On November 12, 2013, the U.S. Bishops approved two documents with far reaching effects for the Sacrament of Marriage:
- the English translation of the Order of Celebrating Marriage, Second Typical Edition;
- particular adaptations to the Order of Celebrating Marriage for the United States.
Following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church published a revised Order of Celebrating Marriage (in Latin) in 1969 and the official English translation was published in 1970. In 1991, a revised version of this Order of Marriage was published (in Latin), but the English translation was delayed for various reasons until now. Once Rome approves the work voted on by the U.S. Bishops, then this text will be published for use in the Dioceses of the United States, hopefully in 2014.
So, brides and grooms preparing for weddings in 2014 and later, take note!
What’s New in the Second Edition?
- The Praenotanda or Introduction is greatly expanded, giving a deeper exposition of the Church’s theology of Marriage (44 paragraphs now as opposed to only 18 before);
- the Entrance Rites are expanded and elaborated, with two sample introductory addresses provided for the priest or deacon;
- it is now clarified that the Penitential Act is omitted (something which is usually done whenever there is a solemn procession at the beginning of Mass), and that the Gloria is always included;
- within the Rite of Marriage itself, there is an alternate form provided for the “Reception of Consent” that invokes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and even Adam and Eve;
- following the consent, the whole assembly is invited to respond:
- Celebrant: Let us bless the Lord
- Assembly: Thanks be to God
- whereas a prayer for the couple could already be inserted into Eucharistic Prayer I, similar prayers are now provided for Eucharistic Prayers II and III;
- two sample Prayers of the Faithful are provided;
- the four Nuptial Blessings now include an explicit epiclesis or invocation calling forth the blessing of the Holy Spirit:
- “Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit and pour your love into their hearts, that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant.”
Finally, there are two new rituals provided in the appendices:
- An Order of Blessing an Engaged Couple;
- and an Order of Blessing a Married Couple on the Anniversary of Marriage (this includes sample formulas for a renewal of commitment and a blessing of rings, both for the original rings or for new ones).
What U.S. adaptations are coming?
The U.S. bishops are also requesting from Rome four adaptations to the Order of Celebrating Marriage for use in the United States. One of them is already in the current Rite:
- an alternate form of the exchange of consent.
Three other adaptations are new:
- an option to include a litany of the saints;
- an option to move the Nuptial Blessing from after the Our Father to after the Prayer of the Faithful within the Rite of Marriage;
- and in the appendix, an English translation of these Spanish adaptations:
- the blessing and giving of the arras (coins)
- and the blessing and placing of the lazo or veil.
The Litany of Saints
It is possible to refer to three “vocation” sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Marriage and Holy Orders. Baptism gives us the call to holiness as a redeemed child of God—the fundamental vocation. Marriage and Holy Orders are then two ecclesial sacraments for living out our fundamental vocation to holiness. (According to Catholic theology, although the Sacrament of Marriage does not confer a character as do Baptism and Holy Orders, it is a non-repeatable sacrament. The ritual may be repeated only for someone who has had their first attempt of the sacrament declared null, or whose spouse has died.) One could also include the Rite of Consecration of Virgins and Religious Profession as a vocation sacramental.
Baptism, Holy Orders and the Rite of Consecration of Virgins and Religious Profession all include a Litany of Saints as part of their ritual. In Baptism, the person is preparing to become a member of the Communion of Saints and so the whole Church as the Mystical Body of Christ is invoked in prayer through the litany. In Holy Orders, the one about to be ordained will soon have authority over the Body of Christ and so it is fitting that the whole Body of Christ is invoked in prayer through the litany. In the Rite of Consecration of Virgins, the woman becomes a symbol of the whole Church as bride of Christ, committing herself to a life of celibate chastity for the kingdom of heaven. In the Rite, then, the saints in heaven are invoked to deepen her longing for that heavenly kingdom.
If every other vocation sacrament or sacramental includes a Litany of Saints, it seems reasonable for Marriage to have this option, too. The following reasons may be given why it is good to include the option of a Litany of Saints in the Order of Celebrating Marriage:
- In Marriage, the Body of Christ is united and made fruitful. It seems fitting that the whole Body of Christ be invoked, on behalf of the couple, through a Litany of Saints.
- In U.S. society, Catholic couples often struggle to understand their Marriage as a public, ecclesial reality. Including the option of a Litany of Saints would reinforce this teaching that Marriage belongs to the whole Body of Christ.
- Married couples in the U.S. are surrounded by a culture that is less and less supportive of a lifetime commitment. Invoking the saints who have made and lived lifetime commitments to Christ and, if they were married saints, to their marriage vows, would be a powerful source of spiritual support and inspiration.
- A great number of the Catholic faithful have never heard or prayed a Litany of Saints. Including this option in the Marriage Rite would provide the faithful a great introduction to this important way of praying within the Church.
- It may also be noted that the Italian Rito del Matrimonio and the Mexican Ritual del Matrimonio both include an option for praying a Litany of Saints.
- Finally, although the Eastern Rites do not include a full Litany of Saints in their celebrations of the Marriage Rite, many of them do have prayers that invoke numerous saints (e.g., the Byzantine Rite, the Ethiopian Rite, and the Chaldean Rite).
If the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments approves the Bishops’ vote, then couples could choose to include the litany in their wedding liturgy. It would occur immediately after the homily and preceding the questions before the consent. Its basic structure would be as follows:
- introductory address,
- threefold Kyrie,
- invocation of various, mostly married, saints (and others could be added),
- concluding prayer.
The Nuptial Blessing moved
The Nuptial Blessing is the special blessing the priest or deacon prays over the newly married couple. Currently, it takes place after the Lord’s Prayer (following the Eucharistic Prayer and just prior to Holy Communion). As such, it is a vestige of an ancient tradition that used this part of the Mass for various blessings. The adaptation to relocate the Nuptial Blessing within the Rite of Marriage itself would be given as an option based on pastoral circumstances (though its placement in the ritual text would remain after the Lord’s Prayer). When relocated, the Nuptial Blessing would follow immediately after the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful), as it does in the Celebration of Marriage Outside Mass. The advantage of doing this would be to keep the entire Rite of Marriage together as a seamless whole.
Blessing and Giving of the Arras (Coins)
These adaptations—important for Hispanic and Filipino cultures—have already been approved for use in the United States in Spanish since 2010. Making them available in English translation is intended for occasions when one of the spouses has this cultural background but the other does not speak Spanish, or where both couples have this cultural background, but have become more accustomed to English than Spanish.
The word arras literally means “pledge.” Usually, the arras consists of a small cask containing thirteen gilded or plated coins symbolizing prosperity. The formula which both bride and groom say to each other during the exchange of the arras highlights their commitment to share together all the goods which they will receive during their married life.
Blessing and Placing of the Lazo or Veil
The lazo is a type of lasso or yoke to symbolize the marriage union. Its most usual form is a double-looped rosary; one loop goes over the groom’s shoulders and the other over the bride’s with the cross hanging between them. The two are now tied together for life, so to speak. To use the biblical expression, they become “one flesh.”
The veil seems to have had its origins as a symbol of both a dying to one’s past self (like a funeral pall) and as a protection from danger (like a cloak or protective covering). While the woman wears the veil, it is placed over the shoulder of the man and oftentimes the lazo helps to hold it in place. It is usually placed just before the Nuptial Blessing, since the Nuptial Blessing, symbolized by the veil, is the “protection” which the Church offers the newly married couple.
About the author: Fr. Dan Merz has been a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri since 1998 and currently serves the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship as Associate Director.