Marriage and the Laws of the Church
The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son.--MATT. xxii. 2.
The parable of today's Gospel shows us that from ancient times marriages have been attended by the observance of great festivities and numerous ceremonial customs. And not only in the parables of our Lord, but in many other passages of Holy Scripture, as well as profane writers, are we told of these nuptial observances and of the sanctity in which they were held by all peoples. Hence we can understand the action of the king who, rather than forego the customary wedding banquet, called in all sorts of persons to be his guests. Likewise we understand the king's indignation at the sight in his banquet hall of one who had violated the proprieties by appearing in a dress unsuited to the occasion.Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II
If we should be inclined to think the king in today's parable over-exacting and too severe in matters of mere form and custom, let us reflect that in our own times there is hardly less insistence on similar points of social usage and etiquette, and that many people seem to think, when contracting marriage, their most serious duties are to issue invitations, have their gowns selected and cut according to the latest decree of fashion, and provide a sumptuous banquet for their guests. While it is perfectly right and laudable to observe within the bounds of moderation the laws that govern polite society, it is not less, but rather more important that the faithful should be zealous for the observance of the laws of the Church which safeguard the sacred character of marriage. Let us therefore briefly consider what the Church requires of us in this matter; for the Church being the custodian of the Sacraments has the power and the right to make laws concerning them which oblige in conscience and before God.
What the Church requires before marriage is contracted.
1. The parties to be married should first go to the pastor of the parish in which they reside and make known their intention of contracting marriage. If both do not reside in the same parish, they should go to the bride's pastor who, according to law, has the first right to officiate at the marriage. This visit to the priest should be made several weeks before the date set for the marriage.
2. When calling on the pastor the parties should not fail to bring with them certificates of their Baptism, or should be able in some way to show that they have been baptized.
3. Even though the parties have been baptized there may be other reasons that would impede their marriage according to the law of the Church. To discover whether or not any impediments exist, and to remove them, if possible, is the purpose of this visit to the priest.
4. The nullifying impediments of marriage are:
(Click Here) (a) lack of proper age;
(Click Here) (b) certain physical defects;
(Click Here) (c) the bond of a previous marriage;
Exceptions to this are:(Click Here) (d) disparity of worship;
1.) the Pauline Privilege,
2.) the dissolution of a non-consummated marriage by solemn profession in a religious Order, or by Papal dispensation;
(Click Here) (e) Holy Orders;
(Click Here) (f) solemn vows;
(Click Here) (g) abduction;
(Click Here) (h) crime;
(Click Here) (i) blood relationship to all in the direct line, and to the third degree in the collateral line;
(Click Here) (j) affinity or relationship through marriage to all in the direct line, and to the second degree in the collateral line;
(Click Here) (k) public decorum;
(Click Here) (l) spiritual relationship, which exists between a baptized person and the one who baptized him or stood for him in Baptism;
(Click Here) (m) legal adoption; wherever it is an impediment under the civil law.
5. Prohibitive Impediments--besides the above mentioned impediments there are certain ones which, though they do not nullify marriage, yet render it unlawful, namely,
(Click Here) (a) certain simple vows;
(Click Here) (b) legal adoption whenever it is a prohibitory impediment under the civil law;
(Click Here) (c) mixed marriages. The Church also forbids marriage with fallen-away Catholics, public sinners, excommunicated persons, etc.
6. Mixed marriages are allowed by the Church only for weighty reasons, and when sufficient safeguards are given in behalf of the Catholic party and the religion of the children.
7. Before marriage can be celebrated the Church law requires that the banns be published, unless for a good reason they are dispensed with by the Bishop.
8. Impediments to marriage that have been established by the Church can also be dispensed by the same authority.
9. Before marriage the parties should be instructed in the duties of the married state, and should go to confession.
1. In order that a marriage may be valid it is necessary, (a) that it be contracted in the presence of the parish priest of the place, or of another authorized priest, and of two witnesses; (b) that there exist no substantial error, force, or grave fear to nullify the consent given by the parties.
2. The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should contract marriage not at night, but at a nuptial Mass, and that they receive Holy Communion and the nuptial blessing. If the nuptial blessing is not received at the time of marriage, it should be received later.
