Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Holy Matrimony

First, what is the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony? What does this Sacrament do?

Marriage was instituted by God Himself in the Garden of Eden and restored to such -- raised to the dignity of a Sacrament -- by Jesus Christ in the New Covenant. The Sacrament's external sign is the freely entered into contract made between a validly baptized man and validly baptized woman who intend to form a marriage and who have no impediments to marriage (or who have any required dispensations if an impediment exists). Like Holy Orders, once the Sacrament is received, it cannot be set aside; a valid sacramental marriage lasts until the death of one of the spouses. 1

The matter of the Sacrament is the mutual, freely-given consent of the man and woman before a priest and two witnesses. The man and woman are the actual ministers of the Sacrament, and the fruits of the Sacrament are the graces needed to raise a family and live up to the marital vows.

While the modern secular world sees marriage as the highest expression of romantic love, this must be made clear: the primary purpose of marriage is not celebrating intense, loving feelings; it is primarily about the procreation and education of children, most especially educating them to know, love, and serve God. Its secondary purposes are unitive, "mutual society and help, and a lawful remedy for concupiscence" (Catholic Encyclopedia). Feelings come and go, but marriage is until death. Couples may sometimes have to separate to preserve health or life, such as in cases of abuse, but separation, even civil divorce if necessary, doesn't mean a marriage has truly ended; a separated or civilly divorced Catholic cannot remarry until his spouse has died.

Marriage grants to each partner the right to the spouse's body; the obligation this creates on the part of each is called the "marital debt." I Corinthians 7:1-4:
Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife: and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render the debt to his wife: and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body: but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body: but the wife.

Artificial birth control and contraception are strictly forbidden, though birth control through the use of "Natural Family Planning" (often abbreviated as "NFP") or other similar methods that take advantage of natural periods of sterility may be used for serious reason. 2 For a fuller view of Christian marriage, see Pope Pius XI's Casti Connubii and Pope Leo XIII's Arcanum. For more explicit teachings on contraception, see Pope Pius XII's Address to Midwives, especially the sub-section "Birth Control," and Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae. 

Impediments to a Sacramental Marriage

Impediments to a sacramental marriage are of two types: diriment impediments, which render an alleged marriage null and void or make a potential marriage impossible, and prohibitory impediments, which don't affect validity but liceity (i.e., its strict accordance with Canon Law) and require a dispensation first.

Diriment 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 licit.

If any of these impediments exist, the couple is bound to declare them.

Mixed Marriages

If a Catholic gets a dispensation to marry someone who is baptized but belongs to a schismatic or heretical sect, they are said to enter into a "mixed marriage." Despite the fact that mixed marriages are are inherently flawed, the Church sometimes does grant a dispensation to such a couple for

the same reason that a prudent mother would prefer to see a wayward daughter do a bad thing than a worse thing. What parent would not prefer to see a child sick than dead? There is some hope for the life of a man hanging over a precipice and clinging even to a handful of grass, but there is no hope when his brains are dashed out on the rocks beneath. When persons have fully made up their minds to enter mixed marriage, they are so blinded by their passions and preferences that, if the Church should not tolerate their step, many of them would marry out of the Church, and thus commit mortal sin, and in most cases incur excommunication. The only difference, then, is this: There is at least a possible hope of salvation when mixed marriages are tolerated by the Church; whereas, if these persons should die in their rebellion against the Church, their damnation would be certain. The Church, like a prudent mother, would prefer the less of these two evils. ("Vocations Explained: Matrimony, Virginity, The Religious State, and the Priesthood," Benziger Brothers, 1897).

Traditionally the Church requires three conditions for the issuing of a dispensation for a mixed marriage:  

  • that the Catholic party be allowed free exercise of religion;
  • that all the offspring are to be brought up Catholic; and
  • that the Catholic party promise to do all that is possible to convert the non-Catholic.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law, though, gives the three conditions as: the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; the other party is to be informed in good time of these promises to be made by the Catholic party, so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and of the obligation of the Catholic party; both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either contractant.

