“May Your Kids Always Like You”: Subtle Changes in the Rite of Marriage

The Rite of Marriage was codified in the 1614–15 Rituale Romanum by the Council of Trent. The 1962 Rite of Marriage is identical to the one found in the 1615 Rituale and is spartan. It clocks in at about 400 words — compared to the Sarum Use of the Rite of Marriage at about 3,000 words.

Since 1962, the Latin text of the Rite of Marriage has been revised twice. The first typical (Latin) edition of the new rite, closely followed by an English translation, was released in 1969–70. The 1970 Latin bears almost no resemblance to the 1962. The second typical edition was released in 1991, with the English translation delayed until the 2010s.

However, there is a curious prelude to the 1969 Rite, in the form of a second edition of the 1962 Rite, published in 1964. There were several precursors:

  • Sacrosanctum Concilium by the Second Vatican Council (December 4, 1963)
  • Sacram Liturgiam by Pope Paul VI (January 25, 1964)
  • Inter Oecumenici by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (September 26, 1964)

In the feverish spirit of reform, the bishops of the United States requested and received permission to publish a fully vernacular edition of the Roman Ritual, compiled by Father Philip T. Weller.

What is noteworthy is not the Latin text of the 1964 Rite of Marriage — almost identical to the 1962 — but the vernacular. The 1964 edition included a series of seven English-only blessings, to be given at the end of the rite.

As these blessings are only in the 1964 edition, and only in English, there is nothing to which we can directly compare them. Instead, we can use the nuptial texts (the 1962 Rite of Marriage and the Missa pro Sponso et Sponsa); the ends of marriage (procreation and unity); and the goods of marriage (offspring, fidelity, and sacrament) of marriage as a way to analyze themes and trace patterns in the 1964 blessings. The blessings are below, in a roughly thematic order, rather than the order in which they appear in the rite.

  1. May almighty God bless you by the Word of his mouth, and unite your hearts in the enduring bond of pure love.
  2. May you be blessed in your work and enjoy its fruits.
  3. May the Lord grant You fullness of years, so that you may reap the harvest of a good life, and, after you have served him with loyalty in his kingdom on earth, may he take you up into his eternal dominions in heaven.

These three blessings have some precedent in nuptial texts. The first asks for unity, which runs throughout the nuptial texts, most evidently in the vows, the Introit (“May the God of Israel join you together”), and the Epistle (“the two shall become one flesh”). The fact that this blessing is mentioned first in the 1964 blessings may be indicative of a shift in emphasis on marital goods from procreation to unity.

Work may not seem like the most romantic topic for a wedding day, but the nuptial texts do not shy away from it. The second request, to be blessed in work, is alluded to in the Gradual (Psalm 127: “mayest thou see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life”). The Nuptial Blessing also extensively describes the work expected of the bride (“may she be modest and grave, bashful and venerable”).

The third request is perhaps the most traditional of the seven blessings. A long life, and the hope of eternal life in Heaven, are mentioned repeatedly throughout the Nuptial Blessing (“may it be at length her happy lot to arrive at the rest of the blessed in the kingdom of God”). The virtue of loyalty, or fidelity, is also a virtue mentioned earlier in the Rite of Marriage (“Bless O Lord, this ring, which we are blessing in Thy name, so that she who wears it, keeping faith with her husband in unbroken loyalty…”). These are dynamic requests that require activity (you serve God) and receptivity (you will be taken up by God).

  1. May the peace of Christ dwell always in your hearts and in your home; may you have true friends to stand by you, both in joy and in sorrow.
  2. May you be ready with help and consolation for all those who come to you in need; and may the blessings promised to the compassionate descend in abundance on your house.
  3. May cares never cause you distress, nor the desire for earthly possessions lead you astray; but may your hearts’ concern be always for the treasures laid up for you in the life of heaven.

These next three blessings are on increasingly shaky ground. The fourth asks for the peace of Christ and true friends. Peace is mentioned in the blessing of the rings (“may ever remain at peace with Thee”), the Tract, and the Communion (both Psalm 127), the Nuptial Blessing (“may love and peace constantly remain in her”), and the Postcommunion (“that thou mayest preserve those with lasting peace whom Thou unitest in lawful union”).