3. Marriage can be celebrated at any time during the year, but the nuptial Mass and blessing are not allowed during Lent and Advent, without the special permission of the Bishop. Marriage, solemnly celebrated, is forbidden in these times because they should be devoted to penance or else to a joy purly spiritual.
1. Marriage is not merely a civil contract and occasion of social rejoicing, but is a Sacrament; and as such it should be celebrated in a manner befitting its sacred character. Especially out of place are unbecoming amusements and dissipations.
2. In order to obtain the blessings of married life the state of matrimony should be entered into with devout sentiments and feelings of respect and reverence for the Church's laws concerning it (i.e. ).
The Formalities of Marriage
Rites Observed in the Administration of Marriage
Having explained these matters (the duties of married people), the pastor will next proceed to instruct his people in the rites to be observed in the administration of marriage. There is no need, however, that we dwell on these questions here. The Council of Trent has laid down fully and accurately what must be chiefly observed; and this decree will not be unknown to the pastor. It will suffice, then, to admonish him to study to make himself acquainted, from the doctrine of the Council, with what regards this subject, and to explain it carefully to the faithful.(1)Clandestinity
But above all, lest young persons, whose period of life is marked by extreme indiscretion, should be deceived by a merely nominal marriage and rush into hasty engagements, the result of criminal passion, the pastor cannot too frequently remind them that there can be no true and valid marriage unless it be contracted in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest commissioned by him or by the Ordinary, and that of a certain number of witnesses.The Impediments of Marriage
The impediments of marriage are also to be explained, a subject so minutely and accurately treated by many grave and learned writers on the virtues and vices, as to render it an easy task for the pastor to draw upon their labors, particularly as he has occasion to have such works continually in his hands. The instructions, therefore, which such books contain, and also the decrees of the Council with regard to the impediments arising from "spiritual affinity," from "the justice of public honesty," and from "fornication," the pastor will peruse with attention and expound with care.The Dispositions with which the
Sacrament of Marriage is to be Approached
The faithful may hencelearn the dispositions with which they should approach the Sacrament of Marriage. They should consider that they are about to enter upon a work that is not human but divine. The example of the Fathers of the Old Law, who esteemed marriage as a most holy and religious rite, although it had not then been raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, shows the singular purity of soul and sentiments of piety with which Christians should approach marriage.Consent of Parents
Among other things, the pastor should exhort children that they owe as a tribute of respect to their parents, or to those under whose guardianship and authority they are placed, not to engage in marriage without their knowledge, still less in defiance of their express wishes. In the Old Law children were always given in marriage by their parents; and that the will of the parent is always to have very great influence on the choice of the child, is clear from these words of the Apostle: "He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better."(2)The Use of Marriage
Finally, the use of marriage is a subject which the pastor will approach with becoming delicacy, avoiding the use of any expression that may be unfit to meet the ears of the faithful, that may be calculated to offend the piety of some, or excite the laughter of others. "The words of the Lord are chaste words;" (3) and the teachers of a Christian people should make use of no language that is not characterized by singular gravity, and that does not breathe purity of soul. Two lessons of instruction are, then, to be specially insisted upon.The Marriage Laws of the Church
The first is that marriage is not to be sought from motives of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits, which, as we have already shown, are fixed by God. The faithful should be mindful of the exhortation of the Apostle: "They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not."(4) The words of St. Jerome are also worthy of attention: "The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adultress." (5)
But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. This religious continence, according to the pious injunction of our predecessors in the faith, is particularly to be observed for at least three days previous to Communion, and oftener during the solemn and penitential season of Lent.
Thus will the faithful experience the blessings of the holy state of marriage by a constantly increasing accumulation of divine grace; and living in the pursuit and practice of piety, they will not only spend this mortal life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope, "which confoundeth not,"(6) of arriving one day, through the divine goodness, at the fruition of that life which is eternal.(7)
by the Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., 1921
The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who made a marriage for his son.--MATT. xxii. 2.
