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How New Is the New Traditional Wedding Preface?

On March 25, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued Quo Magis, which, among other things, added an optional preface (de Nuptiis) to the traditional wedding Mass (Missa pro Sponso et Sponsa). The announcement read (emphasis added):

Finally, special note should be taken of the Preface de Nuptiis, which together with the long Nuptial Blessing still in use in Masses pro Sponsis, is to be found — with minor variations — in early Sacramentaries such as the Gelasianum Vetus or the Gregorianum. This ancient Preface, already existing in the forma ordinaria, may therefore now be used in the forma extraordinaria as well.

The announcement made the important distinction that while this to-be-released Praefatio de Nuptiis was a new option, the preface itself is not new. The Praefatio de Nuptiis, so they say, can be found not only in the Novus Ordo, but also in the ancient Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries.

The full text of the prefaces (seven in all) were released the morning of the 25th. I present a side-by-side comparison of three nuptial prayers: the secret from the Incipit Actio Nuptialis in the Gelasian Sacramentary (secreta), the first nuptial preface option (De dignitate fœderis nuptiarum) for the Novus Ordo, and the “new” Preface (Praefatio de Nuptiis) for the traditional Latin Mass.

Secreta, Incipit Actio Nuptialis

Gelasian Sacramentary

(c. 8th century)

De dignitate fœderis nuptiarum

Roman Missal, Ordinary Form (2002)

Praefatio de Nuptiis

Roman Missal, Extraordinary Form








Qui foedera nuptiarum blando concordiae iugo et insolubili pacis vinculo nexuisti, ut multiplicandis adoptionum filiis sanctorum connubiorum fecunditas pudica serviret. Tua enim, Domine, providentia, tuaque gratia ineffabilibus modis utrumque dispensat, ut quod generatio ad mundi edidit ornatum, regeneratio ad ecclesiae perducat augmentum.

Vere dignum et iustum est, æquum et salutáre, nos tibi semper et ubíque grátias ágere: Dómine, sancte Pater, omnípotens ætérne Deus:


Qui fœdera nuptiárum blando concórdiæ iugo et insolúbili pacis vínculo nexuísti, ut multiplicándis adoptiónum fíliis sanctórum connubiórum fecúnditas pudíca servíret. Tua enim, Dómine, providéntia, tuáque grátia ineffabílibus modis utrúmque dispénsas, ut, quod generátio ad mundi prodúxit ornátum, regenerátio ad Ecclésiæ perdúcat augméntum: per Christum Dóminum nostrum.


Per quem, cum Angelis et ómnibus Sanctis, hymnum laudis tibi cánimus, sine fine dicéntes:

Vere dignum et iustum est, æquum et salutáre, nos tibi semper et ubíque grátias ágere: Dómine, sancte Pater, omnípotens ætérne Deus:



Qui fœ́dera nuptiárum blando concórdiæ iugo et insolúbili pacis vinculo nexuísti, ut multiplicándis adoptiónum fíliis sanctórum connubiórum fecúnditas pudíca servíret. Tua enim, Dómine, providéntia, tuáque grátia ineffabílibus modis utrúmque dispénsas, ut, quod generátio ad mundi prodúxit ornátum,

regenerátio ad Ecclésiæ perdúcat augméntum, per Christum Dominum nostrum.


Per quem maiestátem tuam laudant Angeli, adórant Dominatiónes, tremunt Potestátes. Cæli cælorúmque Virtútes, ac beáta Séraphim, sócia exsultatióne concélebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces ut admítti iúbeas, deprecámur, súpplici confessióne dicéntes:


The differences appear to be minor: dispensat (Your grace arranges) changes to dispensas (You arrange by Your grace), and edidit (give forth) changes to produxit (bring out).

Because this Praefatio de Nuptiis is nearly the same as both the Gelasian secret and the Novus Ordo’s preface option A (options B and C we save for another day), we can borrow the Ordinary Form’s English translation for a partial vernacular preview of the Praefatio de Nuptiis:

A: The dignity of the marriage covenant

Roman Missal, Ordinary Form


It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God. For you have forged the covenant of marriage as a sweet yoke of harmony and an unbreakable bond of peace, so that the chaste and fruitful love of holy Matrimony may serve to increase the children you adopt as your own. By your providence and grace, O Lord, you accomplish the wonder of this twofold design: that, while the birth of children brings beauty to the world, their rebirth in Baptism gives increase to the Church, through Christ our Lord.

This ancient preface, revived now not only by the Novus Ordo, but also by the CDF’s recent decision, is theologically and artistically rich. Beautifully articulating the procreative and unitive elements of matrimony, it is practically a catechism unto itself. It is reminiscent of a nuptial blessing from St. Paulinus of Nola (c. 353–431), which is even older than the Gelasian Sacramentary. In fact, his blessing may be the earliest known description of a Christian marriage liturgy in the West.

Christ God, draw these paired doves toward Your reins, and govern their necks beneath Your light yoke; for Your yoke, O Christ, is light indeed when taken up eagerly and born willingly for love. (As quoted in Documents of the Marriage Liturgy, by Kenneth Stevenson and Mark Searle; 1992)

It is difficult to say with certainty why the preface de Nuptiis was not included already in the older Roman Missals. The history of marriage celebrations is complicated, with many unanswered questions and local variations. (The traditional Roman Rite of Marriage, for example, does not include an explicit option for a double ring exchange, only a single one, from the groom to the bride. As a more striking example, the famous “to have and to hold” vows have also never actually been included in the Rite of Marriage. Some of the earliest mentions of those vows can be found in the Sarum and York uses of the Roman texts. These touching vows have survived partly because of — of all people — Thomas Cranmer, who included the vows in his enduringly popular Book of Common Prayer.)

Regardless, the promulgation of the Praefatio de Nuptiis is exciting for several reasons. A few observations:

On a practical level, as Dr. Peter Kwasniewski has already mentioned, this preface is optional. It is an organic restoration of an old, once widely used blessing that disrupts nothing of the current missal texts. Priests or couples preparing for the traditional Missa pro Sponso have the freedom to use or ignore this particular preface.

On a pastoral level, it is a bridge between the Novus Ordo and the traditional Latin Mass. Should a priest who celebrates predominately the Novus Ordo need or want to say the Missa pro Sponso, then this is one text with which he will already be familiar.

On a traditional or historical level, the Praefatio de Nuptiis is almost exactly the same in both forms of the Mass as we see above, as well as in the Gelasian Sacramentary. (This is particularly surprising given the rapid origins of many a post-1969 liturgical text.) The preface unlocks more of the treasures of the early medieval Church and unites us with centuries of past wedding days.

As a closing observation, the very end of the Praefatio de Nuptiis expands the Novus Ordo’s mention of angels, adding Dominions, Powers, and Seraphim. A request for angelic protection of the newly married couple used to be a much more common feature of older nuptial texts (Nuptial Blessing, Kenneth Stevenson, 1982) and cannot help but deepen the majesty of such a joyful sacrament.

The Praefatio de Nuptiis is far from an innovation, and in fact, it may be a great benefit to us. It simplifies matters for the priest saying the Mass, enriches our knowledge of tradition, and bridges the gap between new and old.

1 thought on “How New Is the New Traditional Wedding Preface?”

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