As marriage is the most important threshold that most believers will ever cross it is surprising that the ritual is so simple. Leaving aside the celebration of the Eucharist, which accompanies many weddings, the actual rite of marriage is very short. Here it is in outline:
(i) Liturgy of the word
(ii) Liturgy of marriage
- address and examination
- consent of the couple
- blessing of rings, gold, silver etc.
- prayer of the newly married couple
- general intercessions
(iii) Nuptial blessing
This is the ritual celebration of marriage in the Catholic Church. Even within this simple ritual two things are much more important than the others - the address and examination and the giving of consent. The assistant (usually a priest or deacon or bishop though it can be a delegated layperson) asks the man and woman if they have come freely and without pressure to get married. Then the couple gives consent. It is these two steps that constitute the sacrament of marriage. Everything else is secondary and should underpin the meaning of the giving of consent.
Here are some pointers that might help.
(1) The rite allows for all sorts of regional variations in different parts of the world provided consent is asked for and given. Similarly it should be made clear to all those preparing for marriage that they do not have to accept various traditions which are not central to the rite such as the giving away of the bride and particular forms of dress.
(2) Indigenous adaptations of the ritual could replace rings and money with more culturally nuanced symbols of wedlock.
(3) The couple should be involved in the preparation of all aspects of the ritual. This could include the composing of a prayer for the newly married.
(4) Because the words of consent are crucial they should be clearly heard. Couples should be encouraged to use the statement form of consent (where they say all of the words) rather than the interrogative form (where the priest says most of the words). After the words of consent have been spoken is a good time to play some reflective music so as to give all present a moment to savour the promises that have just been made.
(5) As at any sacramental gathering the organization of the available space is important. Given that the attendance at weddings will not normally fill the church building, steps should be taken to gather the congregation around the sanctuary in a more intimate setting. Maximum audibility, visibility and participation are required. It can be beneficial to get the couple to face the congregation during the ritual of marriage. They will naturally feel shy in doing so but it clearly marks out the significance of the giving of consent. Furthermore, it will give the participants a real feeling of being pushed out to the threshold.
(6) Priests, or other assistants, should take care not to become the center of attention. It is arguable that concelebration should be avoided at weddings as it only detracts from the centrality of the bride and groom. At any rate only the presiding priest/deacon should go forward for the examination and the giving of consent. The homily should take account of the fact that there are often many people present who do not regularly attend church. The care and solicitude of the Christian community for all people should be made clear.