The Sublime Character of Marriage
As soon as the Lord God had finished the work of creating this world and had fitted it out with most beautiful and useful creatures. He called mankind into existence to give over to them this earth like a well-furnished house which a kind father has prepared for his beloved child. God Who created the first man and woman and endowed them with a soul made after the likeness of His own Divine Spirit loved these human beings with the affection of a most tender father. He Himself introduced Eve to Adam and joined them in that inseparable union of the marriage bond which fuses two lives into one inseparable and intimate companionship for the purpose of raising children who are destined to become children of God.I. Take God into Counsel
Parenthood, so sublime and so divine in its purpose, proves the great sanctity of the marriage tie. For this reason God Himself established the first two safeguards of marriage, its unity and its indissolubility: Unity in contradistinction to polygamy, and indissolubility in opposition to divorce. Though in the course of ages these principles had come to be almost forgotten in the world, Christ the Saviour came and restored marriage to its primitive sanctity, and raised the marriage contract of Christians to the dignity of a Sacrament.
If the sacred state of marriage is to be entered into in a worthy manner, the people who intend to get married must (1) take God into counsel; (2) invite Jesus to their marriage; (3) make the sacred contract according to the laws of the Church.
1. Young men and young ladies should, before they ever keep company, pray to God for guidance that they may be enlightened by Him so that they may not seek sensual satisfaction and pleasure in marriage without regard to God's law and the purpose for which God sanctioned the marriage state; that they may not be misled by the world and worldly motives in the choice of a partner. The world regards only the exterior appearance of beauty, or wealth, or social standing, or whatever other purely human considerations there may be. Young people must pray, and pray fervently and perseveringly, that they may not keep company with anyone whose character and conduct is such that he or she may be an occasion of grievous sin to them. A life of sin would be a horrible preparation for the sacred state of marriage.II. Jesus must be at the Marriage, if it is to be a Happy One
2. Though youth is not inclined by nature to take life seriously, it would be a great mistake to excuse young people who are preparing for marriage from the grave obligation of considering well what they are about to do. Christian marriage is an important state, first because the Christian family has for its purpose to raise children and to educate them in such manner that they may be a credit both to human society and to the Church. Moreover, if the foundation and the government of a nation or State is a difficult problem, the right ordering of a family is also difficult and important; for the family lies at the very base of a State; it is the unit from which both Church and State are formed. Society as a whole will be like its units.
3. The essential duties of married life require that God be taken into counsel before marriage; for the faithful and constant fulfillment of these duties is above human strength. The first and most obvious obligation of living together in a life-long companionship of a most intimate character demands that their qualities of heart and soul be the very best. It is all important that both parties do their utmost to be truly united in the spirit of faith and religion; that neither party live for self, but for the other, in a holy unselfishness which is possible only through the grace of God.
4. Again, to overcome the temptations and bear the trials of married life. God must be taken into counsel. There is the infidel world tempting to race-suicide and to pleasure, regardless of the very purpose of marriage, so that this sacred state is used only as a means to hide sin. There is the tempter to unfaithfulness in spite of the solemn promise which the parties made in the name of God when they pledged themselves to each other. The daily history of crime proves only too plainly that there is no other safeguard against sin than God's grace and that the forbidden fruit offers a strong temptation to the heart of poor mortals. There are trials of sickness and misfortune, there are many sources of discord and dissatisfaction which no human being will at all times bear as God wants us to bear them, unless His grace and His strength be with us. There are the many sacrifices that the raising and proper care and education of the children demand. Here again God's help is needed.
All young people who think of marriage should heed the solemn warning which God gives in the book of Tobias (vi. 16, 17) : "Hear me and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and the mule, which have not understanding, over them the-devil hath power."
