A living sign of divine love
Christian marriage is a free, lifelong and natural union between a man and a woman. Christ has “raised marriage to a sacrament” (CCC 1660). In it, he is present in a particularly powerful way as the couple express their consent to each other. The sacrament has become a “living sign” of the union between Christ and his Church (cfr Ephesians 5,21-33). Just as Christ is united to the Church, so, through their consent, are a couple united in a permanent and exclusive way to one another.
Marriage can take place as part of a Mass (known as a Nuptial Mass) or as a service in its own right.
The groom, best man and other guests gather in Church and when the bride arrives she is escorted down the aisle usually by her father, maid of honour and bridesmaids with some accompanying music. She is literally handed over by her family to her new husband.
At the beginning of the ceremony everyone is welcomed and the beautiful opening prayer concentrates – as all the prayers of the Mass or service do – on the couple:
you have made the bond of marriage
a holy mystery,
a symbol of Christ’s love for his Church.
Hear our prayers for N. and N.
With faith in you and in each other
they pledge their love today.
May their lives always bear witness
to the reality of that love.
Throughout the ceremony we are praying that the couple will be a reflection of Christ’s love for his bride the Church.
We listen to the Word of God which will reflect on what is about to take place. Then the priest or deacon will give a homily about marriage. We then move into the Rite of Marriage. First the couple must declare that there is no legal barrier to their union, and that their intention is lifelong and open to the possibility of children. The couple then give their public consent to becoming husband and wife. They will then ask all present to witness their intention to be faithful for life regardless of circumstance. During this they hold each other’s right hand. The priest then asks for this consent to be blessed. As a symbol of what has happened between the two they exchange blessed rings.
After the rite of marriage there are bidding prayers and the signing of a civil register to meet the requirements of the law. There follows the Eucharistic Prayer, in the case of a nuptial Mass. It is particularly appropriate, since, as we noted above, a marriage mirrors Christ’s love for the Church. The Eucharist, in which Christ is present, thus carries with it a significance that suggests how the couple can remain in love with each other if they remain in love with Christ, who unites them both. The nuptial blessing, a solemn prayer proclaimed by the minister after the Our Father, echoes these themes.
At the end of the service the new husband and wife process out of Church together followed by their witnesses, family and friends.
(Photo of the altar of English Martyrs, Wallasey, courtesy of Alex Ramsay)