New Marriage Rite Offers Much-Needed Catechesis
The most conspicuous is the change of the name from the “Rite of Marriage” to the “Order of Celebrating Matrimony.” This new name is more in accord with the Latin original, but it also adds something to the title that is not found in the simple word “marriage.” Not only does “matrimony” convey greater solemnity than “marriage,” but the Latin matrimonium also means “the state of being a mother.” This new title, therefore, provides us with a significant opportunity for a much-needed catechesis on the very nature of holy matrimony. In the face of a secular culture that values sexual permissiveness, combined with a rise in single mothers, referring to matrimony instead of marriage highlights the Church’s teaching that motherhood, and the actions which lead to it, finds its proper place in the permanent union between one man and one woman.It has been more than a quarter of a century since the second edition of the Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium was released. In that time, there has not been an English translation — until now. With the English translation also come significant changes.
Another change is found in the introduction, the significance of which is due, not merely to its expanded length — from 18 paragraphs to 44 — but also to the added depth and richness of the theology of the sacrament. In the “Rite of Marriage,” it states that “the bridal couple should be given a review of the fundamentals of Christian doctrine,” including “instruction on the teachings about marriage and family …” In the “Order of Celebrating Matrimony,” that instruction is beautifully expounded in such a way that it serves as both a source for priests in developing homilies and a catechetical aid for the couple to be married. In the new introduction, we find a stronger connection to creation and Genesis 2:21-25. Whereas the old introduction described marriage as arising from its covenantal nature derived from an irrevocable consent, the new introduction stresses that matrimony is a natural institution going back to creation, having “been established by God the Creator, provided with its own proper laws, and endowed with that blessing which alone was not forfeited by punishment of original sin.” It goes on to say that “this sacred bond, therefore, does not depend on human choice, but rather on the Author of Marriage, who ordained it to be endowed with its own goods and ends.” This teaching, written in 1990, is much needed in our day, amidst the attack on holy matrimony from the highest court in our country.
The new introduction goes on to speak of Christ’s raising the natural order of matrimony to a sacrament among the baptized, touching on Jesus’ presence at the Wedding at Cana and his role as Spouse to the Church. Drawing on this spousal imagery of Christ, it moves to the Pauline theology of matrimony found in Ephesians 5. In Ephesians, St. Paul teaches that the indissoluble nature of the sacrament signifies Christ’s own indissoluble union with his Bride, the Church. Because this deep and lasting union between a husband and wife in matrimony points to Christ’s sacrificial love for the Church, Christian spouses should also “strive to nurture and foster their union in equal dignity, mutual giving and the undivided love that flows from the divine font of charity.” In so doing this, the husband and wife will be able to “persevere in good times and in bad, faithful in body and mind, remaining complete strangers to any adultery and divorce.”
While the former introduction brought to the fore the two ends of holy matrimony, the procreation and education of children and the union of the spouses, it is silent on the spiritual benefits of remaining faithful to these matrimonial ends. The new introduction rectifies this lacuna by declaring that, through the embracing and accepting of these ends, the spouses help each other to become holy. The spouses are also exhorted to live out their state of matrimony daily in light of faith, so as to be public witnesses before all. In doing this, they will not only bear witness to the dignity of holy matrimony, but also to the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church, to which it points, and so to the Christian faith as a whole.
The theology found in the introduction to the “Order of Celebrating Matrimony” also flows over into the rite itself. One significant place is in the alternate form of the “Reception of Consent”:
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.
Here, we have the sacrament connected through the patriarchs of Israel back to the first marriage in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve. The significance of this is that it nicely connects the natural institution with its elevation to a sacrament in Christ, just as grace builds upon nature, and reminds both the spouses and the community present that holy matrimony, either in its natural or sacramental forms, derives its reality from God alone.
This new translation of the Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium is most welcome as a sign of contradiction to a world that has forgotten the dignity of holy matrimony as a lifelong union of one man and one woman. May it, along with its introduction, lead to a firmer understanding of the nature and duties of the sacrament, so that engaged couples themselves have a greater sense of the sacred vocation into which they desire to enter.
Daniel M. Garland Jr., Ph.D. (cand.), is
associate director of the Institute of Catholic Culture.