Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Fivefold Nuptial Blessing: A Millennium-Long Mystery Solved by Sharon Kabel

The indefatigable Sharon Kabel, whose superb research work we have shared several times, has taken a lot of interest in wedding rituals. She has very kindly shared with us the results of her investigation of a nuptial blessing which appears in the 1954 American Collectio Rituum. The Latin translation below is by Isaac Smith Schendel, the German translation is edited by William Kabel and Isaac Smith Schendel.

In my ongoing quest for minutiae about Catholic nuptial texts, I have written elsewhere about an oddly worded blessing in the Roman Catholic Rite of Marriage. The blessing’s themes are fivefold: love, children, friends, work, eternal life. They appeared in the 1954 American Collectio Rituum [1] and 1964 Roman Ritual. [2] At the time, I attributed the blessing to Reverend Philip T. Weller because of his translation of the Rituale Romanum. He was also the likely author (or at least codifier) of our current Rite of Betrothal.
Even in a nuptial setting, I found the blessing overly sentimental, and was glad to see that they disappeared from the Rite of Marriage after 1964.
Imagine my excitement when I discovered a 1950 German Collectio Rituum with that same blessing (obviously in German)! [3] It seemed unlikely that Fr. Weller composed them - so who did? To my great surprise, I found an essay from an author of the 1950 German Collectio, claiming that this nuptial blessing was actually a restoration of an old text:
From my own diocese of Trier, the oldest in Germany, was taken the fivefold blessing which the priest pronounces, extending his hands over the newly-married couple at the end of the wedding ceremony. You are perhaps familiar with this much and rightly admired blessing (which originated in the West Gothic Liturgy of Spain) from the American Ritual, which took it over. [emphasis added] [4]
So, this fivefold nuptial blessing was not written by the Americans in the 1960’s, nor by the Germans in the 1950’s, but… by the Spanish in the 600’s?
The history of any nuptial text or tradition is murky and complex. It is possible that a blessing did indeed make its way from 7th century Spain to twentieth century Germany and America. But… one wonders. The twentieth century liturgical reformers had a bad habit of justifying their reforms with spurious antiquarianism.
The burning question is: what does this 7th century Mozarabic ritual say? Does this nuptial blessing really have a 1300-year old pedigree? The Mozarabic ritual is scanned online, but it’s a reprint of the original manuscript. I hoped to find the most original text possible. I owe the success of my quest to Christina Linklater, at the Isham Memorial Library and Houghton Music Cataloger at Harvard Library. Out of hundreds of oddly-assembled pages in several languages, she found not only the wedding ceremonies, but the fivefold blessing itself.
I’ve created a comparison chart of the blessings as they appear in the Mozarabic Liber Ordinum (Latin and translated), the German Collectio (German and translated), and the American Collectio.
While the broad themes of love, children, and friends are present in all versions, it’s clear that the twentieth century blessings embellished on those themes. For example, the Mozarabic Liber’s blessing “gaudeatis perenniter cum amicis” has become “May the peace of Christ dwell always in your hearts and in your home; may you have true friends to stand by you, both in joy and in sorrow. May you be ready with help and consolation for all those who come to you in need; and may the blessings promised to the compassionate descend in abundance on your home” in the 1954 American Collectio.
There have been numerous changes in liturgical and sacramental texts in the twentieth century. The current iteration of this blessing is more a question of taste, rather than nefarious doctrinal changes. So why waste ink on something so small?
This fivefold blessing is one small piece in a cascade of changes to the marriage rituals. The 1970 Rite of Marriage is almost completely changed from the 1962 Rite of Marriage (which is identical to the 1615 Tridentine Rituale). The ancient and majestic Nuptial Blessing, with its own rubrics and graces, has been revised dramatically, with many particular blessings removed. Marriage itself has suffered on a catechetical level, with, for example, a decrease in emphasis on the dangers of mixed marriages. It is worthwhile, therefore, to take note even of small reforms in our holy sacraments, because they can lead to bigger changes.
