"I Now Declare You Man and Wife"

And More on Spanish at Mass

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ROME, JAN. 18, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In the last 10 years I have attended a number of Catholic marriages and in none of them does the priest ever say, «I now declare you man and wife.» What happened to that simple declarative statement and why has it been excised from the marriage vows? — G.B., Richmond, Virginia

A: As far as I have been able to ascertain, this particular formula never formed part of the Roman Catholic rite of matrimony. These words, or variations of the same, do form part of the Anglican and some other Protestant rites.

Since the media are not exactly sticklers for detail when it comes to ritual, many people have seen and heard this supposedly Catholic phrase in countless movies and TV shows. For this reason, they might expect it when they attend a real Catholic wedding.

The closest Catholics come to hearing a similar expression is in a wedding celebrated according to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, which was in general use until the early 1970s. After the couple exchanged vows and before blessing the ring, the priest says, «Ego conjúngo vos in matrimónium. [I join you in matrimony] In nómine Patris, et Fílii, et Spíritus Sancti. Amen.»

With the reform, the above expression was dropped from the Rite of Marriage. Among the reasons for eliminating it was that, since the celebration would henceforth be in the vernacular, the use of the first person singular could easily leave the impression that the priest acted as the minister of the sacrament, analogous to the way he acts when he says, «I baptize you» or «I absolve you.» The Latin tradition, however, holds that the couple themselves are the ministers of the sacrament. The Catechism says:

«1623. According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the traditions of the Eastern Churches, the priests (bishops or presbyters) are witnesses to the mutual consent given by the spouses, but for the validity of the sacrament their blessing is also necessary.

«1626. The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that ‘makes the marriage.’ If consent is lacking there is no marriage.

«1627. The consent consists in a ‘human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other’: ‘I take you to be my wife’ — ‘I take you to be my husband.’ This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two ‘becoming one flesh.’

«1628. The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage is invalid.

«1630. The priest (or deacon) who assists at the celebration of a marriage receives the consent of the spouses in the name of the Church and gives the blessing of the Church. The presence of the Church’s minister (and also of the witnesses) visibly expresses the fact that marriage is an ecclesial reality.

«1631. This is the reason why the Church normally requires that the faithful contract marriage according to the ecclesiastical form. Several reasons converge to explain this requirement:

— Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church;

— Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order, and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children;

— Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses);

— The public character of the consent protects the ‘I do’ once given and helps the spouses remain faithful to it.»

For these reasons the priest no longer uses the first person singular but rather receives the consent of the couple by saying:

«You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide.»

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Follow-up: Spanish Translations for U.S.

Related to our comments on which Spanish translations may be used in the United States (see Dec. 21), several readers had asked if bilingual Masses were permitted and in what circumstances.

We had dealt with this subject on July 12, 2005, and would basically confirm what we wrote on that occasion.

We would only add that there might be more occasions justifying bilingual Masses than those mentioned. For example, a regular bilingual Mass might be possible in places where the scarcity of clergy allows for only one Mass in a community that is more or less equally divided between speakers of two languages.

The bishop, as moderator of the liturgy for the diocese, should be asked before scheduling such a regular celebration. If necessary, he may also issue norms for his diocese regarding this topic.

It is also worthwhile recalling that Latin may always be used in whole or in part. It may be very useful in uniting a community in singing the common parts such as the Gloria, Sanctus, Pater, Agnus Dei and even some of the responses and acclamations.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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