together Penguin Books USA Inc., New York, 1991.

Gramick, Jeannine and Nugent, Robert (eds.). Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues. Center for Homophobia Education, New York, 1995.

Isensee, Rik. Love between Men: Enhancing Intimacy and Keeping Your Relationship Alive. Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1990.

Loulan, JoAnn, Loving Ourselves and Each Other.

Luecke, David L. The Relationship Manual for Couples: How to Diagnose, Build, or Enrich a Relationship. The Relationship Institute, Columbia, MD, 1991.

Price, Deb. Marriage Isn't Just for Heterosexuals. USA Today, Tuesday June 14, 1994, pp 12a.

Ritter, Kathleen and O'Neill, Craig. Coming Out Within: Stages of Spiritual Awakening for Lesbians and Gay Men. Harper San Francisco, San Francisco, 1992.

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