More importantly, the justification for reforms is critical. Weddings in particular have been (and will continue to be) variable. The modern reformers could have picked any number of nuptial blessings from the hundreds of extant, geographically proximate, early to late medieval liturgical manuscripts. They could have justified the fivefold blessing by saying that they took an old blessing, and adapted it for the unique needs of modern man. They did not do either of these things.
The editor of the German Collectio claimed that the blessing “originated in the West Gothic Liturgy of Spain.” This is a tricky statement. The word “originated” provides just enough plausible deniability: it’s stronger than “inspired by”, but much weaker than “is identical to”. It is true, in a way, that the blessing originated in Spain, but the twentieth century version of the blessing has clearly taken on a life of its own. We have seen this archaeologism before with more important issues, such as “the early Church received on the hand, and stood rather than kneeling, and so should we.” Why a text is changed is arguably just as important to us as what was changed, and if the reasoning for the change is weak, it should give us pause.
For as much as the modern reformers embellished the fivefold blessing - the latest iteration is nearly five times as long as the Mozarabic original - it is worth considering what themes were not mentioned. Catholic wedding blessings over the centuries have asked God for the blessings of children, of health, and of long life. However, it was not uncommon for nuptial blessings to ask for angelic protection against demons, simultaneously a sobering and comforting thought. By way of a closing thought, here are a few examples of medieval nuptial blessings [5]:
  • Bobbio Missal (8th cent.): Pour out your blessing through Raphael, your angel of peace, that health and honor might be theirs.
  • Benedictional of Robert of Jumièges (early 11th cent.): May he who sent the archangel Raphael to prepare the marriage of Tobias and Sarah send his holy angel from his heavenly throne to comfort you in his holy service, show you the path of righteousness and protect you forever from all evil.
  • Canterbury Benedictional (1025-50): May the angel of God be with them as an unfailing guard; may the power of the devil be utterly expelled from them; may their days be multiplied in peace and enriched with children…
  • Sacramentary of Vich (1038): Grant them, Lord, to be of one mind in the fear of your Name and to show their love in the goodness of their mutual behavior… May they render to one another the debt of marriage in such a way as to never cause offense to you… Let them so negotiate all temporal business that they will continue faithfully to long for eternal things.
  • Missal of Bury St. Edmunds (12th cent.): Look down, O Lord, from your holy heaven upon this marriage and send Raphael, your angel of peace, that they might be healthy and worthy and peaceable, and pour out your blessing upon them.
  • Sarum Manual, blessing of the marriage bed (16th cent.): O God, who neither sleep nor slumber, bless this bedchamber, you who watch over Israel, watch over your servants as they sleep in this bed, protecting them from all demonic dreams…
  • Ritual of Coutances, blessing of the bedchamber (18th cent.): Visit, we beseech you, O Lord, this dwelling and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy. Let your holy angels dwell herein who may keep these newlyweds in peace…
Click to enlarge
[1] Collectio Rituum Ad Instar Appendicis Ritualis Romani Pro Diœcesibus Statuum Fœderatorum Americæ Septentrionalis. Cum Licentia Sacrae Congregationis Rituum. Milwauchiæ: Ex typographia Bruce, 1954
[2] The Roman Ritual Complete ed. Milwaukee: Bruce Pub. 1964
[3] Collectio Rituum Ad Instar Appendicis Ritualis Romani Pro Omnibus Germaniae Diocesibus. (1950).
[4] Fischer, Balthazar, “Impressions of the German Ritual” The Furrow 8, no. 10 (1957): 659-74.
[5] All translations from: Searle, Mark and Kenneth W Stevenson, 1992. Documents of the Marriage Liturgy. Collegeville: Liturgical Press: A Pueblo Book. Searle & Stevenson have a chapter on the Mozarabic Liber, along with their own translation of the fivefold blessings: “May the Lord bless you by the word of our mouth, and may he join your hearts in the everlasting bond of sincere love. May you flourish with an abundance of this world’s goods; May you be fittingly blessed with your children; May you always rejoice in your friends. May the Lord grant you the goods that last, to your parents a happy old age, and to all everlasting happiness.”

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