Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage

Pontifical Council for the Family,
Vatican City State, May 13, 1996
Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family

Most. Rev. Francisco Gil Hellin Secretary

Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage

III - The Celebration of Marriage

60. Preparation for marriage leads to married life, through the celebration of the sacrament, which is the culmination of the journey of preparation which the spouses have made and the source and origin of their married life. Therefore, the celebration cannot be reduced only to a ceremony, the product of culture and sociological conditioning. Nevertheless, praiseworthy customs that belong to various peoples or ethnic groups can be brought into the celebration (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 77; Familiaris Consortio, 67), provided that they express above all the coming together of the ecclesial assembly as a sign of the faith of the Church, which recognizes in the sacrament the presence of the Risen Lord uniting the spouses to the Love of the Trinity.

61. Through diocesan liturgical commissions, the bishops should give precise directions and supervise how these are applied in practice, in order to put into effect, in the celebration of marriage, what is indicated in article 32 of the Constitution on the Liturgy, so that even externally the equality of the faithful may be evident and, further, that any appearance of pomp be avoided. The active participation of those present is to be favoured in every way. Suitable materials should be provided to help them comprehend and savour the richness of the rite.

62. Mindful that where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ (cf. Matthew 18:20), there he is present, a restrained style of celebration (which should also continue in the feasting that follows) must not only be an expression of the community of faith, but a motive for praising the Lord. To celebrate getting married in the Lord and before the Church means professing that the gift of grace made to the spouses by the presence and love of Christ and His Spirit calls for a practical response, with a life of worship in spirit and truth, in the Christian family, the "domestic church". Precisely because the celebration is to be understood not only as a legal act but also as a moment in the history of salvation of those being married, and through their common priesthood, for the good of the Church and society, it will be good to help all present to take part actively in the celebration itself.

63. It will be the duty of whoever presides to make use of the possibilities which the ritual itself offers, especially in its second typical edition promulgated in 1991 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, so as to highlight the role of the ministers of the sacrament who, for Christians of the Latin Rite, are the spouses themselves, as well as the sacramental value of the community celebration. With the formula of the exchange of consent, the spouses will always remember the personal, ecclesial and social aspect gained from this consent for all their life, as a gift of one to the other even unto death.4

The Eastern Rite reserves the role of the minister of marriage to the assisting priest. In any case, according to the law of the Church, the presence of a priest or a duly authorized minister is necessary for the validity of the matrimonial union and clearly sets forth the public and social meaning of the spousal covenant, both for the Church and for all of society.

64. Bearing in mind that marriage is normally celebrated during Mass (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 78; Familiaris Consortio, 57), when dealing with a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, the celebration will take place according to the special liturgical and canonical provisions (cf. Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium - OCM, 79-117).

65. The celebration will lead to more active participation if apposite introductions to the meaning of the liturgical texts and the content of the prayers are used. The simplicity of these introductions should favour recollection and understanding the importance of the celebration (cf. OCM, 52, 59, 87, 93, 99), and avoid turning the celebration into a didactic moment.

66. The celebrant who presides5 and presents the ecclesial meaning of the marriage commitment for the assembly, will try to involve those who are being married, together with their relatives and the witnesses, so that they can comprehend the structure of the rite. This applies especially to the most characteristic parts, such as: the Word of God, the consent exchanged and ratified, the blessing of the signs that symbolize marriage (rings etc.), the solemn blessing of the spouses, the reference to the spouses in the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer. "The various liturgies abound in prayers of blessing and epiclesis asking God's grace and blessing on the new couple, especially the bride." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1624). It will also be necessary to explain the gesture of imposing hands on the "subject ministers" of the sacrament. Standing, the sign of peace or other rites determined by the competent authorities, etc. will be appropriately brought to the attention of all present.

67. To achieve a style of celebration at once restrained and noble, whoever presides should be helped by the presence of assistant ministers, of people who will animate and sustain the singing of the faithful, lead the responses and proclaim the Word of God. With particular concrete attention to those who are being married and their situation, and absolutely avoiding any preference for persons, the celebrant should adapt himself to the truth of the signs used in the liturgical action. Thus, in welcoming and greeting those about to be married, their parents if present, the witnesses and others who attend, he will be the living spokesman of the community that welcomes those who are being married.

68. The proclamation of the Word of God is to be made by suitable and prepared lectors. They can be chosen from among those present, especially witnesses, family members, friends, but it does not seem appropriate for the bride and groom to be lectors. In fact, they are the primary receivers of the proclaimed Word of God. However, the choice of readings can be made in accord with the engaged couple during the phase of immediate preparation. In this way they will more easily bear the Word of God in mind so as to put it into practice.

69. The homily, which is obligatory, will have as its centre the presentation of the "great mystery" being celebrated before God, the Church and society. "Saint Paul uses a concise phrase in reference to family life: it is a great mystery (Ephesians 5: 32)". (Gratissimam Sane, 19). Beginning with the proclaimed texts of the Word of God andor the liturgical prayers, light should focus on the sacrament, hence the consequences for the life of the spouses and their families should be illustrated. Superfluous personal references to the spouses should be avoided.

70. If the rite takes place during the celebration of Mass, the gifts may be brought to the altar by the spouses themselves. In any case, the well-prepared prayer of the faithful should be neither too long nor lacking in concrete content. As may be pastorally appropriate, Holy Communion can be given under both Species.

71. Care should be taken that the details of the marriage celebration are characterized by a restrained, simple and authentic style. The festive tone should not be disturbed by excessive display.

72. The solemn blessing of the spouses recalls that the gift of the Holy Spirit is invoked in the sacrament of Marriage. Through this gift, the married couple are made more constant in their mutual concord and spiritually sustained in carrying out their mission, also in the difficulties of their future life. In the framework of this celebration, it will certainly be appropriate to present the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model of life for Christian spouses.

73. With regard to the periods of remote, proximate and immediate preparation, while it is good to bring together actual experiences in order to effect a major change of mentality and practices associated with the celebration, pastoral workers should take care to follow and make comprehensible what is already set down and established by the liturgical rite. It is obvious that such understanding will depend on the whole process of preparation and the community's level of Christian maturity.

Anyone can take note that herein some elements are proposed for an organic preparation of the faithful called to the sacrament of Marriage. Especially in the first five years of married life, it would be desirable to follow up the young couples through post-marriage courses, to be carried out in parishes or deaneries, according to the norm of the Directory for the Pastoral Care of the Family, mentioned earlier in nos. 14 and 15, in connection with the Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, 66.

The Pontifical Council for the Family entrusts to the Episcopal Conferencesthese guidelines for their own directories.

The pastoral concern of the Episcopal Conferences and individual Bishops will ensure that these guidelines are put into action in the ecclesial communities. Thus each of the faithful will understand better that the sacrament of Marriage, a great mystery (Ephesians 5: 21ss) is a vocation for so many in the People of God.

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