Memory and Celebration:
The Church renews her marriage liturgy

Sylvester and Angela Geurts exchange the sign of peace during Mass Oct. 2 at St. Katharine Drexel Church in Kaukauna, Wis. Couples married 50 years and longer were honored during Mass and the parish sponsored a brunch for them. The Geurts are celebrating their 70th anniversary this year. (CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass)
Part 1 of 2

This is the first of a two-part series on The Order of Celebrating Matrimony.

The Church has given us a new English translation of her Order of Celebrating Matrimony. This new liturgical document offers us a good opportunity for timely catechesis on the vocation of marriage in the Church and society. Considering this, beginning today, I shall lift up some of the fresh insights and new liturgical practices found in this wonderful new ritual.

Let’s begin not at the beginning but at the end, that is in the third of three appendices where something never found in previous marriage rituals has now been added, namely the Order of Blessing a Married Couple … on the Anniversary of Marriage — a beautiful and powerful liturgical blessing in which the couple themselves participates, but do not renew their wedding vows.

Why not Renew Wedding Vows?
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted is the bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix. He was installed as the fourth bishop of Phoenix on Dec. 20, 2003, and is the spiritual leader of the diocese’s 1.1 million Catholics.

Marriage vows at a wedding are unlike any other promise made by human persons. The Lord, the Author of marriage and Creator of all, has given these vows a particular sacramental power. The Church teaches the maxim that “The couple’s exchange of consent makes marriage” (Cf. Catechism, #1626). This is truly an extraordinary thing. The exchange of wedding vows (of consent) between two baptized persons, combined with God’s grace, actually make the sacrament to be!

A comparison with another Sacrament may help explain this unique phenomenon: our Baptismal promises can be renewed regularly since it was not these promises that made us children of God, but rather the pouring of water or immersion in it, together with the ministerial pronouncement, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We need not and truly cannot, to continue the analogy, re-baptize a person in order to remember the powerful moment of baptism. It is the same with wedding vows. We need not, and truly should not, restate the vows. However, faithful marriages should be celebrated, the commitment renewed, and God’s fidelity remembered with grateful praise.

EN ESPAÑOL: Celebrando Aniversarios Matrimoniales


How right it is to have this new Rite

Memory, aided by the celebration of marital anniversaries, is such a powerful part of human life that the Church has decided, especially in this time of marital crisis and the breakdown of family life, to provide a special blessing to be used to celebrate wedding anniversaries.

In this rite of blessing the husband and wife, each in turn, recall with grateful praise the moment of their consent which was given years before: “Blessed are you, Lord, for by your goodness I took (name) as my wife (or husband).” Notice the past tense “took” here. The couple is actively remembering and praising, cherishing but not re-doing their vows. Then, together they offer the following prayer to God:

“Blessed are you, Lord, for in the good and the bad times of our life you have stood lovingly by our side. Help us, we pray, to remain faithful in our love for one another, so that we may be true witnesses to the covenant you have made with humankind.”

Then, the priest blesses the couple in the following words:

“May the Lord keep you safe all the days of your life. May He be your comfort in adversity and your support in prosperity. May He fill your home with His blessings. Through Christ our Lord.”

When I had the privilege, last month, of celebrating Mass and blessing my oldest brother and his wife on their 50th Wedding Anniversary, it was not only a time of grace for them and their children and grandchildren but also deeply moving for all of us who were present. It renewed in us a deeper confidence in God’s loving providence at work in all the joys and sorrows that are part and parcel of our lives.

We need to celebrate the fidelity of God

As we draw near to St. Valentine’s Day, our attention is inevitably drawn to romantic love and marriage. Would it not be good to take this occasion to reflect on the One who is the source of love and the author of marriage? If you or someone you love will soon be marking a significant wedding anniversary, be sure to take time to celebrate and give praise to the Lord Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church.

Personally, I will begin to use this Order of Blessing at our annual Diocese of Phoenix Celebrating Marriage Mass, Sept. 30, 2017, when we honor our married couples who are celebrating special anniversaries this year.

Christ’s Bride, the Church, rejoices in the memory of the Sacramental moment of consent of each couple married in her protective bosom. She also rejoices in the mission of Holy Matrimony: the founding of the domestic church — the family. Moreover, she rejoices that in every marriage Christ grants spouses the grace to grow in holiness in their home, thereby preparing their children to carry forward and pass on to the next generation the blessing of family life united and made fruitful in Christ.