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What’s New in the Marriage Rite?

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Starting today, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the dioceses of the United States may begin using a new ritual book for wedding liturgies, entitled The Order of Celebrating Matrimony.  (It becomes mandatory on December 30, the Feast of the Holy Family.)

We are welcoming a text that is truly enriched and expanded, yet still very recognizable to those of us who are familiar with (or participated in) the outgoing Rite of Marriage book, which had been in use for over four decades.

The old Rite of Marriage was translated from the 1969 Latin edition – the first set of revised marriage rites published for the universal Church after the Second Vatican Council.  A second Latin edition was then promulgated in 1990, featuring a number of changes.  However, because the Church in the English-speaking world would spend most of the subsequent two decades employing a new method of liturgical translation and readying the Roman Missal for its 2011 implementation, updating the vernacular edition of the marriage rites got put on the backburner.

Now it’s finally ready.  We actually caught a glimpse of the updates with the Roman Missal, which already contains the beautiful new versions of the Nuptial Blessings and proper Mass prayers.

As a means of acquainting ourselves with the Order of Celebrating Matrimony, here’s a quick look at five significant changes in the new ritual book.

  1. Expanded Introduction

There is a great deal of new theological and pastoral commentary in the introduction, which clocks in at 44 paragraphs versus 18 in the old Rite of Marriage.  These are lovely and important passages, which uphold preparation for the vocation of marriage as a critical opportunity to evangelize in the face of “prevailing attitudes towards marriage and the family” (no. 20).  And in an exhortation that is absolutely imperative for parishes today, we are urged to broadly catechize both children and adults on the meaning of Christian marriage and parenthood, while also providing concrete continued support to those who are already married, so that spouses will be able to preserve their marriage and “daily come to live a holier and fuller family life” (no. 14).

  1. The Gloria Is Prescribed

The ritual book now prescribes that the Gloria be sung at wedding Masses, even on weekdays of Advent and Lent.  This change (already included in the new Roman Missal) effectively elevates the nuptial Mass to the same level as a liturgical Feast.  Although choosing a musical setting can be tricky when the assembly hails from different parishes, this nonetheless provides a tremendous opportunity to encourage singing as a means to foster a heightened sense of solemnity.

  1. Instructions for the Choice of Readings

The new rite specifies at least one scripture reading that “explicitly speaks of marriage” must be chosen for use at weddings, whether inside or outside of Mass.  These readings are now designated by an asterisk from among the usual full range of options for wedding readings (to which has also been added one Old Testament and four New Testament readings).

Moreover, throughout the Easter Season, the eschatological account of the wedding banquet of the Lamb from the Book of Revelation (Rev 19:1,5-9a) should now be used as the first reading instead of an Old Testament option – a fitting change that highlights the paschal context.

  1. Congregational Additions within the Actual Marriage Rites

There are minor modifications in the wording of the questions and the consent.  For instance, there’s a new phrase inserted in the second form of the consent: “…in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part” (this actually aligns the American vows with what’s traditionally been used in England).

However, there are two substantial additions that involve the congregation.  The first comes after the Reception of the Consent, when the following acclamation is prescribed:

Priest/Deacon: “Let us bless the Lord”

All: “Thanks be to God.”

 “Thanks be to God” is an expression of approval and joy that is also prescribed during the rites of ordination and religious profession, thereby establishing a liturgical connection between marriage and other vocations.

The second addition is the option for the assembly to sing “a hymn or canticle of praise” after the Blessing and Giving of Rings.  Heartfelt singing here seems to be an acknowledgment that this moment – after the vows and rings have been exchanged – invites us to pause and celebrate what we have witnessed, rather than proceed unceremoniously to the rest of the liturgy.

  1. Cultural Adaptations

 Two new cultural adaptations have officially been incorporated as options within the English marriage rites.  These customs, popular in Hispanic and Filipino communities, previously appeared in the United States’ 2010 Spanish edition of the Ritual del Matrimonio.

The first is the Blessing and Giving of the Arras (coins), done after the exchange of rings.  The priest or deacon blesses the arras, and then the spouses give them to each other “as a pledge of God’s blessing and a sign of the good gifts we will share.”

The second is the Blessing and Placing of the Lazo or the Veil, which can occur before the Nuptial Blessing.  The lazo is a wedding garland or cord that is used to symbolically bind the couple together, while a veil may also be placed over the bride’s head and the groom’s shoulders.

Both convey the indissoluble union of the husband and wife.

Cultural authenticity would recommend that these options be exercised primarily by communities in which they are traditionally practiced.  Their inclusion here is a recognition of the expanding role of the Spanish-speaking Catholic community in this country.

As we welcome the Order of Celebrating Matrimony, may we heed the words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia (no. 213), encouraging couples “to make the liturgical celebration a profound personal experience” and to appreciate the sacrament as a sign of “the covenantal love and union between the incarnate Son of God and his Church.”

Brian W. MacMichael

Brian W. MacMichael is the director of the Office of Worship in Fort Wayne-South Bend. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame's M.T.S. in liturgical studies.