1. In a pure conscience. The Apostle, St. Paul (l Cor. iii. 17) says: "The temple of God is holy, which you are." And again: "Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost who is in you, whom you have from God; and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body" (i Cor. vi. 19). Again the same Apostle (Heb. xiii. 4) says: "Marriage is honorable in all." Jesus who deigned to be present at the marriage of Cana in Galilee raised this important institution to the dignity of a Sacrament. Those, therefore, who are about to enter into this sacred state must prepare themselves by purity of heart and mind. They must control and restrain themselves from sin during the time of courtship, for a life of sin previous to marriage would be a weak foundation on which to build one of the most important institutions of life. Young people must carefully avoid being a scandal and a source of sin to each other. They should not meet with sinful intention but should rather encourage each other in the practice of virtue and true Christian restraint. To strengthen themselves against possible weakness, the Church invites them to receive the Sacraments frequently and reverently. Thus they may merit great blessings from God for their future marriage.III. The Laws of the Church must be Observed
2. In a pure intention. The prayer of Tobias should express the mind of all Christian people who intend to marry: "Lord, thou knowest, that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister (she was a relation of Tobias) to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which thy name may be blessed for ever and ever" (Tob. viii. 9). Yes, the Catholic should remember the words of the Holy Bible: "We are children of saints and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God" (Tob. viii. 5). A great deal depends on the purity of intention with which young people enter into marriage, for in the first place God sees the innermost thoughts of our mind, and in the second place, purely worldly motives are neither strong enough nor of sufficient endurance to keep two persons united in a manner demanded by a Christian marriage. Only when both parties are resolved to have God's interests and the welfare of their own souls at heart first and foremost, can Christian marriage be what it ought to be.
3. Purity of body and soul are required, if Christ is to be present at the marriage. How elaborate are the worldly preparations in many marriages. Clothes and finery and all other worldly affairs are thought of and prepared a long time before the marriage. There is no objection to making this great day of one's life a solemn occasion; but while the outward preparations are made with great care, should not the interior preparation of heart and soul receive still more attention? Guests are invited; but would it not be sad if the greatest of all guests and the only one whose presence is essential to true happiness were neglected or thought of only at the last minute?
The immediate preparation for marriage consists in a good confession the day before the marriage and in a worthy Holy Communion on the day itself. Yes, the Christian partners to a marriage are first to be united through Christ in a spiritual union, which is to be the basis for the union brought about by the sacred contract of marriage. Christian marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ with His Church; and in consequence of this most sacred character of marriage the Christian couple ought to have the greatest possible respect for the duties and responsibilities of the sacred state.
Let these thoughts be an inspiration to a devout understanding of the holiness of this union. Besides proper regard for the sacredness of marriage, it is necessary to know and observe the laws which the Church has made for the protection of this great contract. Chief among these laws are those that refer to the impediments of marriage.
To St. Peter and the other Apostles the Saviour committed His Church, and to them He gave all power in matters that appertain to our spiritual life, which power is the same as the Heavenly Father had given to Him. The Church, therefore, rightfully claims power over the marriage contract of Christians, for it is that very contract which Christ raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, so that the marriage contract of Christians cannot be separated from the Sacrament.1. Impediment of Age
In order that this sacred contract may be entered into in a manner becoming the dignity of the Sacrament, the Church has established certain impediments to marriage. These we shall now consider.
In the first place, the minimum age at which the Church allows young people to contract marriage is the completed fourteenth year for girls and the completed sixteenth year for boys. Before that age the Church does not recognize any marriage. In fact, she does not desire young people to make such an important contract until they are of more mature age and judgment, wherefore she admonishes the pastors of parishes to dissuade them from marrying at an earlier age than that which the good and intelligent people of a country commonly hold to be the proper age. The customs of countries do, of course, vary in this matter.2. Impediments of Relationship by Blood and by Marriage.
Again, the Church does not consider marriage between near blood relations proper, and science confirms the prudence of the judgment of the Church; for it is commonly admitted by men of science that marriage between near relations is often dangerous to the life and health of the offspring. The Church, therefore, rules that the blood relations within three degrees or generations cannot intermarry. When, therefore, two young people have the same grandfather or grandmother (second degree), or the same great grandfather or great grandmother (third degree), they are debarred from marrying each other. A dispensation is at times granted by the Church for second cousins (third degree), and also for first cousins (second degree), but there must be special reasons, and the nearer the relationship the more urgent the reasons must be. There is no human law which does not admit of exceptions for proportionate good reasons, but exceptions prove the rule.3. Free Consent
Relationship by marriage is considered by the Church as sacred as the tie of blood; hence she does not recognize marriage within the first two degrees with the kindred of a deceased wife's blood relations and vice versa. It is perfectly in harmony with nature that the person marrying into a family enters into a close relation to the blood relations of the family of wife or husband, and it is therefore not becoming that after the death of the married party he marry a near kin of the deceased partner. As the relationship by marriage is not as close as that by blood, the prohibition of the Church extends only to the first and second degree relations, for instance, the sister of the deceased wife (first degree), or a first cousin of the deceased wife (second degree). Also from this impediment a dispensation may be granted by the Church for serious reasons.