Blessings 4 and 5 ask for good friends — both good friends for the couple and that the couple be good friends to others. This is an admirable request but one that is not thematically present in the nuptial texts. In fact, the rest of the Rite of Marriage and the Missa pro Sponso have a distinct air of exclusivity. The Gospel reminds the husband to cling to his wife, and the only other parties mentioned are the couple’s future children.

The fifth blessing also has the effusive “may the blessings promised to the compassionate descend in abundance on your house.” This is possibly a reference to the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”), as the Greek word for merciful can also be translated as compassionate.

Within the context of both the particular request and the other word choices — true friends, peace, consolation — the concern seems to be on earthly happiness and satisfaction, reinforced by blessing 6’s request that “cares never cause you distress.” It was mentioned earlier that the Nuptial Blessing expounds upon the future work expected of the bride; there is no request for the bride to enjoy the work (although she may). “For us,” T.S. Eliot says, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” The final elements of blessing 6 awkwardly counterbalance this with the more traditional request of the desire for eternal life in Heaven.

In light of this, the choice of the word compassionate stands out. In Latin, one can translate compassionate literally to to suffer with (com-passio) — a markedly different tone from what these blessings suggest.

  1. May you be blessed in your children, and may the love that you lavish on them be returned a hundredfold.

The first part of our last blessing begins with one of the most common themes in the nuptial texts. Children (or procreation and fruitfulness) are requested in almost every single proper, and multiple times in the Nuptial Blessing.

The second part of this blessing is the most curious of all: “may the love that you lavish on them be returned a hundredfold.” Nowhere in the nuptial texts is the affection of one’s future children mentioned. Nowhere in the goods or the ends of marriage is it mentioned.

Praying that your children will love you is no doubt a relatable prayer, and an expansive list of petitions is not uncommon in a marriage ceremony. Taken by themselves, petitions for good friends, the enjoyment of work, or for children to love you are not opprobrious. Taken altogether, though, they represent a worrying trend.

Looking closely at the 1962 Rite of Marriage and the Missa pro Sponso reveals a sobering but ultimately inspiring collection of blessings. The focus is on the couple and God: the fruitfulness and faithfulness of the couple’s love and their trust in God. In the diversity of pre-Tridentine nuptial blessings, a common prayer was for angelic protection of the couple (Sarum: “that she who wears it may be armed with the virtue of celestial defence”). Even in the 1962 Rite of Marriage, one can see an allusion to Psalm 61, as the priest says, “Be a tower of strength for them, O Lord. Against the attack of the enemy.” The steep expectations for husband and wife enumerated in the nuptial blessing and the readings leave no doubt as to the dignity of so excellent a mystery as marriage.

Even comparing the origins of the 1962 nuptial texts and the 1964 blessings is striking. The 1962 Rite of Marriage is almost completely scriptural; parts of the Nuptial Blessing and the Missa pro Sponso can be found in the Book of Tobit and throughout early medieval sacramentaries. The 1964 blessings appear wholesale in 1964, and only vestiges remain in later editions of the Rite of Marriage (“May you be blessed in your children, have solace in your friends…,” 2016 English translation of the Order of Celebrating Matrimony).

Much grist can (and should) be made of the dizzying array of options and revisions in the 1969 and later rites, but these 1964 blessings represent a changing of the winds, a quiet experimentation in our understanding of nuptial priorities. Even before the near total revision of the Rite of Marriage in 1969, the mid-1960s saw some members of the Second Vatican Council (successfully) encouraging relaxation of the Church’s longstanding opposition to mixed (interfaith) marriages, which preceded a stream of unprecedented nuptial situations involving Anglican rites, reception of Holy Communion by non-Catholics, and female ministers.

At least some of the blessings in the 1964 Rite of Marriage could be considered a major departure from older nuptial texts. The 1964 blessings downplay or re-contextualize virtues traditionally requested in the rite of marriage (fidelity, mutual love, work) and emphasize new goods (good friends, peaceful home, children who love their parents). These are all nice things. Perhaps past generations, wiser than our modern committees, recognized that as nice as it was, asking for your kids to like you was a bit much.

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