Last week on a dreary rainy Monday evening I made my way to a small Roman Catholic church located in the back-alley ways of Mainz, Germany. More than 100 Catholic churches around Germany had called for church services May 9-10, to bless lovers in a well-publicized internet campaign bearing the motto “love wins.”
I wanted to witness what this “blessing service” for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, would look like. As a canon lawyer who works on annulments and marriages, I was interested to see such a ceremony for those who either did not want to bother with a sacramental marriage or didn’t understand that not all proclamations of “love” promote human flourishing.
The nationwide German initiative was organized by Catholic priests, deacons, and volunteers who mistakenly believed they had a right and duty to reject the March ruling by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith that same-sex unions could not be blessed. The website promoting the ceremonies proudly asserted, “We raise our voices and say: We will continue to stand by people who commit themselves to a binding partnership and bless their relationship.”
As I slid into the back of the Church, I prayed that no one would show. My hope was to find the church empty; I would then gladly skip down the road for dinner. From what I could tell, very few couples had pre-registered on the website as requested. And indeed, I found only three couples – two heterosexual couples, and a male homosexual couple.
Standing in the sanctuary near the altar was a priest and a woman dressed as a deacon. Another man in a brown habit, seated, was strumming a guitar. The altar was bare except for a few candles. No one bothered to stand when the priest entered or made the Sign of the Cross. The “service” was opened by some folk tunes sung by the woman wearing a chasuble.
Although there were many ironies about this whole charade, perhaps the starkest was that there was a famous organ only a few feet away for which the small church, founded in 1331 by the Anionites and taken over by the Poor Clares in 1620, is renowned.
There was absolutely no interaction with the congregation throughout the whole ordeal. The same woman approached the altar with no outward sign of reverence for the presence of the Lord in the sanctuary and proceeded to give a 15-minute homily on love. With the conclusion of the homily and another song, the priest read from Scripture. Again no one bothered to stand.
Afterward, he asked the couples to stand and to read some sort of declaration of love to each other. There was no kiss to seal the deal, nor any outward sign of affection. Everyone sat back down. More singing from the woman and the whole thing was finished in less than 30 minutes.
The priest approached me afterward and, really, all I could do was back away. There are no words in English or German that could truthfully justify such schismatic action taken by anyone in the Church.
I did not bother with dinner; I’d lost my appetite. The whole thing was depressing and sad. There was no sense of celebration, only the gristly mundane sense of completing a task, something more akin to registering a car at the DMV than the joyful nature of a baptism or a wedding.
There were no wedding clothes. The couples were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. Absent was the champagne, the cake, the wedding feast, family and friends gathered in unison to celebrate the beginning of a community of life and love.
Severe lockdown restrictions continue due to Covid-19 in the land of Martin Luther, so there were no restaurants open to celebrate whatever had occurred. Did the couples go home to reheated leftovers and Netflix? Did this blessing somehow magically impart the understanding that marriage and a true lifelong commitment are actually about the hard, unromantic work of salvation and redemption as spouses give their lives to each other with the single goal of getting each other to heaven?
Or was this an ideological/political stunt?
Instead of the conferral of grace given by the Holy Spirit through a true sacrament, the couples allegedly seeking treasures from the richness of the Church were merely thrown sacramental crumbs by the very priests who should have known the difference between true empathy and false “compassion.”
Nothing came of this except using people to make some kind of political statement about homosexual marriage and adolescent thumb-nosing at the Vatican.
Making my way back to my car, I passed a life-sized statue of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr (680-754 AD) in front of the Cathedral of Mainz. Within his very lifetime, this holy Anglo-Saxon monk became known as the Apostle to the Germanic people after wielding an axe to a sacred tree worshipped by Germanic pagans.
According to legend, St. Boniface then used the wood from the tree to build a church dedicated to St. Peter. When he became the archbishop of Mainz in 752, he was given a cloth that had lain across St. Peter’ s tomb as his pallium.
St. Boniface was martyred because of his fidelity to the teachings of the Church, fearless despite many clear threats from worshippers of alien gods. Who knew that his holy life, after centuries of Christianity in Germany, would be an ironic commentary about those who prefer schism to unity, indulgent individualism to community, and social destruction to life-affirming grace?
St. Boniface pray for Germany – and for us.