In any case, mixed marriages are frowned upon very harshly (or should be, anyway) and pose extreme dangers to the peace and very purpose of family life. Catholics should "marry Catholic"! This cannot be stressed enough! If a man and woman are not together on the very fundamentals of life -- the nature of God and Church, the very purpose of life, the things they are duty-bound to teach their children -- they will struggle and their children will suffer from that struggle and from the religious indifference which would undoubtedly ensue. The family culture will be in shambles, and that which should be most deeply shared won't be shared at all. Paragraphs 81-83 of Casti Connubii read:

81. This religious character of marriage, its sublime signification of grace and the union between Christ and the Church, evidently requires that those about to marry should show a holy reverence towards it, and zealously endeavor to make their marriage approach as nearly as possible to the archetype of Christ and the Church.

82. They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation. This attitude of the Church to mixed marriages appears in many of her documents, all of which are summed up in the Code of Canon Law: "Everywhere and with the greatest strictness the Church forbids marriages between baptized persons, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a member of a schismatical or heretical sect; and if there is, add to this, the danger of the falling away of the Catholic party and the perversion of the children, such a marriage is forbidden also by the divine law." If the Church occasionally on account of circumstances does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provided against by suitable safeguards), it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage.

83. Whence it comes about not unfrequently, as experience shows, that deplorable defections from religion occur among the offspring, or at least a headlong descent into that religious indifference which is closely allied to impiety. There is this also to be considered that in these mixed marriages it becomes much more difficult to imitate by a lively conformity of spirit the mystery of which We have spoken, namely that close union between Christ and His Church.

For another Encyclical that deals explicitly with mixed marriages, see Pope Gregory XVI's "Summo Iugiter Studio," published in 1832. If you are a Catholic woman toying with the idea of marrying a non-Catholic man, please read this extremely important article that shows the astonishing results of a study to determine the influence of fathers on children's religiosity: The Truth About Men and Church.

Natural Marriages

Marriages that take place between two unbaptized people or between a baptized and an unbaptized person are said to be non-sacramental "natural marriages" which do not bring forth sanctifying grace. Once one is sacramentally married, it is for life, but merely natural marriages, which are in and of themselves good, can sometimes be dissolved with what is known as the "Pauline Privilege" or the "Petrine Privilege."

The Pauline Privilege

The Pauline Privilege is exercised when: both parties are unbaptized at the time of marriage, one of the parties becomes baptized, and the unbaptized party leaves. This sort of case, which is handled by the local Bishop, is outlined in I Corinthians 7:10-15:

But to them that are married [i.e., those who are sacramentally married], not I, but the Lord, commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.

For to the rest [i.e., those who are in merely natural marriages] I speak, not the Lord. If any brother hath a wife that believeth not and she consent to dwell with him: let him not put her away. And if any woman hath a husband that believeth not and he consent to dwell with her: let her not put away her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife: and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband. Otherwise your children should be unclean: but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace.

The Petrine Privilege

The Petrine Privilege is exercised when: one of the parties was unbaptized at the time of the marriage, they separate without the baptized party being at fault (or plan to separate and the unbaptized party refuses Baptism and will not live peaceably with the baptized party), and the baptized party now wants to marry a Catholic (see I Esdras 10-14). Unlike the Pauline Privilege which is handled by the local Bishop, this sort of case is sent to Rome to be adjudicated by the Pope himself.

Note that the exercise of the Petrine or Pauline Privileges is not a declaration of nullity (an "annulment"). A declaration of nullity is the finding that a marriage was merely putative and never existed at all; the Petrine and Pauline Privileges dissolve non-sacramental natural marriages. Truly sacramental marriages -- marriages joined together by God Himself -- that are ratified and consummated can be dissolved by no one. Matthew 19:3-9:

And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication [Greek: porneia], and shall marry another, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia]: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia]. 3

In any case, if you are entering the Church now and are already married, talk with your priest as to the nature of your marriage. If both you and your spouse are baptized and have never been married before, there should be no problem in having your marriage blessed. Refrain from the Sacraments until you are sure about the status of your marriage.

Getting Married in the Church

If the couple are both baptized and in a state of grace (couples should make a general confession and receive Communion as soon before marriage as possible), and none of the impediments listed above exist (or a dispensation has been gotten), the first thing to do is to announce your betrothal to your priest, who will then publish the "banns of marriage." The banns are a public announcement of the upcoming marriage so that any impediments can be discovered. This "publication" is usually made on three consecutive Holy Days (including Sundays), during the Mass itself (before or after the sermon) and/or in the parish bulletin (for good reason, sometimes the banns may be dispensed with). Then you will obey the civil laws of the State in which you live by getting the proper blood tests, licenses, etc. Note that weddings shouldn't take place during Lent, given the penitential, somber nature of the season.