Marriage is contracted by the legitimately manifested consent of two parties who are qualified by law to enter into such contracts: no substitute for this consent can be supplied by any human power. The matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which each party gives and accepts the perpetual and exclusive right to the body for the performance of actions that of their nature pertain to the procreation of children (Canon 1081). The consent must be a free act of the will, and whereas an act of the will as such is internal and invisible, it must be manifested by such external signs (either words or actions [ex. marrital vows or nodding the head in affirmation]) as are commonly considered sufficient to express one's will.4. Mixed Marriages, Marriages with the Unbaptized
The Church has for several centuries past warned her children in the most solemn words, beseeching them for the sake of their immortal souls, not to marry non-Catholics, whether baptized or unbaptized. The gift of faith and the grace to belong to the true Church of Christ are such great blessings that the person who knows how to value God's gifts fully, realizes the great importance of safeguarding such a treasure, for as the Saviour says: "What does it profit man, if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul."5. Banns. Pastor as Authorized Witness of Marriage
Catholic young people who marry non-Catholics certainly do expose themselves to the danger of losing the faith, for if the non-Catholic is opposed to the practice of religion and to a married life according to God's law as explained by the Church, the Catholic party may be forced either to live against his faith, or else continually to fight for freedom of worship. The question of the Catholic education of the children is beset with even more difficulties. It suffices just to mention these facts, for experience proves that as a general rule marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics are unhappy unions.
If the Church cannot dissuade Catholics from marrying non-Catholics, she will reluctantly give permission for such a marriage, but only under condition that the non-Catholic party gives in writing the solemn promise that he or she will not interfere with the free practice of the faith of the Catholic party and not induce him or her to sin against the sacred obligation of the married state, and that all the children God may give them will be baptized in the Catholic Church and raised as Catholics. This is God's law, not merely a law of the Church, for a Catholic cannot enter into a union in which he is not able to do his duties towards God. There is no dispensation possible from these conditions, and if the non-Catholic does not agree to them, the Church will not have anything to do with that marriage and no Catholic priest will marry such parties. If the unfortunate Catholic prefers human love and human comfort to God's law and gets married outside the Church, he cuts himself off from the Church by his own choice.
Church and State alike consider the married state of such great importance for the well being of human society that all civilized nations forbid free love, and have their laws as to the legal form of this most important of all human contracts. Wherefore, when people inform the pastor of their intention of getting married, the Church demands that the names of the parties intending marriage be announced in church at Holy Mass on three successive Sundays (or holy days of obligation) and Catholic people who hear the announcement are strictly obliged by the law of the Church to inform the pastor, if they know of any legal obstacle to the marriage, for instance, that one party is divorced, or that the parties are blood relations, etc.Conclusion
Finally, after the announcements have been duly made, or a dispensation has been obtained from the Bishop in a special case to omit the announcements, the parties must present themselves with two witnesses (after having obtained the marriage license) to the pastor of the parish where the young lady lives. If there are special reasons why the parties wish to marry in the parish of the young man, they must make the reason known to the pastor, who will decide whether those reasons are sufficient to have the marriage in his parish.
The Church desires very much that the parties should get married at Holy Mass, and that they receive the special marriage blessing, which can be given only at Holy Mass.
If one of the parties is a non-Catholic and the Bishop has given permission for the marriage, the banns are not announced and the marriage ceremony is not to be held in church, but in the pastor's residence.
The assistance of the pastor as the official witness to the marriage contract is of such importance that the Church does not recognize a marriage of Catholics, even though one only is a Catholic, if the pastor or another priest duly authorized did not assist. If, therefore, careless Catholics spurn the law of the Church and get married before a non-Catholic minister or a civil officer, the Church does not recognize the marriage, and the Catholic cuts himself off from the Church. If he again wishes to be admitted to the Sacraments, the marriage must be made over again in the presence of the pastor.
