The Celebration of Matrimony
1. Marriage must be preceded by betrothal, by the publication of the banns, and by the reception of the Sacraments of Penance and of the Altar.
1. Betrothal consists in this: An unmarried man and an unmarried woman, after due reflection, pledge their troth to one another, promising each to marry the other at the time agreed upon between them. Such engagement to be considered valid and produce canonical effects must have been contracted in writing signed by both parties, and by either the parish priest or the Ordinary of the diocese or at least by two witnesses. “Decree Ne Temere.” Still there is neither necessity nor obligation to enter into formal engagement before marriage, though it should be encouraged, especially in cases where hasty alliances are afeared.
Rash and hasty engagements always turn out badly, therefore young people should not take this sTep without mature deliberation. They ought also to ask advice of their parents, or trusted friends. Listen to the exhortations of Holy Scripture: “My son, do thou nothing without counsel, and thou shall not repent what thou hast done” (Ecclus. xxxii. 24). They ought also to make it a subject of prayer, for a prudent wife is properly from the Lord (Prov. xix. 14). A matter so important as the tying of the nuptial knot, which can never be unloosed, must not be done without prayer. In making choice of a partner for life, advantages of wealth, high birth, and the like, ought not to be as much considered as virtue and piety. The fear of God, the love of virtue, are the best marriage portion for Christians; for a man who does not love God will not love his wife. “Let him who desires happiness in the married state,” says St. Augustine, “not choose for his bride one who has a large dowry, but one who is proficient in virtue; let him look to the beauty of the heart, to the nobility of a pure life.” Personal beauty, if not accompanied by interior loveliness, may captivate for a time, but its power is not lasting. Yet no man is to be blamed who has an eye to such attractions in his wife as beauty, wealth, and rank, for these in no wise interfere with the sanctity of the marriage bond. A virtuous man will surely have a partner worthy of him. A good wife is the portion of those that fear God, and is given to a man for his good deeds (Ecclus. xxvi. 3). During the interval between the betrothal and the conclusion of the marriage, the affianced parties ought seriously to reflect upon the step they are about to take, and make the best possible preparation for wedded life. Let them avoid all association on familiar terms with other suitors, and conduct themselves in general with great decorum; the holy Synod exhorts the bridegroom and bride not to live in the same house until they have received the sacerdotal benediction which is given in the Church (Council of Trent, 24, 1). “Happy the young men and maidens,” says St. John Chrysostom, “who come to the nuptial altar with a pure heart! How true will be their mutual love! how sincere their mutual esteem! how firm their mutual friendship! how tenderly will that man cherish his wife who has never bestowed his affections on another!” Those who have formed illicit connections before marriage will quickly tire of one another, their love will change to hatred. Those who are betrothed ought to acknowledge frankly to one another, with- “ out attempt at concealment or misrepresentation, any circumstances which it may be advisable or necessary to make known before the marriage is consummated. Those who resort to deception or falsehood only prepare for themselves annoyance, embitterment, misery in the future. If after betrothal, the conviction is borne in on either of the affianced parties that their union will not be productive of happiness, let the engagement be broken off by mutual consent; moreover one party is warranted in withdrawing from the contract if the other should be found guilty of any grave delinquency, such as breach of promise, treachery, theft, or the like; or if his circumstances should be altered by any unforeseen event of importance, such as the complete loss of property, severe illness, etc.
2. The publication of banns is as follows: The names of the contracting parties between whom the marriage is to be concluded, shall be announced publicly three times in the parish church during the solemnization of Mass on three successive Sundays or festival days (Council of Trent, 24, 1).
The name, calling, birthplace and place of residence of the affianced couple are proclaimed at the publication of their banns. The purpose of the announcement is to ascertain whether any impediment exists to their lawful union, and to announce to the parishioners the intended nuptials, that no scandal may be caused by their cohabitation. The marriage must on no account take place until after the day of the third announcement, but if it is not celebrated within six months of that time, the publication of the banns must be repeated. Only in exceptional cases is the publication of banns to be omitted, and the omission must be sanctioned by the bishop of the diocese.