As far as wonderfully girly wedding plans go, I will note here that the bride's dress (and bridesmaids' dresses) must conform to the same rules of modesty and decorum that apply any time a woman enters a church, i.e., her head must be covered, the dress must cover the knees when standing or sitting, the neckline should be modest, etc. No spaghetti strap, totally sleeveless, backless, side-split, mini-length, plunging neckline, sassy little Vera Wang numbers allowed. Of all the days of her life, the last day a woman should want to present herself to the world as sex object is her wedding day.

Music is handled differently at Catholic weddings, too. No "Sunrise, Sunset," no Celine Dion tunes -- quite possibly, not even Wagner's or Mendelssohn's Wedding Marches. Save "Unchained Melody" for your first dance at the reception and "At Last" for the cake-cutting; music during the wedding itself must be sacred.

As to the Rite of Marriage itself, it can be offered with or without a Mass and Nuptial Blessing (traditionally, the Nuptial Mass and Blessing are only offered when the bride and groom are both Catholic, not in the case of mixed marriages). If the couple wants a Mass and Nuptial Blessing, the form of the Mass will depend on the day of the wedding. The default Mass offered is the Nuptial Mass (color white) -- but this Mass may not be said on: Sundays; on Holy Days of Obligation; on Feasts of the 1st or 2nd Class; on Ash Wednesday; during Holy Week; on All Souls Day; on the Vigils of Christmas or Epiphany or Pentecost; or within the within the octaves of the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. If a wedding takes place on any of the above days and a Mass is desired, that day's Mass is said (and the color will be of the Mass of that day) instead of the Nuptial Mass, but the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion prayers from the Nuptial Mass are added to it along with a prayer for the couple after the Pater Noster, and a blessing for the couple.

The Rite of Marriage

The bride and groom stand before the priest, just outside the sanctuary. The groom stands on the Joseph/Epistle side of the church (the right from the point of view of the congregation), and the bride stands on the Mary/Gospel side. The priest then asks the following question of the groom:

N., wilt thou take N., here present, for thy lawful wife, according to the rite of our holy Mother the Church? .
R. I will

Then the priest asks the bride:

N., wilt thou take N., here present, for thy lawful husband, according to the rite of our holy Mother the Church?
R. I will.

Having obtained their mutual consent, the priest asks the man and the woman join their right hands. Then they pledge themselves each to the other as follows, repeating the words after the priest. The man begins:

I, N. N., take thee, N. N., for my lawful wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

The woman follows:

I, N. N., take thee, N. N., for my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

The priest then says:

I join you together in marriage, in the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Ego conjugo vos in matrimonium, in nomine Patris, + et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

The priest sprinkles the couple with Holy Water.
Then he blesses the bride's ring, saying:

V. Our help is in the Name of the Lord. V. Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
R. Who made heaven and earth. R. Qui fecit caelum et terram.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer. V. Domine, exaudi orationem meam.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee. R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
V. The Lord be with you. V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. And with Thy spirit. R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord, this ring, which we bless + in Thy name, that she who shall wear it, keeping true faith unto her spouse, may abide in Thy peace and in obedience to Thy will, and ever live in mutual love. Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Then the priest sprinkles the ring (which is considered a sacramental) with holy water in the form of a cross; and the bridegroom, having received the ring from the hand of the priest, places it on the third finger of the left hand of the bride, saying the following:

With this ring I thee wed and I plight unto thee my troth.

[Another form:
With this ring I thee wed; this gold and silver I thee give; with my body I thee worship; and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.

Another method of placing the ring on the bride's finger is to slide it onto the thumb while saying "In the Name of the Father," then onto the index finger while saying, "and of the Son," and onto the middle finger while saying "and of the Holy Ghost," then finally onto the ring finger while saying "Amen.]