You have now understood the true meaning of a Christian marriage. You know that God must be taken into counsel, for the Saviour says that without Him we can do nothing. It would be presumptions to take upon oneself the important duties of this sacred state without consulting God. It would likewise be wrong not to invite Jesus to the Christian marriage, but He cannot be invited unless the parties prepare themselves in purity of conscience, in purity of intention, and in purity of body and soul long before the marriage, so as to be worthy of the honor of Christ's presence. Think often, when the world and the flesh tempt you, of the words of Christ, that it profits you nothing if you should gain the whole world but suffer the loss of your souls. Finally, the Saviour has given us the Church as our guide in the ways of God. Wherefore, the Catholic who aims to please God will respect the laws of the Church, especially in an affair so important as the sacred contract of marriage. God's blessing is upon those who, with a good and perfect heart, listen to His word and do His will with unswerving loyalty.
The Sacrament of Matrimony
by the Rev. Charles Coppens, S.J., 1921
This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the church,--EPH. v. 32.
By dear brethren: We have treated several times before of the Sacrament of Matrimony, taking each time a different view of this important subject. Today we will consider it in its liturgical aspect; that is, we will study the Church ceremonies which are used both to give validity and add dignity to the celebration of the Sacrament, and to explain to the faithful the full significance of this sacred rite.Banns
The first step taken in our churches in this matter is the proclamation of the banns. That is, the intended marriage is to be announced at high Mass on three successive Sundays or festivals, in the parish churches of both the bridegroom and the bride. All the faithful are thereby commanded to make known to the pastor any impediment they may know of which would be a hindrance to the intended marriage.The Marriage Ceremony
The purpose of the banns is to protect the honor and other interests of the Church and of the faithful. For it would disgrace the Church if one of her pastors would assist at a marriage forbidden by her laws; and it would be a sad misfortune for the two spouses, if, after they have been publicly married, it were then discovered that the contract was invalid, and they would have to separate from each other. Sometimes ill-instructed persons are ashamed of having their banns proclaimed. They should, on the contrary, be proud of it, for it means that the union is an honorable one, to which no objection is known.
We will next explain the marriage ceremony itself. The pastor, or another priest acting in his place, enters the sanctuary wearing a surplice and a white stole, the white color denoting that matrimony is in the eyes of the Church a Joyous celebration. The validity of the contract requires also the presence of two witnesses, and, of course, the bridegroom and the bride should, in all propriety, be attended by their relatives and friends. The priest begins by interrogating each of the contracting parties separately about their consent to the marriage. First he asks the bridegroom: "Wilt thou take the bride here present [mentioning by name], for thy lawful wife, according to the rite of our holy Mother, the Church?" After he has received the answer, "I will," the priest similarly interrogates the bride, "Wilt thou take the bridegroom here present for thy lawful husband, according to the rite of our holy Mother, the Church?" The assent must be expressed by either in the words "I will."The Nuptial Mass
When the deliberate consent of both has thus been publicly declared, the moment has arrived to enter on the solemn compact. The ceremony is very impressive, and clearly significant of the irrevocable binding force of the marital contract. For the priest now bids the bridegroom and the bride to hold each other's right hand, and in this position to pronounce the formula which ancient usage has consecrated to that purpose. First the bridegroom and next the bride pronounces the words: "I take thee for my lawful wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." The words used emphatically express the absolute prohibition of divorce, "till death do us part."
The contract is now completed, and the contract constitute the Sacrament for Christians. The priest proceeds to confirm and bless it, saying, "I join you in Matrimony, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." And, saying this, he makes over the married couple the holy Sign of the Cross.
The Sacrament of Matrimony must be received in the state of grace; to receive it in sin would be a sacrilege. If received in the proper dispositions, it confers on the recipients not only a present increase of holiness, as every Sacrament does, but also for future needs a rich supply of actual graces, which will greatly lighten the burdens of the married state and conduce to the attainment of the purposes of such union, chiefly the mutual help of husband and wife in life's difficulties and the proper raising of a happy family of children.
The next ceremony is the blessing of the nuptial ring. Unlike a bar, which has its two extremities pointing in opposite directions, a ring betokens a close bond of union, and is thus an appropriate emblem of the union of two persons into one. To signify that this union is holy, the priest pronounces over the ring an appointed blessing, saying: "Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who created heaven and earth. Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto thee. The Lord be with you, and with thy spirit. Let us pray. 'Bless, O Lord, this ring, which we bless in Thy name, that she who shall wear it, observing inviolate fidelity to her spouse, may dwell in peace and in Thy will, and may ever live in mutual charity, through Christ our Lord. Amen.'"