3. It is also enjoined on persons intending to marry to approach the Sacraments of Penance and of the Altar, because it is indispensable that they should be in a. state of grace, in order to participate in the graces conferred in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
All who are about to marry are exhorted, at least three days Before the consummation of their marriage carefully to confess their sins and receive devoutly the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar (Council of Trent, 24, 1). The confession should be general, embracing the whole life, because it will then have the effect of awakening greater contrition, and of setting the conscience more fully at rest. Our Lord, Who condescended to be present at the marriage at Cana, must also be invited to come to the bridegroom and bride, to sanctify them, and bestow His grace and blessing on their nuptials. Happy those who prepare a fitting dwelling in their heart for the divine Guest! Without presumption on their part, they may hope that He will remain with them until death, and impart to them the gift of His grace in abundant measure. But those who do not approach the sacraments worthily, and enter upon the matrimonial state in mortal sin, deprive themselves of grace, and call down on themselves the curse of God. They who thus act are like warriors going to the fight without armor and without arms.
2. The Church expressly commands that the marriage be concluded in the presence of the priest of the parish, and two witnesses; or the parish priest may authorize another priest to act in his place.
The decree to this effect was issued by the Council of Trent. The marriage ceremony must therefore be a public and an ecclesiastical ceremony. In early times it took place in presence of the bishop. St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, says: “It is right that affianced persons should conclude their nuptials only with the knowledge and sanction of the bishop, that thus their union may be in accordance with the will of God.” “It was God,” says St. Francis of Sales, “Who gave Eve to Adam, and He it is Who must bind the marriage bond.” Those who shall attempt to contract marriage otherwise than in the presence of their parish priest, and in presence of two or three witnesses, consequently not in accordance with the Tridentine decree, form a contract which is null and void (Council of Trent, 24, 1).*
3. Marriages are, as a rule, celebrated in the forenoon, in the house of God, with solemn ceremonies, and Mass is usually said at the time.
Entrance into the state of matrimony is an event of great moment, one which influences the whole life. St. Paul terms matrimony “a great sacrament.” Hence the affianced couple ought to conduct themselves with the utmost reverence, and not hasten out of the church the moment the ceremony is ended, but remain a while kneel ing before the altar to make their thanksgiving. Thus Tertullian declares that the early Christians sealed their marriage contract with prayers, and ratified it with the holy sacrifice. In the missal a special Mass pro sponso et sponsa, is provided. For the celebration of nuptials in secret, in the presence of trusted witnesses only, the episcopal sanction must be obtained, and also for the celebration of marriage in the afternoon.
The ceremonial for the celebration of matrimony is significant of the duties of the married and of the graces in which they participate.
* See note on page 651 (here).
The bride usually comes to the altar wearing a wreath, which is emblematical of the victory she has won in the preservation of her innocence. The bridegroom stands on the right of the altar, the bride upon the left, the witnesses stand behind them. The priest then asks each separately if with their free will and consent they enter into wedlock, and on their answering in the affirmative with an audible voice, they join hands, each holding the right hand of the other (to confirm their promise as by an oath); they pledge their troth, repeating the formula after the priest, in which they each promise separately to have and to hold the other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do part them. The priest then placing his stole round their joined hands (to indicate the indissolubility of the nuptial tie), unites them in the name of the Holy Trinity, and sprinkles them with holy water. This done, the bridegroom places upon the book the ring, which the priest blesses and gives back to the bridegroom, who places it on the thumb of the bride, saying: “In the name of the Father;” then on the second finger, saying: “and of the Son ;” then on the third, saying: “and of the Holy Ghost ;” lastly on the fourth, saying: “Amen.” After this, some prayers are recited over the newly married couple, and if the nuptial benediction is to be given, Mass is said, at which it is usual for them to communicate. In conclusion the solemn benediction is given, in which peace, happiness, long life, are besought for them. On their return home, a wedding-feast is prepared. In this there is nothing blameworthy; we know that Our Lord honored such a festivity with His presence. The newly-married should, however, be careful to spend the day in such a manner as not to lose the blessing which they received in the morning, as they would do were they to profane it by dissipation or sinful diversions.
This article, The Celebration of Matrimony is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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