Then the priest says:

In the name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. In nomine Patris, + et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

This done, the priest says:

V. Confirm, O God, that which Thou hast wrought in us. V. Confirma hoc, Deus, qod operatus es in nobis.
R. From Thy holy temple, which is in Jerusalem. R. A templo sancto tuo quod est in Jerusalem.
V. Lord, have mercy. V. Kyrie eleison.
R. Christ, have mercy. R. Christe eleison.
V. Lord, have mercy. V. Kyrie eleison.
Our Father, etc. (inaudibly). Pater noster (secreto).
V. And lead us not into temptation. V. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
R. But deliver us from evil. R. Sed libera nos a malo.
V. Save Thy servants. V. Salvos fac servos tuos.
R. Who hope in Thee, O my God. R. Deus meus, sperantes in te.
V. Send them help, O Lord, from Thy holy place. V. Mitte eis, Domine, auxilium de sancto.
R. And defend them out of Sion. R. Et de Sion tuere eos.
V. Be unto them, Lord, a tower of strength. V. Esto eis, Domine, turris fortitudinis. R.: A facie inimici.
R. From the face of the enemy. V. Domine exaudi orationem meam.
V. O Lord, hear my prayer. R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee. R. Et clamor meus ad te veniat.
V. The Lord be with you. V. Dominus vobiscum.
R. And with Thy spirit. R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Let us pray. Look down with favor, O Lod, we beseech Thee, upon these Thy servants, and graciously protect this, Thine ordinance, whereby Thou hast provided for the propagation of mankind; that they who are joined together by Thy authority may be preserved by Thy help; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thus ends the Rite of Marriage. There should be no applause for the couple afterwards in the church; save that for outside when they leave the church (i.e., at the typical "rice-throwing time" outdoors) and at the couple's entrance at their reception.

The Nuptial Mass
(Missa pro Sponso et Sponsa)
and Nuptial Blessing

The Nuptial Mass and Nuptial Blessing are optional for the couple. If they are desired, they will follow the Marriage Rite above. The Nuptial Mass is like any other Mass except that the Gloria and Creed are omitted, and the following Propers are said. The Nuptial Mass can't be offered on any of the following days: Feasts of the first or second class; on Sundays or holydays of obligation; within the octaves of the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi; on Ash Wednesday; during Holy Week; on the vigils of Christmas, Epiphany or Pentecost; All Soul's Day.

Introit: Tobias 7:15; 8:19

May the God of Israel join you together: and may He be with you, who was merciful to two only children: and now, O Lord, make them bless Thee more fully. (Ps. 127. 1). Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, that walk in His ways. Deus Israel conjungat vos: et ipse sit vobiscum, qui misertus est duobus unicis: et nunc, Domine, fac eos plenius benedicere te. (Ps. 127. 1) Beati omnes qui timent Dominum: qui ambulant in viis ejus.
V. Glory to the Father . . . -- May the God . . . V. Gloria Patri . . . -- Deus Israel conjunga


Hear us, almighty and merciful God: that what is performed by our ministry may be abundantly fulfilled with Thy blessing. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee...

Epistle: Ephesians 5:22-33

Brethren: Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord; for the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church. He is the savior of His body. Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it: that He might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life; that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself: for no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it; as also Christ doth the Church: for we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great Sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church. Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself, and let the wife fear her husband.

Gradual: Psalm 127:3

Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house. Uxor tua sicut vitis abundans in lateribus domus tuae.
V. Thy children as olive plants round about thy table. Alleluia, alleluia. V. Filii tui sicut novellae olivarum in circuitu mensae tuae. Alleluia, alleluia.
V. (Ps. 19. 3) May the Lord send you help from the sanctuary, and defend you out of Sion. Alleluia. V. Mittat vobis Dominus auxilium de sancto: et de Sion tueatur vos. Alleluia.

After Septuagesima, the Alleluia and the Verse Mittat are omitted and the following is said:

Tract: Psalm 127:4-6

Behold thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. Ecce sic benedicetur omnis homo, qui timet Dominum.
V. May the Lord bless you out of Sion; and mayest thou see that good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. V. Benedicat tibi Dominus ex Sion: et videas bona Jerusalem omnibus diebus vitae tuae.
V. And mayest thou see thy children's children: peace upon Israel. V. Et videas filios filiorum tuorum: pax super Israel.

