Order of Celebrating Matrimony

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Our conference of bishops is reviewing the Order of Celebrating Matrimony, and we’d like to include the third chapter of the typical edition, which you Americans do not have. It’s the celebration of marriage in the presence of an assisting layperson instead of an ordained priest or deacon. I have noted that this particular ‘order’ carried no form of ‘opening prayer’ / ‘gathering prayer’ (by any other name). I find this peculiar. I went to your wonderful and very helpful book, “Inseparable Love…” to seek an explanation, but you never touched into the matter, even in passing.  Is there a reason which it might be omitted in Ch 3? [Having had to use Chapter 4 before I can understanding why there might be circumstances in which an opening prayer might not be used there, but for Ch 3 – when one presumes that the couple are baptised, etc. … I am not sure what the pastoral reasons might be …]


A: My answer is: “I don’t know.” But this much you can tell, that that prayer exists in the versions both with and without mass, and in the second case the conclusion is simplified. The second of those rituals envisions that a priest or deacon is the presider, so the opening prayer more naturally falls to him. Perhaps a layperson does not use such a prayer.

The first edition of the OCM made the prayer optional in Chapter II, the ceremony without Mass. It cited Inter Œcumenici 74a, which indeed lists the parts of the ceremony without Mass as “the brief introduction, reading of the epistle and gospel in the vernacular, homily, celebration of marriage, nuptial blessing.” Also notice in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 78, that “if the sacrament of matrimony is celebrated apart from Mass, the epistle and gospel from the nuptial Mass are to be read at the beginning of the rite.” 

The ceremony with a lay presider was new to the second edition of the OCM, so there’s always the possibility that the person(s) who wrote it overlooked some things, but I wonder if they were trying to incorporate the simpler vision of the previous documents.

Something similar exists in the distribution of communion outside Mass. If you look at the soon-to-be-retitled Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery outside Mass, you see that after the penitential act in #28, you go straight to the readings from scripture in #29. And that happens even when a priest or deacon is presiding.

So it may have to do with the nature of the celebration. One of the great temptations in liturgy is to presume that the structures that happen at Mass remain in place outside of Mass. But not all of them do. Many ceremonies begin without the sign of the cross, for example, even though many ministers put one in there. During common celebrations of Morning and Evening Prayer, I often hear scripture readings conclude with “The Word of the Lord,” even though that formula is not there. Just because something happens at Mass doesn’t mean it happens elsewhere too.