The Rite of Marriage

Author: Archbishop Annibale Bugnini


Archbishop Annibale Bugnini


The restored Rite of Marriage has been officially published. The Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, by which it is published in the name of the Holy Father, is dated March 19th, the feast of St.Joseph, spouse of the most pure Virgin Mary, head of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Under his patronage the Universal Church willbe spiritually enriched and further sanctified through this Rite which has been so eagerly awaited and which is certain to bring an abundance of light and grace to all new Christian families. (Ordo celebrandi Matrimonium. Editio typica. Vatican City, Typis Pol. Vaticanis, 1969. In 8, 40 pp.).

History of the Decree

Like every Rite that is prepared by the "Consilium", the "the Rite of Marriage" had an involved and difficult journey. The Study Group who drew it up was composed of eight members, of five nationalities. Father Pierre Gy, Director of the Liturgical Institute of Pariswas Relator and the secretary was Father Secundo Mazzarello.

Many other "experts" were called upon to deal with particular problems, as, for instance, His Excellency, Mons. Carlo Colombo, titular Bishop of Vittoriana and President of the"Giuseppe Toniolo" Institute, for theological problems; the Right Rev. Mons. Gianfrancesco Arrighi, undersecretary of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, for Ecumenical problems; Father Saverio Seumois of the White Fathers and professor of the Catechetical Institute of Butaré (Rwanda), for problems of a missionary nature. This is not counting the many scholars who examined it officially in the relevant Congregations of the Roman Curia.

The Rite of Marriage first began to be studied at the beginning of 1966. In May of that year the Relator presented the first schema at the meeting of Relators of the Study Groups of the "Consilium", which showed the prospective problems of the different parts of the Rite. On four other occasions, up to October, 1968, the schema passed before the Relators and then finally before it plenary session of the "Consilium".

Before being edited and finally approved, the rite had to undergo a period of trial in different parishes, carefully chosen, in different parts of the world and at different social levels, and on a more grandiose scale, at the Eucharistic Congress at Bogotà. The marriage celebrated there by 24 couples, on Saturday, August 23rd, in the impressive setting of the Templete, with the enthusiastic participation of an immense congregation honoured by the presence of the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, fully demonstrated the validity of the rite in its new form and structure. This rite, almost unchanged, has today been extended to the Universal Church.

In what way does this new rite differ from the old? In what way is it enriched and completed? In what way is it more meaningful?

The Conciliar Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy gave many and valuable indications regarding the Rite of Marriage. "The marriage rite now found in the Roman Ritual is to be revised and enriched in a way which more clearly expresses the grace of the sacrament and the duties of the spouses. If certain localities traditionally use other praiseworthy customs and ceremonies when celebrating the sacrament of matrimony, this sacred Synod earnestly desires that these by all means be retained. Moreover, the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority, mentioned in Article 22, 2, of this Constitution is freeto draw up its own rite suited to the usages of place and people, according to the provision of Article 63. But the rite is always to honour the requirement that the priest assisting at the marriage must ask for and obtain the consent of the contracting parties." (n. 77).

The Instruction of 1964 for the implementation of the Liturgical Constitution recommended that marriage be celebrated during Mass and gave appropriate norms both for this and for the celebration of marriage outside of Mass, but, above all, for this latter possibility, the Instruction makes provision for inserting the marriage ceremony in an appropriate celebration of the Word of God, introduced by an admonition of the celebrant, developed by the homily, and laid down that it must always conclude with a blessing of the bride, which before could only be given during the Mass (nn. 70-75).

The Rite has been revised and drawn up in the light of and as all organic development of these norms and has been enriched thereby.

The booklet is composed of a general introduction (Praenotanda); three chapters in which are considered the three forms of celebration of marriage (during Mass, outside of Mass and marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person); and an Appendix, in which the different texts and interchangeable formulae are given.

The Praenotanda recall especially the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on Marriage, in condensed form. They are the basis of catechesis on this sacrament. They give directives on the principal pastoral difficulties which arise, particularly, for the baptized who no longer believe or when marriage is contracted between a Catholic and an unbaptized person,

A special paragraph follows on the preparation of particular Rituals. As we know, the Council of Trent gave great liberty to those preparing the Rite of this sacrament with regard to usages and customs, both local and national. This freedom and adaptability has been endorsed by the Second Vatican Council and is now introduced into the Ritual: the formulae of the Roman Ritual may be adapted or also completed, including the questioning as to Consent beforehand, and the actual words of consent themselves. One thing only must remain intact, namely, that the priest ask and receive the consent of the contracting parties.

Other particulars: after the "traditio" (exchange) of the rings, where this is customary, the coronation or "velatio" of the bride may take place. Where, on the contrary, there is a handshake or where the putting on of the ring is against local custom, the Conference of Bishops may determine whether these rites should be omitted or replaced by others.

Usage, customs and ways of celebrating marriage in the new areas of Christianity will be "sympathetically" examined, because, excluding error and superstition these also can be taken into the Liturgy.

The Rite of Marriage during Mass

The priest call meet the couple at the church door or before the altar, and address them with words suited to the occasion and of christian joy. It is a courteous and human way of introducing their relatives and friends and of creating an atmosphere of understanding and spirituality.

