|Before holy matrimony comes
betrothal, or what's more commonly known as "engagement." Back in the
day, betrothment was treated both canonically and civilly as an
unbreakable promise to marry at a specified time (or at a time the
proposed to party deems reasonable), the violation of which incurring
canonical and civil penalties. This is no longer the case, however.
Nonetheless, betrothment shouldn't be entered into lightly. It is still
a formal promise. At least a rough estimate of a date for marriage
should be agreed upon at the outset.
When you will to marry someone, though, you have to first be sure there
are no impediments to marriage. As explained on the page on holy matrimony, impediments may include:
impediments include: the inability to freely consent; blood
relationship to the fourth degree collaterally, or in any degree in the
direct line; relationship by adoption if the relationship is to the
second degree collaterally, or in any degree in the direct line;
spiritual relationship, such as that between godparents and
godchildren; a solemn vow of chastity; impotence (not sterility) that
is known and not revealed; having been a party in a marriage contract
that was not ended by death or found to be invalid with a declaration
of nullity (an "annulment") or dissolved by the Petrine or Pauline
Privileges (see below); having received Holy Orders; not having reached
the age of 14 (women) or 16 (men); if either of the couple is not
baptized. If one of these impediments exist, a marriage can almost
never take place (only in very, very rare cases are dispensations given
to a couple who have affinity in the first degree of the direct line).
Prohibitory impediments include: betrothal to another (i.e.,
pledge of marriage to another); a simple vow of chastity; if one party
is baptized but belongs to a schismatic or heretical sect; lack of
parental consent in the case of minors. If one of these impediments
exist, a marriage would still be valid, but a dispensation -- a
"radical sanation" -- must be gotten in order for the marriage to be
If any of the
above impediments exists, speak with your priest.
The very bottom line
according to canon law is that, to be married in a Catholic church, you
should both be of age, validly baptized, and both of you should plan on
raising your children as Catholics (or, if one of you is Catholic and
the other isn't, the non-Catholic party understands the obligation of
the Catholic party to raise the children as Catholic). Ideally, of
course, you both should be practicing Catholics and have every
intention of creating a Catholic home
with Christ at its center. The importance of this truly can't be
stressed highly enough.
These days, engagements are typically begun when one -- usually the man
-- proposes marriage to another (of the opposite sex, it goes without
saying), and the party proposed to agrees. As a
matter of custom in the West, the man will bend on one knee and proffer
an engagement ring when proposing. Proposals can get elaborate with
some couples -- made publicly, such as at ballgames, or with big
parties or productions accompanying them, etc. But none of that is
necessary; a simple "Will you marry me" responded to with a "yes" means
the couple are now affianced, engaged, betrothed, have "plighted their
troth," etc., and he then becomes known as her "fiancé" while she is
known as his "fiancée."
It is not necessary to gain parental consent unless one of the parties
is a minor. There's also no need to gain parental blessings either as
one sees in old movies, whereby the potential groom goes to the girl's
father, explains his intentions, and asks for "her hand" in marriage.
These things are matters of custom only.
In order for their future marriage to be successful, the couple need to
know each other well and trust the other completely. They have to agree
on what sort of home they want, how and where they want to live, how to
order their lives, what the obligations of marriage are, what they
expect from each other, how to raise children, etc. To this end, I've
made the following pdf for couples to go through together in order to
get necessary conversations started:
Once a couple have decided to marry, they should see a priest and set a
wedding date for a reasonable time in the future. They may, if they
desire and are able to find a willing priest, undergo the Rite of
Betrothment which will bless their engagement and publicly announce
their new social state.
The rite below is not a necessary rite, nor is it official
liturgically. It was included as an addition to a private translation
of the 1962 Roman Ritual made by Father Philip Weller. It may be used
by priests, but it is a voluntary matter on the part of all parties.
Instructions begin "Today there is no prescribed ritual for a formal
engagement. But it is fitting that it take place before the altar of
God and be followed by Mass and holy communion." This rite may be downloaded in pdf format.
1. The priest vests in surplice and white
stole, or if Mass is to follow, in the Mass vestments. He is assisted
by two servers, and at hand are holy water and an altar missal. He
awaits the couple at the communion table; and as they come forward the
following psalm may be sung on the eighth psalm-tone.
P: Unless the house be of the Lord's building,
* in vain do the builders labor.
All: Unless the Lord be the guard of the city, * in vain does the guard
keep his sentry.
P: It is futile that you rise before daybreak, * to be astir in the
midst of darkness,
All: You that eat the bread of hard labor; * for He deals bountifully
to His beloved while they are sleeping.
P: See, offspring come from God's giving, * a fruitful womb is the
reward of His blessing.
All: Like arrows in the hand of the warrior, * are children begotten of
a youthful father.
