Saturday, July 27, 2013
Regarding Marriage Ceremonies And Which Words Confer the Sacrament
Over at Glory to God For All Things, (w/ a h/t to The Raven) Fr. Stephen Freeman has a post about the lack of vows in the Byzantine Marriage ceremony. Marriage is the sacrifice of yourself to God for the sake of your spouse. In the Byzantine Rite of Crowning, bridegroom and bride never speak to one another, rather they offer themselves to God for each other and the priest, through the various actions made famous by "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", offers them to God and he himself joins them together. They do not interact, rather it is the priest, who acts in the person of Christ, that joins them together.
This is contrasted with the secular notion in the West that the essential act is not the priest, but rather vows that the couple speaks to one another. Fr. Stephen goes on about the Western myth that marriage is some kind of contract or covenant (thus allowing any two people of any gender to enter into one), clarifying that it is really a sacrificial union accomplished by God, and as such, they can only enter into such a union if God created them such that they "fit together" (and at the same time He actually wills them to be together, for He creates the union and not they themselves). In short, Fr. Stephen says that the East is correct and accurate because it has the priest, representing Christ, joining the couple together, without them interacting with each other, (their interaction being with God for the sake of each other) and that the West is inaccurate since it reduces one of the 7 Mysteries to a man-made contract by having an exchange of consent between two "parties" be the establishing factor of the marriage, opening the door for all sorts of immorality to call itself marriage.
Now, to be fair to the West, the Tridentine Rite ceremony does not have "vows" the way the West understands them as "contractual promises made in an exchange between the parties". Sure, the rubrics allow them to be done, but they are in no way essential and are not the part that confers the sacrament. The idea that "vows" are necessary and even confer the sacrament is a very recent idea that became popular after the Novus Ordo made these "vows" mandatory-the Tridentine Rite has always conferred the sacrament by the priest's words and the "vows" were always optional. The priest was removed as the central focus and replaced by the couple. In other words, the NO took up the actions already practiced by the God-less secular world.
The actual "form" of the sacrament is the declaration by the priest, joining them together: "I join you in Holy Matrimony in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen". This formula, like all sacramental formulas in the Tridentine Rite, must be in Latin. The rest of the ceremony (the not as essential parts) may be in the vernacular. First, the priest questions the consent of each and the formula in Latin then confers the sacrament. Actual "vows" spoken to each other being optional. The only time the bridegroom speaks to the bride is when he gives her the wedding ring (which comes next). The bride never speaks to the bridegroom at all. They don't interact with each other (except when giving the ring), rather they interact with the priest. The ceremony finishes with the priest saying some prayers for the couple and Mass (a normal Mass) immediately follows the ceremony.
It, like the Eastern ceremony, is an accurate depiction of what marriage really is: a sacrifice of yourself to God for the sake of each other. You do not join yourselves together; God joins you together. The words spoken by the priest declaring you married is what makes you married, for the priest acts in the person of Christ in all the sacraments. Consent is not a part of the form, it is a part of the matter, namely a consenting man and a consenting woman. Hence, the West has always required proof of consent by way of the priest's questions. It is similar to the act of contrition in Confession, the matter is a contrite sinner, not a sinner, so the existence of contrition must be established for the priest to say the form ("I absolve you..."). Marriage works the same way, at least in the Latin Church.
The idea that exchange of consent confers the sacrament is a recent, invalid, secular notion. It removes God from the action and reduces a sacrament to a contract, which was precisely Fr. Stephen's grievance in the first place. It is just as absurd as saying that the act of contrition confers the Sacrament of Penance. No it doesn't. Even in the NO, the priest's declaration that couple is married confers the sacrament (similar to the priest-according to any rite-declaring that "This is my Body" makes bread Flesh), the consent being akin to the act of contrition as above. The problem is thinking that the establishment of consent (which doesn't ever require the couple to speak to each other) confers the sacrament. That creates an idea that "marriage" is something we create ourselves on our terms when it's really something God creates on His terms, hence why the Byzantine ceremony is a more accurate depiction of the sacrament: it lacks any interaction between the couple and instead puts the focus on them giving themselves to God for each other.