Rite of Marriage

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Rite of Marriage

ROME, 17 JUNE 2008 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I am getting married in Sydney on a Saturday in August. My fiancee and I have been preparing for the ceremony by going through the liturgical books with a fine-toothed comb. One thing in particular troubles us. In the Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium (2nd edition, 1991) at No. 53 it says, "omittitur actus paenitentialis" — "the penitential rite is omitted." Is this ordo in force? Why would the Church want to exclude the penitential rite? Does this mean the Gloria is excluded as well? I also have a copy of "The Complete Rite of Marriage" (approved for use in England and Wales) printed by the Catholic Truth Society, copyright 1976, founded on typical editions from 1969. This is a pamphlet plainly designed for use by couples to prepare their wedding, or maybe even by the congregation. The earlier "Complete Rite of Marriage" includes the penitential rites. I have another question. The 1991 ordo suggests some additions to the proposed readings: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Romans 15:1b-3a,5-7,13; Ephesians 4:1-6; Philippians 4:4-9; Hebrews 13:1-4a,5-6b. Is it permissible to use these readings, provided that we use the approved translation? — T.F., Sydney, Australia

A: First of all it is necessary to note that in normal circumstances one may only use the liturgical books approved by the national bishops’ conference. Therefore the preparation for the wedding should be based on whatever rite of marriage is currently in force in Australia. The Latin text, however, may be used everywhere.

Second, the Holy See has historically granted wide leeway to bishops’ conferences to prepare the rites of marriage and funerals according to the particular traditions of each nation. For this reason there are sometimes significant variations among different national rites.

According to the Latin text the penitential rite is omitted. This is not something particular to marriage but is a regular practice in Catholic liturgy whenever there is a special rite at the beginning of Mass. For example, the penitential rite is also omitted when an hour of the Liturgy of the Hours is joined to Mass.

In the case of a wedding this special rite is the one in which the priest greets the future spouses using a set formula. If this omission is not foreseen in the established Australian ritual, then it need not be made.

The Gloria and Creed would be used only if they would normally be used on this day, for example, if the Eucharistic celebration were a Sunday Mass.

Since this wedding will be held on a Saturday and during Ordinary Time, there is no impediment to celebrating the full ritual Mass. This would also be the case if the celebration takes place as a “Sunday” Mass on Saturday evening provided that it is attended primarily by wedding guests.

If, however, the wedding coincides with a regular parish vigil Mass, then the Mass of the corresponding Sunday is celebrated. In this case one reading from the ritual of marriage may replace one of the readings of the day.

If the ritual Mass is to be celebrated along with its readings, then three readings may be chosen, even on a weekday. The extra readings suggested in the 1991 Latin text correspond to the lectionary and may thus be used if an official translation is available.

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Follow-up: Rite of Marriage [7-1-2008]

In the wake of our column on the rite of marriage (June 17), a reader from Malmo, Sweden, asked about a particular situation: "I know some married couples who converted from the Protestant 'church' to the Catholic Church; they had to be reconfirmed because their bishop isn't in line with the apostolic succession. (I've learned in the Catechism that only the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have kept the unbroken line of the apostolic succession.) My question is: What is the reason that they aren't remarried according to Catholic rite as well, since the priest/minister who married them isn't in line with apostolic succession?"

There are two basic reasons. First of all, according to traditional Catholic doctrine, the minister of the sacrament of matrimony is not the priest, deacon or other official witness. Rather, the bride and groom themselves act as ministers in bringing about the sacrament. The official rite of marriage and the presence of an ordained minister as official witness are canonical requirements for the validity of the sacrament under normal circumstances. Canon law, however, foresees some circumstances when a couple can validly marry without the presence of an ordained minister, although never without the presence of some witnesses.

Therefore, in the case at hand the Protestant minister's lack of apostolic succession is irrelevant to the sacramental validity of the wedding.

The second reason is closely related to the first. Catholic teaching is that any valid marriage between baptized Christians is ipso facto a sacramental bond, even among Christians who do not recognize matrimony as being among the seven sacraments. Thus if two validly wed Protestants become Catholic, there is usually no need to perform a new ceremony since the marriage is already fully sacramental.

It is necessary to repeat the wedding only if some circumstances strongly suggest that the original wedding might not be valid. But the marriage normally enjoys the presumption of validity.

For the same reason, when non-baptized spouses, joined in a valid natural marriage, are baptized, there is usually no reason to repeat the wedding, since the very fact of baptism automatically converts their natural bond into a sacramental unity. It is sufficient to note the fact of the sacramental marriage in the margin of the baptismal register.

Another reader asked about scheduling: "A wedding is scheduled to take place in our parish at our usual 6 p.m. Mass. Some few parishioners are upset about this and claim that weddings must be done at a separate Mass. Is this permissible? I should tell you that we are in a semirural community and our pastor, as with so many priests, must take care of two parishes."

There is no rule that weddings must be held in a separate Mass and, indeed, because the sacrament is not just a private event involving two families but a joy for the entire faith community, it is recommended that, on occasion, weddings be held during regular community Masses. The same principle holds for some other sacraments such as infant baptisms.

Although the practice is allowed, there are some restrictions regarding what prayers and readings may be used, depending on the liturgical season and particular feast days. For this reason it is not always possible to use the full ritual Mass and the readings of matrimony if joined to a regular Sunday Mass.

Since such a Mass is a bit longer than usual, the faithful should always be advised ahead of time so that those who need to can make alternative plans.

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