COLORADO SPRINGS. The Catholic Church throughout the English-speaking world began using a revised Order of Celebrating Matrimony (OCM), effective Dec. 31, 2016. There are a few changes — nothing revolutionary — but it brings a great opportunity to look anew at the importance of this institution between a man and a woman, and to deepen our understanding of how it may be lived and supported.
The marriage ritual was revised after the Second Vatican Council and promulgated in 1969, with the first-ever English translation published in 1970. The Latin original was again revised in 1991 and its English translation has now finally been approved for use.
The expanded Introduction provides both a theological and pastoral vision of the vocation of marriage. Two examples may serve as illustrations. First, No. 7 emphasizes the primary importance of baptism as the foundation for life in Christ, upon which marriage is grounded:
Through Baptism, which is the Sacrament of faith, a man and a woman are once and for all incorporated into the covenant of Christ with the Church in such a way that their conjugal community is assumed into Christ’s charity and is enriched by the power of His sacrifice.
This succinct sentence stresses the necessity of faith for the sacrament of marriage, and also paints a beautiful image of the married couple’s union being “assumed into Christ’s charity,” and importantly, being “enriched by the power of His sacrifice.” Two essential components of marriage, then, are charity and sacrifice, but specifically, the charity and sacrifice modeled by Christ.
The second example is from No. 11, which quotes the Church father, Tertullian, in demonstrating the dimensions of a truly ecclesial marriage:
A marriage that is desired, prepared for, celebrated, and lived daily in the light of faith is that which is “joined by the Church, strengthened by a sacrificial offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by Angels, and ratified by the Father. ... How wonderful the bond of the two believers: one in hope, one in vow, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, with no separation of spirit and flesh. Indeed, they are two in one flesh; where there is one flesh, there is also one spirit.” (Tertullian, Ad uxorem, II, VIII: CCL I, 393.)
Every couple should strive to live marriage from beginning to end within the vision of the Church. In doing so, they will be strengthened by both sacred and supernatural means. The quote from Tertullian is a splendid array of such means:
“Joined by the Church” ––› the Sacrament of Matrimony;
“strengthened by a sacrificial offering” ––› the Eucharistic offering;
“sealed by a blessing” ––› the Nuptial blessing;
“announced by Angels” ––› the incarnation was thus announced, which is the marriage of God with the flesh;
“ratified by the Father” ––› in the resurrection, the Father ratified the sacrificial love of Christ for the Church, which is the source of the love between bridegroom and bride.
Married couples can pray to their guardian angels to watch over their marital union; and they should go regularly to holy Mass to offer the sacrifice of their marital love on the altar, precisely the place where the sacrifice of Christ is represented in every Mass. The new Introduction provides a great foundation for developing the marital spirituality that is a necessary task for every couple.
The expanded set of Scripture readings is a reminder that the Word of God must have a positive role in rooting the married relationship in more than mere earthly wisdom. It should be grounded in the wisdom of God.
In the Introductory Rites, one of the more complicated parts is often the entrance procession. The revised ritual leaves the details of how this procession will take place to the judgment of the pastor, but the very fact that this procession is part of the ritual says that it, too, belongs to the sacred.
One way to highlight this sacred character is by having a crossbearer lead the procession, as we usually do with Sunday Mass. The cross sets the tone that this is a sacred procession.
While the ritual leaves the order of the procession to the judgment of the pastor (in the context of local custom), two suggestions (with minor variations) are offered here for consideration:
1. The cross, ministers and celebrant go first, followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen together, followed by the groom accompanied by his parents and then the bride accompanied by her parents (or the bride with her father alone). 2. After the parents are seated, the cross, ministers and celebrant go first, followed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen together, followed by the groom and then the bride (or the bride and groom together).
It is fitting that the assembly should stand for the entire procession (and not just for the bride).
One development in the revised rite that was unclear before is the necessity of singing an entrance chant or song. This may be done during the entrance procession, but given that much of the assembly desires to watch the wedding party process in, it seems better to use processional music for the procession (unless there is a very simple refrain used only for the assembly).
Once the wedding party have reached their places, then a hymn could be sung, or a simple refrain or antiphon sung while the celebrant reverences the altar and goes to his chair. This is another way that the rite seeks to emphasize the ecclesial and sacred character of sacramental weddings. All the music chosen for the church should be sacred music. Favorite ballads or love songs should be saved for the reception afterward.