P: Happy the man who has filled with them his quiver; * they shall
uphold him in contending at the gate with his rival.
All: Glory be to the Father.
P: As it was in the beginning.
2. Now the priest addresses them, either
in his own words or in the short form that follows:
Beloved of Christ: It is in God's designs that you are called to the
holy vocation of matrimony. For this reason you present yourselves
today before Christ and the Church, before His sacred minister and the
people of God, to ratify in a formal manner your engagement. You are
here to ask the blessing of God and of the Church on your proposal, and
to ask the good prayers of the faithful here present. You realize that
what has begun at the inspiration of your heavenly Father requires
equally His grace to be brought to a happy conclusion.
We trust that you have given serious and prayerful deliberation to your
promise that you will one day be married; also that you have consulted
with your parents and elders. In the time that intervenes until your
wedding day, may you prepare for the sacrament of matrimony by a
virtuous courtship. Then, when the happy day arrives on which you will
give yourselves irrevocably to each other, you will have laid a sound
religious foundation for the many years you will spend together, years
that will be filled with joy and prosperity, and years that will
finally give way to an eternity of joy and blessedness. May the union
you purpose to consummate one day in Christian marriage be truly a
sacramental image of the union of Christ with His beloved bride, the
3. With their right hands joined the
couple repeat after the priest what follows:
The man first:
In the name of our Lord, I, N.N., promise that I will one day take you,
N.N., for my wife, according to the ordinances of God and holy Church.
I will love you as I love myself. I will keep faith with you and be
loyal to you, and so aid you and comfort you in all your necessities.
These things and all that a man ought to do for his espoused, I promise
to do for you, and to keep the promise by the faith that is in me.
Then the woman:
In the name of our Lord, I, N.N., do declare that, in the form and
manner in which you have promised yourself to me, I will one day bind
and oblige myself to you, and will take you, N.N., for my husband. And
all that you have pledged to me, I promise to do for you, and to keep
the promise by the faith that is in me.
4. Then the priest takes the two ends of
his stole and in the form of a cross places them over the clasped hands
of the couple. Holding the stole in place with his left hand, he says:
I bear witness to your solemn proposal and I declare you engaged; in
the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. As he
pronounces the last words he sprinkles them with holy water in the form
of a cross.
5. Then he blesses the engagement ring:
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord. All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you. All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray. Almighty God, Creator and preserver of the human race and
the giver of everlasting salvation, may it please you to make holy this
ring, which we bless + in your name; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
He sprinkles the ring with holy water.
6. The man takes the ring
and places it first on the index finger of the left hand of the woman
In the name of the Father,
then on the middle finger, adding:
finally placing and leaving it on the ring
and of the Holy Spirit.
7. The priest opens the missal at the
beginning of the Canon, and presents the page imprinted with the
crucifixion to be kissed, first by the man and then by the woman.
8. After this the priest
may read these passages from Sacred Scripture:
Tobias 7 and 8
Tobias said: "I will not eat nor drink here this day, unless you first
grant me my petition, and promise to give me Sara, your daughter."
...The angel said to Raguel: "Be not afraid to give her to this man,
for to him who fears God is your daughter due to be his wife; therefore
another could not have her." ...And Raguel, taking the right hand of
his daughter, gave it into the right hand of Tobias, saying: "The God
of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob be with you, and
may He join you together, and fulfill His blessing in you." And taking
paper they made a writing of the marriage. And afterwards they made
merry, blessing God. ...Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to
her: "Sara, arise, and let us pray to God today, and tomorrow, and the
next day; because for these three nights we are joined to God; and when
the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the
children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens
that know not God." So they both arose, and prayed earnestly both
together that health might be given them.
At that time Jesus said to His disciples: "Remain united with me, and I
will remain united with you. A branch can bear no fruit of itself, that
is, when it is not united with the vine; no more can you, if you do not
remain united with me. I am the vine, you are the branches. One bears
abundant fruit only when he and I are mutually united; severed from me,
you can do nothing. If one does not remain united with me, he is simply
thrown away like a branch, and dries up. Such branches are gathered and
thrown into the fire to be burned. As long as you remain united with
me, and my teachings remain your rule of life, you may ask for anything
you wish, and you shall have it. This is what glorifies my Father--your
bearing abundant fruit and thus proving yourselves my disciples. Just
as the Father loves me, so I love you. Be sure to hold my love. If you
treasure my commandments, you will hold my love, just as I treasure my
Father's commandments and thus secure His love. I have told you this,
that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be perfect. This is my
commandment: love one another as I love you."
9. Lastly the
priest extends his hands over the heads of the couple and says:
May God bless your bodies and your souls. May He shed His blessing on
you as He blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. May the hand of the Lord
be on you. May He send His holy angel to guard you all the days of your
life. Amen. Go in peace.