Tuesday 26 May 2009

The English Rite of Matrimony

We were lucky enough on Saturday to see our organist and his fiancée joined in Holy Matrimony during the Celebration of a Solemn Nuptial Mass. The Mass was said from the Anglican Missal, but the couple preferred that they be married according to Cranmer’s colourful marriage formula; “…carnal lusts and appetites” etc. So, the English Ritual was on hand to provide both for the BCP marriage rite, and also for the Western Rite blessing and sprinkling of the wedding ring. Just a few observances on the rite as celebrated then.

It occurred to me, watching the ceremony, that the BCP rite emphasises the sacramental nature of matrimony, as the taking up of the union between man and wife into the energy of the Trinity. In one of the most famous prayers of the rite, the bridegroom joins his matrimonial life with the life of God:

With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The priest then, pronouncing them man and wife does so again in the name of the Trinity, after which he blesses them with this prayer:

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

As the blessing was pronounced, the priest moved his hands over the couple, to the left, right and centre at the mention of the three Persons of the Trinity. I don’t know if this action is intrinsic to the rite, but it certainly emphasised the union between the Trinitarian God and the married couple. Their matrimony then becomes a space opened up, where God’s plan can be disclosed and played out.

Which brings us to the second observance: In the Missal, the priest is directed after the Pater Noster has been said, to go to the Epistle side and read two prayers. In both the Anglican and English Missals, these prayers are the same that would be said in the Prayer book rite after the Psalm and the Our Father, and which are analogous to the Western Rite prayers for the procreation of Children. The English Missal gives both forms, the BCP wording before the Roman prayers.


O Merciful Lord, and heavenly Father, by whose gracious gift mankind is increased; We beseech thee, assist with thy blessing these two persons, that they may both be fruitful in procreation of children, and also live together so long in godly love and honesty, that they may see their children Christianly and virtuously brought up, to thy praise and honour; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Mercifully hearken, O Lord, to these our supplications, and graciously prosper this thine institution which thou has ordained for the propagation of mankind: that what is joined together by thine authority may be preserved by thine assistance. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The second prayer is slightly longer:

O God, who by thy mighty power hast made all things of nothing; who also (after other things set in order) didst appoint, that out of man (created after thine own image and similitude) woman should take her beginning; and, knitting them together, didst teach that it should never be lawful to put asunder those whom thou by Matrimony hadst made one: O God, who hast consecrated the state of Matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and represented the spiritual marriage and unity betwixt Christ and his Church; Look mercifully upon these thy servants, that both this man may love his wife, according to thy Word, (as Christ did love his spouse the Church, who gave himself for it, loving and cherishing it even as his own flesh,) and also that this woman may be loving and amiable, faithful and obedient to her husband; and in all quietness, sobriety and peace, be a follower of holy and godly matrons. O Lord, bless them both, and grant them to inherit thy everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Being short of time, I won’t include the Roman prayer, but will note the following convergence of themes:

Creation of the world from nothing, instituting marriage that it may never be put asunder.
The bond of Marriage as an excellent mystery.
Prayer for the chastity of the bride, that she might follow “holy matrons”.

The Roman prayer then makes mention of the matriarchs and ends with a petition for healthy and long-living offspring. Interestingly the Roman prayer only briefly alludes to the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church and makes no mention of His self-giving for it.

I wonder if someone who knows could tell me more about the origin of this second prayer from the prayer book. Is it merely an abbreviated (by Cranmer?) version of the Roman prayer? Does it hark back to Sarum? The prayer book also instructs the priest to pronounce these prayers from the Holy Table perhaps indicating the dependence of the BCP rite on the original Western custom. Does the Sarum Use shed anymore light on the BCP service? Has the Roman Rite service remained unchanged over the centuries or is it itself an evolution from an earlier form? Please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. In the Sarum form for the Solemnisation of Matrimony, after Our Father, with its versicles and responses, gives the following prayers:

    Let us pray.

    The Lord bless you out of Sion, that ye may see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of your life, and that ye may see your children's children, and peace upon Israel. Through + Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Let us pray.

    O God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, bless these young persons, and sow in their hearts the seed of eternal life: that whatsoever they shall profitably learn, they may indeed fulfil the same. + Through Jesus Christ Thy Son, Restorer of mankind, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God through all the ages of ages. Amen.

    Let us pray.

    Look down, O Lord, from heaven, and bless this covenant, and as Thou sentest Thy holy Angel Raphael to Tobias, and to Sara the daughter of Raguel, so vouchsafe, O Lord, to send Thy blessing upon these young persons: that abiding in Thy will, and continuing under Thy protection, they both my live and grow, and grow old in Thy love: that they may be both worthy and peaceful, and that the length of their days be multiplied. + Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Let us pray.

    Look down mercifully, O Lord, upon this Thy servant and upon this Thy handmaid, that in Thy name they may receive heavenly blessing, and that they may see the children of their sons and daughters to the third and fourth generation in safety: and that they may remain ever steadfast in Thy will, and attain hereafter to the kingdom of heaven. + Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Let us pray.

    The almighty and merciful Lord, Who by His power created our first parents Adam and Eve, and knitted them together by His own sanctification, Himself sanctify and bless your souls and bodies, and join you together in the union and love of true affection. + Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    God almighty bless you with every blessing, and make you worthy in His sight, pour upon you the riches of His grace, and teach you the word of truth, that ye may be able to please Him both in body and soul. Amen.
    (In modern usage, the bride and bridegroom are then crowned and given lighted candles.)

    Then they are led to the chancel, where they stand on the south side, and the votive Mass of the Holy Trinity begins with the Gloria.