by Paula Storm
The blessing bestowed upon the bride and groom during the Sacrament of Matrimony re-enacts the uniting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We read in the book of Genesis that “…God blessed them saying: “Increase and multiply…”1 When the priest bestows this blessing upon the couple, he is affirming that marriage is part of God’s plan for companionship, procreation and the preservation of the human race. It also expresses the sacredness of their marriage vows: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10:9)
The nuptial blessing is derived in part from Jewish blessings found in the Old Testament. These include the blessings given to Adam and Eve, to Jacob (Gen. 27: 27-30), and to his twelve sons (Gen. 48:16 and Gen. 49:25-26, 28). There is a striking resemblance to Tobias’ prayer asking for blessings on his marriage (Tobias 8:4,7-10) and the long benedictions in the earliest texts of the Nuptial Mass. It is believed that these words, asking for a long life, fruitfulness, and the prosperity of their children, were partially taken from an ancient form of nuptial blessing that was said by the Jewish bridegroom.
There are three parts to Tobias’ prayer: an appeal to God as Creator, a commemoration of the creation of Adam and his helpmate Eve, and a petition for God’s blessings on his marriage. St. Raphael’s participation at Tobias’ wedding, like Christ’s presence at the wedding feast of Cana, indicates that marriage is something very precious in God’s eyes.
Though there is ample evidence that the Nuptial Mass and blessing can be traced back to the early Church, no texts can be found before the fourth century. Pope Nicholas I (d. 867) cites the Book of Tobias to support the practice of nuptial benediction. Both circumstantial evidence and specific quotes from Tobias (7:15 and 9:10-11) found in medieval nuptial liturgies from the 11th and 14th centuries and that are still in use today, parallel earlier texts. This means that the nuptial benediction has been in use for nearly 4,000 years. Ironically, Martin Luther removed the Book of Tobias from the Protestant Bible.
“The solemn nuptial blessing of the Missal can never be used outside of Mass. If one has been given the faculty to bless a marriage outside of Mass, he must use the formula given in the Ritual.”2 According to Canon Law, there are times when the Nuptial Mass cannot be said, such as “All Souls’ Day3 from the first Sunday of Advent inclusively to Christmas day inclusively and from Ash Wednesday inclusively to Easter Sunday inclusively, unless for a just cause the local Ordinary [bishop] has given permission for the solemn nuptial blessing, in which case the nuptial Mass is said or commemorated according to the rubrics.”4
If the bishop gives a dispensation the nuptial blessing may be given during a Mass that replaces and commemorates the Nuptial Mass.
A woman who has received this blessing (at a previous marriage) cannot receive it again nor can a couple in a mixed marriage (Pope Pius IX, Etsi Sanctissimus Dominius, 1858). Young people who are planning their wedding should realize that there are certain restricted times of the year when the Nuptial Mass is not permitted.
The first nuptial blessing is currently said immediately after the Pater Noster. Although primarily intended for the woman, it also asks that God favor this couple in their new marriage:
“Let us pray: Be appeased, O Lord, by our humble prayers, and in Thy kindness assist this institution of marriage which Thou hast ordained for the propagation of the human race; so that what is here joined by Thy authority may be preserved by Thy assistance. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever. Amen.
“Let us pray: O God, by Thy mighty power Thou didst make all things out of nothing. First, Thou didst set the beginnings of the universe in order. Then Thou didst make man in Thy image, and didst appoint woman to be his inseparable helpmate. Thus Thou didst make woman’s body from the flesh of man, thereby teaching that what Thou hast been pleased to institute from one principle might never lawfully be put asunder. O God, Thou hast sanctified marriage by a mystery so excellent that in the marriage union Thou didst foreshadow the union of Christ and the Church.
“O God, Thou dost join woman to man, and Thou dost endow that fellowship with a blessing which was not taken away in punishment for original sin nor by the sentence of the flood. Look, in Thy mercy, upon this Thy handmaid, about to be joined in wedlock, who entreats Thee to protect and strengthen her. Let the yoke of marriage to her be one of love and peace. Faithful and chaste, let her marry in Christ. Let her ever follow the model of holy women: let her be dear to her husband like Rachel; wise like Rebecca; long-lived and faithful like Sara. Let the author of sin work none of his evil deeds in her; let her ever keep the faith and the commandments.
“Let her be true to one wedlock and shun all sinful embraces; let her strengthen weakness by stern discipline. Let her be grave in demeanor, honorable for her modesty, learned in heavenly doctrine, fruitful in children. Let her life be good and innocent. Let her come finally to the rest of the blessed in the kingdom of heaven.
“May they both see their children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, thus attaining the old age which they desire. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, forever and ever. Amen.”
Then, at the end of Mass, the final nuptial blessing is said after the Ite Missa Est:
“May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob be with you. May He fulfill His blessing in you so that you may see your children’s children even to the third and fourth generation. Afterwards may you have life everlasting, by the assistance of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with the Father and Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, God forever and ever. Amen.”
The long history and biblical roots of the blessing make it a tradition linked to the Old Testament Patriarchs. Christ surely bestowed a blessing upon the newly-married couple in Cana. The present form is probably a combination of both with additional prayers added through the centuries. It ensures that the bridal couple receives God’s special care, love, and guidance.
Some couples light the flame of their wedding candle in celebration of each wedding anniversary as they read the beautiful nuptial blessing. By taking the time in their busy lives to remember their wedding day, the couple rekindles the love they have for one another— the love that God has blessed.
1 Genesis 1:28.
2 (S.C.R. 3016; 3226; 3798, iv; 3922, vi; R.R.:viii, C. iii). Rev. Joseph Wuest, C.SS.R., Rev. Thomas Mullaney, C.SS.R., Matters Liturgical, pp. 488-489, Frederick Pustet Co., New York, ©1956.
3 Missale Romanum: Nuptial Mass.
4 c. 1108, 2-3 R.R. viii, c. I AD 9. Rev. Joseph Wuest, C.SS.R., Rev. Thomas Mullaney, C.SS.R., Matters Liturgical, p. 484, Frederick Pustet Co., New York, ©1956.
Catholic Church, St. John’s Manual, New York: T. W. Strong, 1856.
Catholic Encyclopedia—Nuptial Mass, http://www.newadvent.org, July 18, 2006.
Matters Liturgical, Rev. Joseph Wuest, C.SS.R., Rev. Thomas Mullaney, C.SS.R., New York: Frederick Pustet, 1956.
The Ceremonies of Catholic Marriage According to the Traditional Rite, Wayne MI: St. Joseph Media.
Reynolds, Philip Lyndon, Marriage in the Western Church, Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001.
–Taken from the Reign of Mary Quarterly Magazine, Issue 124