During Eastertide, the Gradual is omitted and the following Alleluia is said:

Alleluia, alleluia. Alleluia, alleluia.
V. (Ps. 19. 3) May the Lord send you help from the sanctuary, and defend you out of Sion. Alleluia. V. Mittat vobis Dominus auxilium de sancto: et de Sion tueatur vos. Alleluia.
V. (Ps. 133. 3). May the Lord out of Sion bless you: who hath made heaven and earth. Alleluia. V. Benedicat vobis Dominus ex Sion: qui fecit coelum et terram. Alleluia.

Gospel: Matthew 19:3-6

At that time: The Pharisees came to Jesus, tempting Him and saying; It is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering said to them, Have ye not read, that He who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? and He said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore, now they are not two but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Offertory: Psalm 30:15-16

In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped: I said, Thou art my God; my times are in Thy hands. In te speravi, Domine: dixi: Tu es Deus meus: in manibus tuis tempora mea.


Accept, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the gifts offered for the sacred law of marriage: and do Thou dispose according to Thy will, that which is instituted by Thy bounty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity...


It it truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the Powers stand in awe. The heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with them, we entreat Thee, that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted, while we say in lowly praise: Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: per Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates. Coeli, coelorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas, deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes:

After the Pater Noster, the priest goes to the Epistle side of the Altar. The Bride and Groom kneel before him. The priest folds his hands and, turning towards the bridegroom and bride, says over them the following two prayers. After the prayers, he continues the Mass, and the Bride and Groom resume their places. The couple receive Communion as usual, at the proper time.

Let us pray. Be gracious, O Lord, to our humble supplications: and graciously assist this Thine institution, which Thou hast established for the increase of mankind: that what is joined together by Thine authority, may be preserved by Thine aid. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee...

O God, who by Thine own mighty power, didst make all things out of nothing: who, having set in order the beginnings of the world, didst appoint Woman to be an inseparable helpmeet to Man, made like unto God, so that Thou didst give to woman's body its beginnings in man's flesh, thereby teaching that what it pleased Thee to form from one substance, might never be lawfully separated: O God, who, by so excellent a mystery hast consecrated the union of man and wife, as to foreshadow in this nuptial bond the union of Christ with His Church: O God, by whom Woman is joined to Man, and the partnership, ordained from the beginning, is endowed with such blessing that it alone was not withdrawn either by the punishment of original sin, nor by the sentence of the flood: graciously look upon this Thy handmaid, who, about to be joined in wedlock, seeks Thy defense and protection. May it be to her a yoke of love and peace: faithful and chaste, may she be wedded in Christ, and let her ever be the imitator of holy women: let her be dear to her husband, like Rachel: wise, like Rebecca: long-lived and faithful like Sara. Let not the author of deceit work any of his evil deeds in her. May she continue, clinging to the faith and to the commandments. Bound in one union, let her shun all unlawful contact. Let her protect her weakness by the strength of discipline; let her be grave in behavior, respected for modesty, well-instructed in heavenly doctrine. Let her be fruitful in offspring; be approved and innocent; and come to the repose of the blessed and the kingdom of heaven. May they both see their children's children to the third and fourth generation, and may they reach the old age which they desire. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth...

The priest continues the Mass as usual with the prayer Deliver us, we beseech Thee, O Lord.

Communion: Psalm 127:4, 6

Behold, thus shall every man be blessed that feareth the Lord; and mayest thou see thy children's children; peace upon Israel. Ecce sic benedicetur omnis homo, qui timet Dominum: et videas filios filiorum tuorum: pax super Israel.


We beseech Thee, almighty God, to accompany with Thy gracious favor, the institution of Thy Providence, and keep in lasting peace those whom Thou dost join in lawful union. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth...

The Bride and Groom go and kneel before the priest once more. The priest turns toward them, giving the blessing below. Afterwards, he sprinkles them with Holy Water and they go back to their places:

May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob be with you: and Himself fulfill His blessing on you: that you may see your children's children even to the third and fourth generation: and thereafter possess life everlasting, by the aid of our Lord...

Thus ends the Nuptial Mass

Information for non-Catholic Guests

If you are invited to attend a traditional Catholic wedding, prepare for a long ceremony if the wedding will include a Mass (around 1 1/2 to 2 hours). Mass attire and etiquette are covered on this page, and the Order of the Mass can be found here.