The Gloria (“Glory to God in the highest”) is normal for Sundays and feasts. Now the Church prescribes the Gloria for all the sacraments, effectively raising a wedding Mass to the level of a feast. The expanded entrance procession takes the place of the Penitential Act, which normally precedes the Gloria, but the new ritual includes an introductory address by the celebrant to welcome the couple and to introduce the Gloria, a song of joyful thanksgiving and praise for God’s great mercy and love.
MARRIAGE RITE— RECEPTION OF CONSENT
There are three main additions in the marriage rite itself. Following the exchange of consent (vows) between the bride and groom, the celebrant has a formula called the “Reception of Consent.” A second (new) formula is now provided with beautiful biblical resonances:
May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God Who joined together our first parents in paradise, strengthen and bless in Christ the consent you have declared before the Church, so that what God joins together, no one may put asunder.
The second main addition is part of this “Reception of Consent.” First, the celebrant receives the consent (vows) of the couple with a formula. Then, the assembly participates in receiving the couple’s consent with a response of their own. This is a dialogue with the celebrant and can take several forms. It may be a spoken dialogue:
Celebrant: Let us bless the Lord. Assembly: Thanks be to God.
It may also be sung and may use different words, e.g., in response to “Let us bless the Lord” the assembly may sing an Alleluia! or repeat the refrain from the Responsorial Psalm, etc. It is an important and powerful moment calling for all those present to be part of receiving their consent, of taking responsibility for supporting their marriage, for the rest of their lives.
MARRIAGE RITE—HYMN OR CANTICLE OF PRAISE
Following the blessing and giving of rings, the third main addition may take place. This is the option for the entire assembly to sing a hymn or canticle of praise in response to the new marital union. No sung hymn or canticle is prescribed. Suggestions could include:
Mary’s Magnificat (“My soul proclaims the glory of the Lord”)
Te Deum (e.g., “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”)
This is the Day the Lord Has Made
While this is not required, it is a great way to conclude the climactic moment in the marriage rite (and certainly more fitting than the secular custom of the unity candle, which has never been part of the official rite).
There are many other improvements that will be heard with the new translation. One minor example is that both in the introduction as Mass begins, and the introduction before the exchange of consent, the celebrant says that the couple have come into the “house of the Church.”
The expression is not common, and here emphasizes that the couple are preparing to become the domestic Church and to form their own house, where they will live the Gospel.
I hope and pray that both priests and laity will be open to the full and sacred vision that the Church is trying to teach us in this revised Order for Celebrating Matrimony.
May the example of love, fidelity, chastity, perseverance, and commitment shown to us by the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph inspire and strengthen all Christian couples in the lifelong partnership of covenant love that is Holy Matrimony.
14 Suggestions for planning a wedding in the Catholic Church
1. The engaged couple should contact the priest and parish at least six months prior to their desired wedding date.
2. Weddings during the Sunday Mass are legitimate and encouraged (cf. OCM Introduction No. 28).
3. Regarding the selection of chants, No. 30 of the Introduction specifies that the music (sung and instrumental) “should be appropriate and should express the faith of the Church, with attention paid to the importance of the Responsorial Psalm within the Liturgy of the Word.”
4. An entrance chant (hymn, song, refrain) is prescribed; this may take place after the procession.
5. All music in the church building should be sacred music, including preludes; no ballads, pop, country, etc.
6. The entrance procession should, if possible, include a crossbearer to help set a sacred tone for the ceremony.
7. The entrance procession should never include children being pulled in a wagon; if a child is not old enough to walk unassisted, they are not old enough for the procession.
8. For the entrance procession, the assembly should either stand when the celebrant and ministers enter and remain standing for the wedding party, or remain seated until all ministers and wedding party have processed in, and then stand for the entrance chant.
9. The processional music should be the same for everyone in the procession. There should be no change of music for the bride.
10. The following are good options for the order of the procession: after seating of any grandparents/parents, the ministers process in, then the wedding party; then: a. bride and groom together; or b. groom with parents; bride with parents; or c. groom, then bride (with father).
11. The bride and groom should stand, sit and kneel together with the assembly.
12. The couple should be encouraged to see the acclamation after the Reception of Consent, and the option of a hymn or canticle of praise after the blessing and giving of rings is now taking the place of the “unity candle.” If they insist on having a unity candle, it should be encouraged to be used as part of the grace before the meal at the reception after the wedding.
13. There may not be a “song of peace” as part of the Sign of Peace and before the Lamb of God.
14. If the couple desire to take flowers to Mary, this may be done either after the distribution of Holy Communion (understood as the meditation hymn after Communion), or after the Prayer after Communion, while all remain standing.