Then follows the liturgy of the word. The booklet gives a wide choice of readings, to be used according to the training, culture or general standards of the spouses and the other participants. With the aid of these a parish priest in a very big parish, who must often perform the rite, need not always repeat the same texts. Normally there will be three readings which in particular cases may be reduced to two. After the Gospel the priest gives the homily in which he illustrates the mystery of Christian Marriage, the dignity of conjugal love, the grace of the sacrament and the duties and responsibilities of those who are married.

Then the priest with appropriate words invites the spouses to express their consent before the Church and the community present. A short interrogation is then made so that they may publicly attest that they are freely entering marriage and are willingly undertaking its responsibilities.

The priest then invites them to give their consent. Instead of a simple "yes" in reply to the question of the celebrant demanded by the old ritual, a more complete formula is preferred; a formula that has been in use from medieval times in English speaking countries, namely, "I, N. take you, N. as my lawful wife (husband), and I promise you fidelity in riches and in poverty, in sickness and in health, in loving you and honouring you for all the days of my life".

The priest then invokes the blessing of God on their consent, saying: "May the Lord ratify the consent given by you before the whole Church, and may He be pleased to shower upon you His blessings".

If the spouses have any difficulty in saying so long a formula, the priest may ask them the same thing in the form of questions to which they will solemnly respond: "Yes, I will it."

Then the priest blesses the rings, saying: "May the Lord bless these rings which you are giving to each other as a sign of your love and fidelity".

The bridegroom then puts the ring on the finger of the bride, saying: "Receive this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The bride does the same for the bridegroom repeating the same formula.

After the Prayer of the Faithful, suited to the occasion, the Mass continues with the Offertory at which the spouses may bring the offerings to the altar. The Preface is proper and also the HancIgitur of the Roman Canon.

Having said the Our Father the celebrant solemnly blesses the spouses. There are three formulae for this in the Rite: the traditional one, suitably changed and adapted so that the blessing is invoked on both the Spouses; and two new, shorter formulae which are to be found in nn. 120, 121. All three formulae contain an initial exhortation followed by a brief silent pause during which all present recollect themselves in prayer, and then follows the priest's prayer of blessing.

Another peculiarity of the Eucharist Liturgy is the sign of peace. The rubric is explained this way; "when the Pax Domini is said the Spouses and all present may express in some way their mutual charity". The Spouses may also receive Holy Communion under both species. This is one of the cases contemplated in the Instruction "Eucharisticum Mysterium" (n. 32, 2) and is here happily implemented.

Finally, another innovation: the final blessing, before the usual formula, is composed of a threefold wish which is at the same time a fervent prayer:

"May God, Eternal Father, keep you one in mutual love, so that the peace of Christ may reside with you and remain always in your home. Amen".

"So that you may be blessed with children, and find consolation among your friends, and that you may be at peace with all. Amen".

"Be witnesses of God's love in the world. Be good and generous to the poor and afflicted so that one day they may welcome you in Heaven. Amen".

"And may Almighty God bless all you who are united here, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen".

There are two other formulae similarto this given in the Appendix, because, here too, variety can be a stimulus to greater piety.

Celebration of Marriage outside Mass

The first part of this rite follows closely the one already described: the reception of the spouses, the liturgy of the Word and the marriage rite. At the end of the prayer of the faithful, the priest imparts the solemn blessing of the spouses. Then follows the Our Father and the final blessing. If the contracting parties wish to receive Holy Communion, they may do so after the Our Father is said and then remain for a short time in silent recollection or a suitable hymn may be sung. Then, if only the spouses have received Holy Communion, the celebrant recites the prayer "Mensae tuae participes effecti" or "Deus qui nobis" and the rite Concludes in the usual way.

Marriage Between a Catholic and an Unbaptized Person

The rite also takes place in Church, or in a convenient place. The reception ceremony is not obligatory but neither is it to be excluded. The liturgy of' the Word follows in the usual way. The rite takes account of the particular circumstances of the spouses avoiding expressions that are not suited and applicable to both.

There is also a special solemn blessing of the spouses which may be replaced by a prayer by the officiating priest. The ceremony may conclude with the Our Father and the blessing which precedes the dismissal

Anthology of Eucharistic Prayers

The last chapter offers an abundant collection of "interchangeable texts". There are especially biblical readings for varying the liturgy of the Word. The different language rituals willhelp to constitute a valuable anthology which will, no doubt, continue to grow as priests encourage those who are celebrating marriage to make their own choice of readings and texts of the Mass and thereby foster a greater use, interest in and love of the Sacred Books.

As well as the list of readings from the Old and New Testaments, chapter four contains four "collects", two blessings of rings, three prayers "over the offerings", three Prefaces, a proper "Hanc Igitur" (for the Roman Canon), three prayers of blessing over the spouses, three prayers after Communion, three final blessings.

Here we have a true "vademecum" for the celebration of marriage available to priests in their pastoral work who are anxious to make the great event of marriage a moment of graces and blessings, an occasion of spiritual joy and better understanding of the responsibilities of marriage, for the souls in their care. This, too, will help to free the marriage ceremony of those less worthy or profane customs which often lessen and lower its sacredness.

The "vacatio legis", longer than usual, is an invitation to the mixed Commissions and the National Liturgical Commissions to set about preparing immediately in their own language a worthy edition, suitably bound, theologically and literarywise acceptable, so that on July 1st, the clergy may have, at least provisionally, the official edition, while they await the final text from the Conference of Bishops with its fullauthority.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 April 1969, page 7

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