Gifts, of course, are usually given to the couple at the reception that follows the wedding. Such Catholic items as Crucifixes, Holy Water fonts, etc. are always welcome, along with more secular household items.

Wedding Customs

Folk tradition has it that the bride must wear "something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue" (my family has a little bluebird brooch, a symbol of happiness, that gets handed down and around for brides wear under their dresses and which acts as the "something old," "something borrowed" and "something blue" all at once).

It is a tradition in some places for the bride to carry a crucifix instead of a bouquet. The crucifix is blessed by the priest, and when the time comes for the couple to exchange vows, the bride places her right hand on the Cross while the groom places his hand over hers. The priest covers their hands with his stole, the couple pronounce their vows, and then they kiss the Crucifix before they kiss each other, thereby symbolizing their placing Christ at the center of their marriage, and their taking up of the cross of marriage. That Crucifix is then taken home by the couple and kept in a place of great honor.

It is a lovely custom for the bride to leave a bouquet in front of the statue of Mary in the church, praying to Mary to help her in her duties as a wife and intercede in blessing her with children (Catholic brides can have their florists make up little "Mary bouquets" for this purpose). This custom symbolizes the bride offering her virginity, as indicated by the flowers, to Our Lady, in return for her prayers to make her marriage fruitful. The groom might light a candle in front of the statue of St. Joseph and ask him to intercede for him as a husband.

After the wedding, a reception follows. Customs at these receptions vary from ethnic group to ethnic group.

Among Italians and Italian-Americans, the couple is toasted with "Cent'anni!" (A hundred years!) and asked to kiss with cries of "Bacio!". The bride will give out white "confetti" -- Jordan almonds -- in odd numbers (usually 7) to the wedding guests. They are sometimes pre-wrapped in tulle and symbolize "the bitter and the sweet" of married life. The bride will carry a silk or satin bag (una borsa) into which guests will put envelopes of money to help defray wedding and honeymoon costs. Sometimes male wedding guests will pay for the privilege of dancing with the bride, and, of course, they kiss her for luck. As to the dancing, the Tarantella is the standard "Italian wedding dance" (click tbelow hear the music for the Neapolitan version of the Tarantella). Food and wine, of course, will play a huge role as in all big Catholic (especially Italian Catholic) celebrations -- many courses worth! -- and "wanda" ("love-knot" cookies sprinkled with sugar) are standard, along with wedding cake and coffee at the end of the meal.

At some point during the reception, the groom will stomp on a glass that has been wrapped up in a white linen towel, the broken glass symbolizing the irrevocability of marriage, and the number of shards left behind representing the number of happy years they will have together. Gifts are not opened at the reception in most Italian weddings.

At the end of the reception, the bride will toss her bouquet to the gathered single women, and the one who catches it is said to be the next who'll marry.

As to the wedding night, it is an old custom for some couples to abstain from the marital act, dedicating the first night of marriage to St. Joseph (making the night "St. Joseph's Night"), and performing some devotion to the Saint. This is in keeping with the spirit of Tobias who, with his wife, Sara, spent the first three days and nights or their marriage in prayer:

Tobias 8:4-5
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.

Note that St. Dorothy (of Caesarea) is the Patroness of Brides; St. Louis IX is the Patron of Grooms; St. Nicholas of Myra is the Patron of newlyweds (both bride and groom); St. Valentine is the Patron of happy marriages, and St. Joseph is the Patron of family life. For those who desire to marry but who've not met the right person, SS. Catherine of Alexandria, Agnes, Valentine, and Barbara intercede for women, and SS.. Nicholas and Valentine intercede for men. St. Anthony of Padua is often invoked by people of either sex trying to find a spouse -- and once you do find someone to marry, remember that St. Agnes and St. Valentine are the Saints for engaged couples. St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the patroness of widows and widowers.

