Saturday, October 26, 2019

A Liturgical Rite of Betrothal

Our thanks to Mr Anthony Carona for sharing with us this brief explanation of the liturgical Rite of Betrothal, a subject we have never covered before, which he recently celebrated with his fiancée, and our congratulations to them both!

This summer, my fiancée and I hiked approximately 500 miles on the Camino de Santiago; at the conclusion of our pilgrimage, in the town of Finisterre – the “end of the earth” – I asked her to marry me. Upon returning home, we had the engagement solemnized by a ritual found in Weller’s popular translation of the Rituale Romanum; the Rite of Betrothal appears in the appendix. Canon 1017 of the old Code of Canon Law exhorts priests witnessing the engagement contract to give the couple a “liturgical blessing” in accord with ancient and praiseworthy ecclesiastical custom. Despite this injunction, no such form for a blessing was universally prescribed. This should be no surprise: the Latin Church, even with the reforms of Trent, has always given great license and even deference to local custom when it comes to matrimony – a recognition that the purpose of the liturgy is to sanction and bless the marital bond between spouses, not to effect it. The text and rubrics for this blessing, therefore, are merely a suggestion, but as given in this book, they are beautiful.

Contemporary culture being totally inept to celebrate anything as important as courtship, betrothal, or marriage, we saw the blessing as an opportunity to live out our Catholic ethos that life’s most important events should be punctuated and celebrated by ritual. It also marked the beginning of our sacramental preparation for matrimony, in a way perhaps analogous to the rite of tonsure for holy orders. The ceremony is brief, but composed of several elements: the rite was celebrated at the Church of the Annunciation in Houston, Texas, by the pastor, Rev. Paul Felix.

1. The couple approach the altar with two witnesses as Psalm 126 is chanted. The psalm reminds us to make God the primary author of all our plans.

2. The priest delivers an allocution, reminding the couple to commit themselves to virtuous courtship as the sure foundation for both earthly prosperity and eternal blessedness.

3. The couple join their right hands and promise to one day take each other as husband and wife. Many of us seem to have forgotten that engagement itself is a promise. Nevertheless, commentators are clear that this promise cannot be grounds for compelling marriage.

4. The priest places the ends of his stole over the couple’s hands in the form of a cross, bears witness to the proposal, and blesses the couple with holy water.

5. The priest blesses the engagement ring.

6. The man places the ring on the finger of his fiancée.

7. The priest presents the missal, opened to the picture of the crucifix opposite the canon for the couple to kiss.

8. The priest prays a final blessing over the couple, bidding them to go in peace.

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