Changes coming to marriage rite in the U.S.

Changes are coming soon to Catholic weddings in the United States. What you see happening when you attend one — or if you’re getting married yourself — will be a little different from what you’ve seen in the past.

The changes are courtesy of the coming implementation of the newly approved Order of Celebrating Matrimony, Second Edition, for the United States.

After a nearly two-year wait, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments over the summer approved the U.S. bishops’ new English translation of the marriage rite and, though no date has been set, the changes will likely be implemented before the end of 2016.

Overdue revision

The new rite’s road to your parish church has been a long one. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s entire liturgical life was reformed, including each of the sacraments. The Vatican issued a new marriage rite in March 1969, and an English translation soon followed. A second edition of that rite, with several revisions, was approved by Pope St. John Paul II in 1991, but an English translation was never approved until now. (Yes, U.S. Catholic marriages performed in English over the past quarter-century have all been done according to an outdated, though certainly valid, rite.)

A new translation — following the same norms that prompted the new Roman Missal translation implemented in 2011 — was submitted to the Vatican in 2013. Approval came June 29. Following that, a process of final review and corrections at the U.S. bishops’ liturgy office is wrapping up, and an implementation date is expected to be announced soon.

Detailing the changes

So what’s different? A few things.

First, as with the new Roman Missal, even the same prayers will have a different sound to them. That’s the result of a different set of translation principles — emphasizing more direct translations from the official Latin — mandated by the Vatican’s 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam.

Second, the rite’s title will change. What has been known until now as the Rite of Marriage will now be called the Order for Celebrating Matrimony. The U.S. bishops specifically asked for this change with the new edition.

“The bishops felt that the word ‘matrimony’ has a more sacred connotation than ‘marriage.’ They thought the change was important in the American context, where we’ve seen attempts to redefine what marriage even means,” Father Andrew Menke, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship, told Our Sunday Visitor.

Third, the opening rites will change a bit. A penitential rite (in which the priest leads the assembly in asking forgiveness for their sins) that used to be included in a wedding has now been cut. And where there was previously no Gloria (the singing or saying of “Glory to God in the highest ...”), that has been added.

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, some new ceremonies that have never been a part of Catholic weddings in English may now be included, optionally, in the rite. These include an exchange of coins and a blessing and placing of a lazo (a veil or cord) over the couple during the nuptial blessing. Both of these are traditional marriage practices in many Hispanic cultures and long a part of Spanish-language and Filipino Catholic weddings. In this new edition, the Vatican, at the request of the American bishops, allows their use in English-language weddings as well.

“Historically speaking, the Church has been very open to using the elements of various cultures in celebrating the sacrament of marriage. Different cultures have different ways of expressing what marriage means, and the Church has shown a lot of willingness to take in some of these cultural expressions,” Father Menke said. Placing the lazo over a couple is a symbol that they are now bound together sacramentally. And the exchange of coins “says they now share everything, which is what marriage is about,” Father Menke said.

Finally, the liturgical book for the new marriage rite also will include an appendix with special blessings for engaged couples and couples celebrating anniversaries. These blessings are not intended for use at a wedding but in other contexts. For example, a priest might use the blessing for couples celebrating an anniversary at the end of a parish Mass where such a couple is present.

What was left out?

It’s worth noting that the new rite does not include other elements that the bishops had hoped to include but were declined by the Vatican. First, the bishops intended to call for a more typical liturgical procession at the opening of the marriage rite, with priest and altar servers processing down the church aisle to an opening hymn, along with the bride and groom and other members of the wedding party. This would have meant a major change to the way most weddings begin in the United States.

Instead, the Vatican approved an instruction that hews more closely to that of the Latin original, which allows for the procession to happen “in the customary manner.” It’s a broad phrase that, as Father Menke noted, “leaves a lot of leeway for more local practices.” In effect, that means the typical wedding opening — with the priest standing in the sanctuary while the bride is escorted down the aisle by her father, who often then “gives” her to the groom waiting at the altar — will likely remain a common practice.

The U.S. bishops also sought to introduce into the rite the option for a litany of saints, emphasizing the names of married saints. Such an option has previously received Vatican approval elsewhere, for example in Italy. In this case, however, the Vatican rejected the proposal.

Father Menke explained that such a litany “has never been part of the marriage rite. The Holy See therefore felt this was an innovation that is not a part of the tradition.”

With new English editions of the Roman Missal as well as the rites of confirmation and matrimony now settled, other significant translation projects still await the U.S. bishops. One in the works, for example, is the Liturgy of the Hours, but that massive project is expected to take several more years before reaching completion.

Barry Hudock is the author of “Struggle, Condemnation, Vindication: John Courtney Murray’s Journey toward Vatican II” (Liturgical Press, $19.95).