LITURGY Q & A: Betrothal Ceremony

Fr. Edward McNamara Says Prayers From 1962 Ritual May Be Used

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I am engaged to be married and have discovered the betrothal ceremony included by Father Philip Weller in his translation of the Roman Ritual (1962). My intended and I would like to use this ceremony, which contains some wonderful prayers and a moving blessing of the engagement ring. Is it permitted for a priest to use it? Has it been abrogated by the “Blessing for an Engaged Couple” found in the recent Book of Blessings? — E.L., Allentown, Pennsylvania

A: With respect to the possibility of using these formulas I think a first answer can be found in the April 30, 2011, instruction Universae Ecclesiae on the “Application of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum.” This document clarifies the norms on this point. To wit:

“Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Discipline

“24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.

“35. The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted, in keeping with n. 28 of this Instruction, and always respecting n. 31 of the same Instruction.”

Number 31 refers to sacred orders and has no bearing on our discussion.

Therefore, as a general principle we can reply yes, the prayers from the 1962 ritual may be used.

However, there might be a couple of caveats regarding Father Weller’s texts. First of all, we must recall that his effort was a private translation and not an official text. The official texts of the translated rites were and remain in Latin although both Pius XII and St. John XXIII had already approved a limited use of the vernacular in some rites. Father Weller provided his translation above all to aid instruction of the faithful. Thus the presentation of his book asserts:

“An introduction is given to the various parts, and brief commentaries within the actual rites, both of which are aids to priests in explaining the sacred rites as they are being administered, as well as material for instructions and sermons.”

Also, in the 1964 edition of his book, shortly after the publication of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, he wrote in the introduction:

“Because the ‘Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’ (35.3) directs priests to give liturgical instruction to the people during the very rites themselves, I have supplied introductions to the principal parts and some commentary within the rites. These are meant merely as suggestions on which the celebrant may base whatever commentary he sees fit to give. Provision is also made for the people’s vocal participation so far as possible, again in accord with the ‘Constitution.’”

It must also be pointed out that, although Father Weller included the rite of betrothal in his translation of the Roman Ritual, it did not in fact form part of the 1962 Ritual itself, which contained no formal rite for betrothal. He did not invent the rite, however, and it had been used in some places for quite some time. Thus the 1906 Catholic Encyclopedia explains:

“Formal betrothal is not customary in the United States or in English-speaking countries generally, as it is among certain nations, where the ceremony is sometimes solemn (before ecclesiastical witnesses) and sometimes private (made at home before the family or friends as witnesses). Among English-speaking peoples the betrothal, if it occurs, is generally without the presence of a third party. In Spain (S. C. C., 31 January, 1880; 11 April, 1891) and in Latin America (Acta et Decreta Conc. Pl. Amer. Lat., p. 259, in note 1), a betrothal compact is considered invalid by the Church unless written documents pass between the contracting parties. This practice obtains in other countries also, but its observance is not necessary to validate the agreement.”

According to the canon law in force at that time, betrothals were considered as either bilateral or unilateral contracts, accordingly as they are mutually agreed on by both parties or made by one and accepted by the other party (1917 Code Canon 1017, #1). Formal betrothal produced certain impediments to marriage and in some countries they could also have civil effects and give rise to “breach of promise” cases if an engagement were broken off. Such laws have been abolished in almost all countries, although in some places they were only removed from the statute books as recently as 2010.

Current canon law (Canon 1062) does not give such force to engagement and it is considered as a formal but unenforceable promise. The regulation has been left to bishops’ conferences which, considering that engagement has lost practically all civil effects in most Western countries, have usually opted to leave the question unregulated.

English-speaking canonists, writing at the time of the publication of Father Weller’s work, affirmed and even recommended using his translation precisely because it touched upon an area that was not covered by the official rites and could be useful to give stability to a future marriage in certain circumstances.

Therefore, while taking these canonical differences into account, and considering that it is not, in a formal sense, an official liturgical text, the rite could still be used as something spiritually profitable to a couple intending to enter into holy matrimony and who wish to make their intention public in an ecclesial context.

However, this same spiritual objective can also be achieved by using the “Blessing of an Engaged Couple” from the Book of Blessings, which is also more in harmony with the current rite of marriage and with the canonical effects of engagement.

I would say that, due to the similarity of rites, the use of Father Weller’s translation would be of greater profit to those who also intend to be wed according to the extraordinary form.

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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. 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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