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Renewal of marriage vows
Question from Fr. Kevin Tumback on 8/3/2010:

In looking up a question on the renewal of wedding vows I found the following response:

That said, please allow me to express my personal uneasiness with the whole "renewal of vows" idea. It may sound like a romantic way to celebrate an important anniversary, but I think it is theologically problematic. The point of the nuptial liturgy on the wedding day is to make vows that will bind the couple in sacramental marriage for as long as they both shall live. "Renewing vows" on milestone anniversaries suggests that the vows need to be "renewed" at all. And, if vows are to be "renewed," doesn't that suggest that they may stop being binding after some point?

I found this a very strange response since every year at the Chrism Mass priests and deacons are required to renew their vows to the bishops for the sacrament of holy orders. In this context the notion of renewing vows is not only meaningful but consistent with the Church's theology as expressed by the clergy's renewal of vows. Please comment.

Answer by Catholic Answers on 8/3/2010:

Fr. Tumback--

A few points:

1.) The first paragraph of my response answers the question asked. The inquirer wanted Scripture readings appropriate for a renewal of vows, and I made suggestions.

2.) Only after answering the question did I give my personal opinion, which was clearly flagged as such. EWTN's Q&A policy states:

They [the Q&A forums moderators] can be expected to give answers that conform to the teaching of the Church, or which represents an educated application of the principles contained in that teaching, or in matters of opinion their opinion. Please keep in mind that where the Church has not explicitly defined a matter even saints have disagreed.

3.) While I appreciate the fact that the Church does allow some renewal of vows for otherwise permanent sacraments (e.g., baptism, marriage, holy orders), it is not required to be done in the case of marriage and I think there are compelling pastoral reasons to discourage the idea, at least in our society. In the U.S. and other European and North American countries, too many couples separate the purpose of marriage from the attendant wedding festivities.

For example, those who are to be married oftentimes throw all their efforts into creating a festival to celebrate themselves and their feelings for each other, with little regard to the purpose of the sacrament of matrimony. Those already married often want in on this action and have hit upon a "renewal of vows" as a means of also creating a festival to celebrate themselves and their feelings for each other. Certainly this isn't the case with every couple who wants to renew their vows (I've witnessed some very subdued rituals incorporated into a daily or Sunday Mass), but the trend is widespread enough for legitimate concern about motivation.

4.) This is why I think it is more appropriate for clergy to discourage any kind of elaborate ceremony for already-married couples and to encourage instead a private nuptial blessing and/or that the couple seek a papal blessing, which I mentioned as possible alternatives in my third paragraph.

Michelle Arnold
Catholic Answers


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