Then the priest blesses the ring with holy water in the form of the Cross; and the bridegroom, accepting it from the priest's hand, puts it on the ring-finger of his partner's left hand, saying: "With this ring I thee wed, and I plight unto thee my troth." And the priest, blessing them, adds. "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, confirm, O God, what thou hast worked in our midst, from Thy holy temple, which is in Jerusalem.
"Lord, have mercy on us; Christ, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us." Then he recites the "Our Father," and continues thus: "Save thy servants. Lord, who hope in Thee; send them help from Thy holy place, and from Sion protect them; be to them a tower of strength against the face of the enemy. Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto Thee. The Lord be with you, and with thy spirit. Let us pray. Look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord, upon these Thy servants, and benignly assist the ordinances which Thou hast instituted for the increase of the human race; that those whom Thy will hath united may be preserved by Thy help, through Christ, our Lord."
The sacramental contract is now completed, and copious benedictions have been invoked upon the bridegroom and bride, such as are signified by the sacred ceremonies performed and by the prayers offered to God. But the ritual bids us remark that none of those solemn rites, none of those formal benedictions are to be used at mixed marriages, that is, when one of the parties is not a Catholic; nor are the surplice and stole then to be worn, nor is the marriage to be performed in the church. Such unions are no cause of joy, but of sadness to holy Mother, the Church, because they are a source of grievous evils. She may give a reluctant consent to them to avoid worse consequences, which would follow if her minister were not present at the contract. But she grieves over them, and, to express her mourning, she bids her minister perform merely what is necessary for the validity of the contract, and omit every religious rite.
The next liturgical function of a Catholic marriage, my brethren, is the holy Mass, read or sung for the welfare of the bridegroom and the bride. We read in Holy Scripture that Christ designed to assist in person at the marriage feast of Cana. Would it not be an exceeding honor and happiness if, in His infinite condescension, He would similarly honor by His personal presence the marriages of His followers at the present day? It looks at first sight as if this were an extravagant wish, the very expression of which is presumption on the part of poor sinful man. And yet, my brethren, that is just what our beneficent Lord wishes to do, and holy Church urges us to accept His merciful invitation. For this purpose it is her desire that the performance of the marriage should be followed by the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is to be offered for the welfare of the married couple. During Mass, Christ is as truly present as He was in the midst of the guests at the marriage feast of Cana. As there He changed the water into wine, so here, on this occasion. He transforms the natural love of two human hearts into the supernatural charity of the children of God. It is the ardent wish of holy Church that the Catholic marriage should be followed by the holy Sacrifice of the Mass; hence, I wish next to explain what is peculiar to this celebration.Conclusion
The solemnization of Matrimony properly consists in the nuptial benediction which is given, and can only be given, during the Mass specially appointed for this purpose, and which is called in the missal "the Mass for Bridegroom and Bride." The Church is very desirous that all the married faithful should receive this nuptial benediction; so that, if any did not receive it on the day of their marriage, she urges them to do so on some later day. The only exception is the case of a widow who marries again; she cannot receive this nuptial blessing at her new marriage if she received it on a former occasion. But for those who have never yet received the nuptial blessing, it is always possible, provided both parties are alive, to have this Mass read or sung and the nuptial blessing pronounced. During this Mass the bridegroom and bride are kneeling before the altar. The priest, after the usual prayers at the foot of the altar, ascends and goes to the Missal at the Epistle side, where he says the following Introit: "May the Lord of Israel join you together, and may He be with you; and now, O Lord, make them bless Thee more fully. Blessed are they that fear the Lord, that walk in His ways." The Collect is next read or sung: "Graciously hear us, almighty and merciful God, that what is performed by our ministry may be abundantly filled with Thy blessing, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen." The Epistle of the nuptial Mass is taken from the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, verses 22 to 33, in which we find these sublime thoughts: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loves the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. For this cause shall man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great Sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church."
