UNDERSTANDING THE SACRAMENTS:HOLY MATRIMONY
"Those whom God has joined together, let no man pull asunder."
Holy matrimony is the sacrament that unites a Christian man and a Christian woman as husband and wife; they have a special vocation to be married, make a home together and (if God wills) to have children. It is a covenanted communion for life between one man and one woman through which they mutually share their complete selves, promote each other’s fullest welfare and in love beget and raise children. Marriage is the giving of oneself to one’s spouse.
Although in the Old Testament, marriage was not sacred in the sense that we now consider it, yet God ordained marriage when he established it at the climax of creation. Exclusive attachment was prized in the Old Testament, and the description of the ideal wife in the Book of Proverbs shows that she is no mere chattel.
The sacrament of holy matrimony is a public pledge of fidelity, but it is also a great mystery with a hidden reality. And the great mystery of marriage - when a man is joined to his wife, and the two become one - refers to Christ and his Church (Eph 5: 25-32). Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its ‘mystery’ and the meaning God has given it. We read of the creation of man and woman in the image and likeness of God, who is himself love; and in the Book of Revelation we are given a vision of the wedding feast of the Lamb.
The covenant of indissoluble love between a man and a woman in marriage is a sacred sign recalling and drawing upon the undying covenant of the perpetual love between Christ and his Church, and his love for mankind, established in the paschal mystery. Husband and wife are themselves the ministers of this sacrament, so that marriage can be likened to the Church in miniature: a ‘community of love’.
All sacraments have two parts: an outward, sign (something that we can perceive through the senses) that assures us that we receive the inward spiritual grace or the specific help of the particular sacrament.
The outward sign in the sacrament of marriage is the consent of a man and woman to live together as husband and wife. The ring, blessed by the priest, and given in marriage, is a visible sign of their eternal union which only death can part.
The inward graces give that which is needful to make their human love enduring, faithful and fruitful; and as such, a suitable image or symbol of the love between Christ and his Church.
Children are a blessing and purpose of marriage, which affirms the procreative good and the concern for new life. Married love has to be faithful and enduring so that husband and wife are united in a love of such strength and personal concern that they can suitably carry out their duties as parents.
The Rite of Marriage during Mass The priest greets the Bride and Bridegroom at the church door and leads them to the altar. Alternatively, the Bridegroom may be already seated in church, as the Bride arrives, escorted by her father (or other male relative) during the opening hymn. The priest greets the assembled people and says a few words about the theme of the Nuptial mass.
The mass begins in the normal way with the penitential rite and the Gloria, after which the priest invites the whole assembly to pray, beginning with silent prayers for the Bride and Bridegroom.
Rite of Marriage After the Liturgy of the Word and a sermon, the actual Rite of Marriage begins.
Everyone stands, including the Bride and Bridegroom. The priest addresses the couple by their Christian names, reminding them that they have come together in the Church so that God may seal and strengthen their love in the presence of the Church’s minister and the community. They are then asked to state their intentions in the presence of the Church. The priest puts questions to them once only, but each answers separately.
He asks if they freely undertake the obligations of marriage, and to state that there is no legal impediment to their marriage. Are they both ready freely and without reservation to give themselves to each other in marriage?’ First the Bridegroom then the Bride answers: I am They are then asked if they are ready to love and honour each other as man and wife for the rest of their lives, to which they both reply: I am.
Unless the couple are advanced in age, they are asked if they are ready to accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church.
For the civil validity of the marriage, the Bridegroom and the Bride both now solemnly declare that they know of no lawful reason why they should not be joined in matrimony to each other.
Consent The priest now invites the couple to declare their consent before God and his Church. Addressing them by their full names, the priest asks first the Bridegroom and then the Bride if they will take each other as lawful wife and lawful husband, according to the rite of holy Mother the Church. They both in turn answer: I will.
The Bride and Bridegroom join their right hands. In the presence of the assembled people of God, first the Bridegroom and then the Bride, reads or repeats after the priest the most beautiful and binding words of consent in the rite of marriage: I call upon these persons here present to witness (again, for the civil validity of the marriage, these words are necessary) that I, (Bridegroom’s full name) take thee, (Bride’s full name) to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. They separate their hands for a moment and then rejoin them; then the Bride speaks her consent.
Receiving their consent, the priest says: ‘You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’. Everyone responds: Amen.
The Blessing and exchange of rings The priest now blesses the rings, that they may be a sign of the couple’s love and fidelity. Everyone answers: Amen.
The Husband places his wife’s ring on her finger, and calling her by her Christian name, says: ‘take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ If the husband is to receive a ring, the wife says the same words, as she places the ring on his finger.
Bidding Prayers Prayers follow, asking God to bless the newly married couple in the years ahead and to be with them in all the circumstances of their marriage, and asking that graces of the sacrament of matrimony be always active in them, inspiring them when life seems dull and giving strength in times of trial. Prayers are said for the two families that have been united, particularly for the parents of the newly married couple. The priest then commends everyone to Mary, the Mother of God and wife of Joseph the carpenter: all say the Hail Mary.
Silent prayers follow, then the priest prays: ‘Listen, O Lord, to the prayers we offer for (names of the newly married couple), may their love for one another be a never-failing reminder of your own love for us all.’ Liturgy of the Eucharist The Mass now continues as normal; the Bride and Bridegroom may bring the bread and wine to the altar.
The Nuptial Blessing After the Lord’s Prayer, the priest faces the Bride and Bridegroom, and gives the Nuptial Blessing. It is a powerful and loving prayer calling on the grace of God for the newly married pair: Father, you have made the union of man and woman so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage of Christ and his Church.
Look with love upon this woman, your daughter, now joined to her husband in marriage. Give her the grace of love and peace. May she always follow the example of the holy women whose praises are sung in the scriptures.
May her husband put his trust in her and recognise that she is his equal and the heir with him to the life of grace. May he always honour her and love her as Christ loves his bride, the Church.
Father, keep them always true to your commandments. Keep them faithful in marriage and let them be living examples of Christian life. Give them the strength, which comes from the gospel so that they may be witnesses of Christ to others. Bless them with children and help them to be good parents. May they live to see their children’s children. And after a happy old age, grant them fullness of life with the saints in the kingdom of heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
The Mass continues with the Rite of Peace and the Agnus Dei; Holy Communion is then distributed, and the Bride and Bridegroom receive Holy Communion together, for the first time as man and wife.
The Conclusion of the Celebration Before the final blessing, the priest blesses the Bride and Bridegroom: God the eternal Father keep you in love for each other, so that the peace of Christ may stay with you and be always in your home.
These pages have been provided by Margaret Perryman-Delfanne, a catechist and professional artist living in Kent, England.