Finally, a prayer for married couples, from "The Catholic Marriage Manual," by Father George Anthony Kelly, 1958:

O God of goodness and mercy, to Thy fatherly guidance we commend our family, our household and all our belongings. We commit all to Thy love and keeping; do Thou fill this house with Thy blessings even as Thou didst fill the holy House of Nazareth with Thy presence. Keep far from us, above all else, the blemish of sin, and do Thou alone reign in our midst by Thy law, by Thy most holy love and by the exercise of every Christian virtue. Let each one of us obey Thee, love Thee and set himself to follow in his own life Thine example, that of Mary, Thy Mother and our Mother most loving, and that of Thy blameless guardian, Saint Joseph.

Protect us and our house from all evils and misfortunes, but grant that we may be ever resigned to Thy divine will even in the sorrows which it shall please Thee to send us. Finally give unto all of us the grace to live in perfect harmony and in the fullness of love toward our neighbor. Grant that every one of us may deserve by a holy life the comfort of Thy holy Sacraments at the hour of death.

O Jesus, bless us and protect us.

O Mary, Mother of grace and of mercy, defend us against the wicked spirit, reconcile us with thy Son, commit us to His keeping, that so we may be made worthy of His promises.

Saint Joseph, foster-father of our Savior, guardian of His holy Mother, head of the Holy Family, intercede for us, bless us and defend our home at all times.

Saint Michael, defend us against all the evil cunning of hell.

Saint Gabriel, make us to understand the holy will of God.

Saint Raphael, preserve us from all sickness and from every danger to our lives.

Our holy Guardian Angels, keep our feet safely on the path of salvation both day and night.

Our holy Patrons, pray for us before the throne of God.

Yea, bless this house, O God the Father, Who hast created us; O God the Son, Who hast suffered for us upon the holy Cross, and Thou, O Holy Spirit, Who hast sanctified us in holy Baptism. May the one God in three Divine Persons preserve our bodies, purify our minds, direct our hearts and bring us all to everlasting life.

Glory be to the Father, glory be to the Son, glory be to the Holy Ghost! Amen.


See also St. John Chrysostom's Homily XX on Ephesians V.

1 Divorce from a true spouse is impossible; once one is sacramentally married, one is sacramentally married until the death of the spouse. However, a civil divorce may be obtained in cases requiring separation for legal or physical protection. That is, as an example, a sacramentally married person may civilly divorce an abusive spouse and become legally unmarried, but he is still sacramentally married in the eyes of God and may not remarry until his spouse dies.

An annulment is not a divorice; it is the finding that a true marriage never happened in the first place.

2 If both spouses mutually agree to not exercise their marital rights, theirs is said to be a "Josephite marriage" akin to the marriage of Mary and Joseph, but if the marital rights are exercised, the marital act must be open to life.

3 Regarding the verse:

And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication [Greek: porneia], and shall marry another, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia]: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery [Greek: moicheia].

"Porneia" here means unlawful sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons, i.e., "fornication"; it does not refer to sex between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse, which is "adultery" -- "moicheia" in the Greek. "Porneia" and "moicheia" are two different words for two different concepts. In referring to "porneia," Jesus is referring to those things that constitute impediments and make a marriage unlawful, and to understand His meaning, you must know something about Jewish law.

During Jewish betrothal, a couple was considered legally bound and even taxed together (Luke 2:5), i.e., a betrothal, or kuddushin, was "an actual but incomplete marriage" (Jewish Encyclopedia). After 12 months, the groom would take his bride home in a rite called "home-taking" (nisuin), after which their fully married life began. A man, though, could leave his betrothed during the year of betrothal and before their public marriage by getting a bill of divorcement (get) as long as the marriage wasn't consummated -- the reason why, some believe that, per Jewish law, Our Lady was almost "put away" privately by St. Joseph, a "just man" who was not "willing to expose her" (Matthew 1:18-19) when he didn't want her to be shamed for being pregnant before their "home-taking."

In other contexts, "porneia" also refers to concubinage, which isn't a marriage at all (cf John 4:5-19), and to the prohibition of marriage within certain degrees of kinship (which would make a marriage merely putative), as it is used in Leviticus 18 and I Corinthians 5:1.

Bottom line, St. Matthew was writing to Jewish audience, who would have been aware of betrothal issues. St. Mark wrote to Gentiles and puts the matter of divorce in a true sacramental marriage plainly in Mark 10:11-12: "And he saith to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery."

St. Paul reaffirms this in I Corinthians 7:10-11: "But to them that are married, not I, but the Lord, commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife."

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