The moment you say, “Yes, I’ll marry you,” you answer the first of thousands of questions that will eventually lead you and your future spouse to your wedding day.
Some of those questions are easy like, “Can your crazy Aunt Helga bring her cat as a plus one?”
Some are minor details, “Do you want your dress in eggshell or ivory?”
Some you get tired of answering, “So when is the BIG day?”
And then even in the midst of all the chaos and decisions that come with planning a wedding…there are some questions you as a Catholic should be asking yourself. Questions like:
- How can we make our faith central to our upcoming marriage?
- How can I focus more on understanding the binding, sacramental nature of matrimony?
- What am I doing to spiritually prepare myself to receive this sacrament?
Believe it or not the Catholic Church is thinking about those things too. In fact, the Catholic Church takes marriage so seriously that it established a Rite of Betrothal specifically to help keep brides-to-be and their future husbands focused and aware of the binding nature of the sacrament they were about to receive.
The Rite of Betrothal is not a well-known practice in the Church, recently it has surfaced in a number of Traditional Catholic parishes, but as more couples become aware of its existence and it’s spiritual benefits I heard some more of the local Norvus Ordo parishes are also offering it to recently engaged couples.
What is the history behind the Rite of Betrothal?
Early Jewish and Roman laws and customers clearly influenced the early practice of Betrothal within the Catholic Church, but it wasn’t until the 3rd Century that the Church formally recognized a defined Rite of Betrothal as a valid and lawful contract. By the 4th Century (the time of St. Augustine) betrothals were written and then signed by the bishop before being publicly read. As the end of the 9th century approached, betrothals had become very common place in Church legislation. Then for a while the Rite of Betrothal was added as the prologue to the sacrament of matrimony, with the sacrament being bestowed immediately after. Today the Rite of Betrothal is an optional, but spiritually beneficial ceremony that you can choose to have between you and your future spouse.
What is the Catholic Rite of Betrothal?
To use some old timey language, it is “the giving of one’s troth” which means the giving of one’s true faith (or promise). In a sense it is a mini-matrimony, where two couples deliberately and freely make a spiritual promise to one another to enter into a marriage. By reciting and holding a Rite of Betrothal for you and your future spouse you are making a spiritual commitment to each other publicly, verbally affirming your consent to wed, and receiving the first instructions on your responsibilities as a future spouse. In the past, the Church would use this as a preliminary check point to determine a couples fitness and to ascertain if there were any impediments to their receiving the sacrament of matrimony in good faith (i.e. neither had been married before, both agreed to the requirements for a Catholic marriages, both parties were of sound mind and capable of giving their full promise to each other).
What happens during the Rite of Betrothal?
There is no prescribed ritual for betrothal but it is most fitting that the ceremonies take place in a church before the altar of God, with the sacrament of Eucharist being offered soon after so both the future bride and groom can receive Holy Communion. It’s not necessary that the Eucharist is offered but it is highly recommended if possible.
During the rite the priest prays a number of prayers and witnesses the couple’s recitation of certain pre-marriage vows starting with the groom.
The groom recites the following:
“In the name of Our Lord, I (Name) promise that I will one day take thee, (bride’s name), as my wife, according to the ordinances of God and holy Church. I will love thee even as myself. I will keep faith and loyalty to thee, and so in thy necessities aid and comfort thee, which things and all that man ought to do unto his espoused I promise to do unto thee and to keep by the faith that is in me.”
And then the bride-to-be responds:
“In the name of Our Lord, I, (Name) do declare that, in the form and manner where in thou hast promised thyself unto me, do declare and affirm that I will one day bind and oblige myself unto thee, and will take thee, (Groom’s name), as my husband. And all that thou has pledged.”
Then the priest witnesses the Betrothal saying:
“I bear witness to thy solemn proposal and I declare thee betrothed in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
After these vows are exchanged, he blesses the couple and then blesses the engagement ring giving it to the Groom who then places the ring first on his bride-to-be’s index finger, the middle finger and then finally placing it and leaving it on the ring finger as he says, “In the name of the Father” (index), “and of the Son” (middle), “and of the Holy Ghost” (ring finger).
The priest then reads some appropriate scriptural from Tobias and the Gospel of John and recites a closing prayer. In certain cases a paper betrothal contract is signed but it’s not required.
What are the effects of Betrothal?
There are two main effects that come from the Rite of Betrothal. First, it creates a “legal” public and binding affirmation of commitment between the two contracting parties. This means that they must keep to their agreement and marry either on the exact marriage date, or if no date is picked, as soon as they are both able. The second is that it publically acknowledges that these two individuals are “off the market” to the rest of the parish community.
I’d also like to add here that in addition to the physical and legal effects the Rite of Betrothal has lasting spiritual effects. Firstly, it bestows graces upon the couple to assist them as they begin the undertaking of marriage preparation like Pre-Cana. It elevates the engagement ring from just a token of affection to the level of a sacramental. This shows that not only is this couple’s commitment to each other valid, but it also has the benefit of a Divine seal of approval. Additionally, it focuses the couple on the most important part of a wedding, the reception of the sacrament of matrimony. Finally, through the Rite of Betrothal, couples acknowledge their need to have God at the center of their relationship and upcoming marriage early on, joining the couple in prayerful discernment from the beginning of their period of engagement up until their wedding day.
About Therese Ptak
Therese is a Catholic freelance writer who has been writing for over 13 years now. When not writing for #shinecatholic, you can usually find Therese blogging at On the Brink of Discovery, or writing her novel. She enjoys intense discussions about sushi, singing chant music, and of course being Catholic!