You notice, my brethren, that St. Paul compares the marital union of bridegroom and bride to the union of Christ with His Church; and therefore he says that the husband must love his wife as Christ loved the Church, and sacrificed Himself for it; and as the Church is loving and obedient to Christ, so must the wife be loving and obedient to her husband, who is in place of Christ. See to what exalted dignity this explanation raises the Sacrament of Matrimony.
After the Epistle follows the Gradual, which is so very beautiful. It says: "Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. May the Lord bless thee out of Sion; and mayest thou see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. And mayest thou see thy children's children; peace upon Israel." Later on the secret prayer is said, which is as follows: "Receive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the offering we make for the sacred law of Matrimony; and be Thou the disposer of the work of which Thou art the author."
The Canon is the same as in all other Masses, till the Pater Noster has been said or sung. Then the priest, standing at the Epistle corner of the altar, and turning towards the bridegroom and bride, says over them the following very solemn prayer: "Favorably hear our supplications, O Lord, and graciously protect Thy institution which Thou hast ordained for the propagation of mankind; that the union made by Thy appointment may be preserved by Thy aid. Let us pray. O God, Who by the power of Thy might didst make all things of nothing, and having ordered the beginning of the universe, and made man in the image of God, didst so provide for him the inseparable aid of woman as to give to the body of woman its beginning from the flesh of man, teaching us what it pleased Thee to form from one it should never be lawful to disjoin; O God, Who hast consecrated the conjugal union by so excellent a mystery, as to represent the Sacrament of Christ and the Church by the nuptial contract; O God, by Whom woman is united with man, and that alliance ordained in the beginning is endowed with that blessing which alone was not taken away either by the punishment of original sin, nor by the sentence of the deluge; look down favorably upon this Thy hand-maid, who, being now to be joined in Matrimony, seeks to be defended by Thy protection. May there be upon her a yoke of charity and peace; faithful and chaste may she marry in Christ, and be an imitator of holy women. May she be pleasing to her husband, like Rachel, prudent like Rebecca, long-lived and faithful like Sara. May the author of sin have no share in any of her actions. May she remain constant to the faith and commandments; united to one may she avoid all unlawful connection. May she protect her weakness by the strength of discipline. May she be grave in bashfulness, venerable in modesty, instructed in heavenly doctrine. May she be fruitful in offspring, approved and innocent; and may she arrive at the rest of the blessed in Thy heavenly kingdom; and may they both see their children's children, even to the third and fourth generation, and arrive at their desired old age."
After this very impressive prayer. Mass is continued, and at the usual time holy Communion is given to the married couple, unless they should have received it at an earlier hour or preferred not to communicate on that day. Next the priest prays again, saying: "Behold, thus shall every man be blessed that feareth the Lord; and mayest thou see thy children's children; peace upon Israel. Let us pray. We beseech Thee, almighty God, to accompany the institution of Thy providence with Thy gracious favor; that Thou mayest preserve in lasting peace those whom Thou joinest in lawful union. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Before giving the usual blessing at the end of the Mass, the priest once more turns to the newly married couple and prays: "May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob be with you, and may He fulfill His blessings in you; that you may see your children's children to the third and fourth generation, and afterwards life everlasting, by the assistance of our Lord Jesus Christ."
He may then address, if he thinks proper, some further instruction or exhortation to the recipients of the Sacrament. Lastly, he sprinkles them with holy water, and then concludes the Mass as usual.
My dear brethren, a marriage thus blessed and entered into in the proper dispositions of mind and heart cannot fail to have upon it the richest benediction of Him Who is the giver of all good things. If the faithful duly appreciate these advantages, all will be most anxious to have their nuptials followed by the Mass appointed for the bridegroom and the bride.Prayers for those about to be Married
1. Sess. 24. decret. de reformat. matrimon.
2. I Cor. vii. 38
3. Ps. xi. 7.
4. I Cor. vii. 29
5. Lib. I. contra Iovian. in fine.
6. Rom. v. 5.
7. See 33. q. 4. throughout; de consecr. dist. 2. cap. omnis homo; Jerome, in Apol. prolibris contra Iovian. after the middle; in c. 12 Zach. on the words: In de planctus magnus erit fructus thori immaculate.
Other related links to the Sacrament of Matrimony
The primary image of roses and wedding rings is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Mauro Cateb
Music: Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel