| |

SIDIC Periodical XIV - 1981/1
Jewish and Christian Marriage Liturgies (Pages 11 - 19)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

The Contribution of Judaism to the Christian Liturgy of Marriage ; Similarities and Differences
Adrien Nocent, O.S.B.


Within the limitations of an article the subject at hand cannot be treated in full in all its biblical, liturgical, theological and cultural aspects. I shall content myself with presenting some points which, it seems to me, will best serve this review.

Some Fundamental Points

When speaking of the Christian liturgy of marriage a distinction must be made, from the fourth century on, between liturgies of the East and of the West. The distinction is extremely important because, where marriage is concerned, there is question, not only of different rites, but of differing attitudes.

As far back as the fourth century it seems there was a special liturgy of the sacrament of marriage in the Eastern Church which was related to the Old Testament. It is not surprizing, then, that this betrothal and marriage liturgy should be closely allied to the Jewish celebration.

In the West, with the exception of the blessing of the bride which is not a sacrament properly so called, we find no specific liturgy of marriage before the end of the eleventh century. The ceremony was modelled on current customs, especially in Rome, as long as these customs were not contrary to Christian faith or practice. The Epistle to Diognetus is clear about this, stating as it does that Christians get married as others do.1 Christian marriage in the Western Church took on legal connotations, consent being indicated, according to the custom of different cultures, by the payment of money, the giving of a ring and, in Gaul for example, by the blessing of the nuptial chamber. When marriage came to be celebrated in the presence of the Church's minister, in facie Ecclesiae2, the "pagan" Roman ritual of betrothal and that of marriage coalesced. Still today, although improved somewhat through a rich choice of readings, Christian marriage remains very juridical in the very liturgy of the sacrament, without there being sufficient emphasis on the theology of marriage and the covenant which the bride and groom symbolize.3


The blessing of the bride as mentioned in the sacramentary of Verona') clearly shows links with the blessing formula with which Ragucl gave his daughter Sarah in marriage to Tobias (Tob. Vulg. 8:5). It could be said that all the Christian marriage rituals have been inspired by this blessing. We do not find in the Old Testament any mention of the presence of priests at the celebration which took place at the home of the groom, or, occasionally, at that of the bride (Gen. 29:21-24; Jug. 14:12; Tob. Vulg. 8:23).5 This corresponds with what we see, at least in the Churches of the West and in Gaul in particular, where evidence is first found of the custom of "the nights of Tobias" being observed in Christian marriages (Tab. Vulg. 6:16; 8:4). 6 Ritzer, attempting to reconstruct the blessing of the bride as found in the sacramentary of Verona, stresses these references in his text. The following are some fragments of interest to our topic:

Father, you called into being all that exists (Gen. 1:24), giving man the mission to multiply (Gen. 1:28; 9:1-7). With your own hands you created a companion for Adam so that the hone taken from his bones might have the same form despite the admirable difference of the sexes (Gen. 2:1824). Thus your command to share the nuptial bed, to increase and multiply in such large numbers, has created bonds in the human race in order to link together the inhabitants of the whole earth (Gen. 1:28; 9:1-7) ... the weaker sex united to the stronger forming together one whole (cf. Gen. 1:24) ... Graciously bless the youthful strength of this your servant who is marrying so that, sharing a good and holy life with her husband, she may keep the precepts of eternal law (cf. Eccl. 17:9ff); may she remember that she is not primarily called to enjoy what marriage allows but rather be lovingly concerned about conjugal fidelity (Tob. Vulg. 6:22; 8:9).

"The biblical and theological content of this prayer is, unfortunately', as Ritzer notes, "so hidden in the rhetoric of the past as to be unrecognizable."

In the ritual that was drawn up according to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the readings from the Old Testament are well chosen, bringing a new point of view which we shall look at briefly later.

In addition to the nuptial blessing, the texts of the Mass are dependent on the Old Testament. In the Sacramentary of Verona, for example, the second prayer at the beginning of the Mass expresses it concisely: ... et cuius creator es operas, esto dispositor (and you who are the creator of this work be its dispenser); in the introduction to the blessing of the bride: ... et instituis tuis quibus propagationem human generic ordinasti (and you who by your work have ordered the propagation of the human race); as well as the beginning of this blessing quoted above: Pater, mundi conditor, multiplicandae origins institutor, qui Adae comitem tuis manibus addisti, cuius ex ossibus ossa crescentia parem formam admirabili diversitate signarent a (Father, creator of the world, author of all which has being, who gave Adam a companion made by your hands, so that the bone taken from his bones might grow into a like form with an admirable diversity). The allusions to Genesis are obvious.

The Gelasian sacramentary has a preface whose authentic text has been included in the marriage ritual of Vatican II. The doctrine expressed therein is clearly biblical with a rich theology showing a sound view of marriage: ... ut multiplicandis adoptivorum filiis sanctorum concubiorum fecunditas pudica serviret (that a chaste fecundity may serve to multiply the sons of adoption). In spite of the christianizing of the text which speaks of the 'adopted children of God' the profound meaning of marriage is developed according to the tradition of the book of Genesis.9


Here we shall very briefly sum up a few points which concern the links between the Christian and Jewish liturgies of marriage. We merely want to mention some customs: gifts of money, a document which recognizes the contract of the union, assimilating the ceremony of betrothal to that of marriage itself, the role of the crown, the custom of the Huppah and the glass of wine.

Although the text of Mishnah Qiddushin 10 states that a woman may be married through a gift of money, through a written document or by concubitus (intercourse), in practice the only betrothal ceremonies known were Kesel (money) and Ketubab (document). The text was along these lines: "Be consecrated to me by means of this money." Later a written document would replace this giving of money, but its mention would be included in the text. " In effect the betrothal and marriage rituals became one.

In the East, down to the present day, betrothal is still an important ritual both juridically and liturgically. The betrothal ceremony, such as it was envisaged by St. John Chrysostom, was performed by giving money as a guarantee, this being replaced later on by a ring. We read in the Novellae that Justinian obliged married people of a certain social standing to have a written contract.

Crowning of the Bride and Bridegroom

The custom of crowning the bride and groom found in the Jewish ritual of marriage has been, since the sixth and seventh centuries down to the present, an important feature of the Greco-Byzantine Christian liturgy. As far back as that time, according to St Gregory of Nazianzus, the priest would often himself crown the young couple. " St. John Chrysostom explains the Christian meaning of this action: "The bride and bridegroom are crowned as a symbol of their victory, because they have reached the door of marriage unconquered, never having been slaves to pleasure. If anyone has become a slave of pleasure by consorting with prostitutes he has been conquered. Why then does he wear a crown?"' Once a liturgy of marriage properly so called was formulated, its celebration no longer took place in the home but in the church in the presence of the priest who would crown the couple. When prayer books were printed the crowning ceremony followed the same customs as found in the manuscripts. The priest would first crown the groom: "The servant of God, N. is crowned with the servant of God, N., in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", the text being repeated for the crowning of the bride. In removing the crowns, the priest would say to the groom:

"May you be praised as was Abraham, blessed as Isaac and fruitful as Jacob, going forward in peace and observing the commandments of God in justice."

Then to the bride:

"And you, 0 bride, may you be praised as was Sarah, happy as Rebekah, and fruitful as Rachel, finding your joy in your husband and observing the prescriptions of the law, since this is the way to please God." 15

The crowning was considered so important that it meant in fact "to marry". The Oriental rites give different interpretations of this gesture, all of them of a deeply theological nature. The coptic rite is especially interesting in its relation to the Old Testament:

`You who have crowned your saints with imperishable crowns, bless these crowns ... May they be for this bride and bridegroom crowns of glory and honor (Ps. 8:6), of salvation and blessing, of joy, peace, rejoicing and gladness, of virtue and justice, of wisdom, understanding, strength and steadfastness. Crown them with glory and honor. The Father blesses, the Son crowns, the Holy Spirit perfecta" 16

Under the Huppah

We shall look at the Jewish custom of the Huppah and the possibility that some rituals in the West correspond to it.

In rabbinic Judaism the betrothed couple, after the meal, take their place under the huppah (tent or canopy).17 This rite seems to be the climax of the celebration and the first time that the couple are together. This poses a problem where the ritual of Christian marriage is concerned. In the sacramentary of Verona, the title given to the blessing of the bride after the Pater of the Mass is: "Velatio sponsae". 18

It is known from elsewhere that in the "paged* Roman ritual the bride was clothed in a red veil, the flair. meum, and that she was crowned with laurels. The question has been asked as to whether the Roman ritual took over this veiling ceremony for the blessing of the bride, but it can be safely set aside since a sufficient number are of the opinion that there is reference to another veiling here. Pope Siracus and St. Ambrose of Milan, both of the fourth century, speak in their letters about the veil which is held above the bride and groom during the blessing. St. Paulinus of Nola writing in the fifth century, gives evidence of the same custom when describing the marriage of a lector; 18 the same rite has been found in Normandy and Spain. 20

It has been thought that this "velatio", affecting both bride and groom, and which still today is observed in some dioceses of France, comes rather from the Jewish custom of the huppah which symbolizes the union of the couple who are going to live together and which in fact gives them this right. In the ceremony of marriage according to rabbinic Judaism, the final words of the blessing which, like the huppah, are connected with the betrothal ritual, are as follows; "Blessed are you, 0 Lord, who sanctifies Israel through the huppah and betrothal."' We must see this rite in its connection with the blessing of the nuptial chamber which was so important in Roman-Merovingian Gaul where it was the oldest form of liturgical marriage. Several old texts prove this to be so as evidenced by the numerous blessings which could be quoted. 21 Almost the same rituals can be found in Spanish and English liturgies. 23

The Glass of Wine

Other parallels with Jewish liturgy are found in another ritual, the blessing recited over a glass of wine. The Jewish marriage ceremony contains a blessing, or rather several blessings, which are recited over a glass of wine. 24 In the Greco-Byzantine Church the blessing over a common cup of wine is made after the newlyweds have received communion. 25 This blessing refers to the marriage feast of Cana and the gift which Christ bestowed on the bride and bridegroom on that occasion. There is a reference here, however, to a cup of consecrated wine. Later on there grew up in Gaul the custom of blessing bread and wine in remembrance of the wedding at Cana. This was all the more so when only the wine was blessed. From the eleventh century on the different Ordos or Ceremonials record that the priest would most often give this blessing after the marriage in front of the door of the home of the newly married couple. Bride and groom would then drink from this cup which would either be given to them by the priest, or else they would give it to one another. 26 These were popular customs often brought over from England'" to Normandy, for example, which could fit perfectly into the marriage liturgy without being strictly a part of it and were thus recognized by the Franco-Roman Churches. In addition to referring to the marriage feast of Cana, this custom also symbolized the responsibility which the newly-married couple were taking together for their life in common. Towards the close of the thirteenth century in central France the custom changed somewhat — the groom took a bite from a piece of bread and his bride followed suit, after which both drank from the cup of wine. This happened usually after the celebration of the Mass, but sometimes the ritual was linked with that of the blessing of the nuptial chamber as can be seen in a fifteenth century ritual from Paris.28

Christian Contribution to the Liturgy of Marriage

The Christian Church has made it very clear that marriage consists not in concubitur but in consensus. This legal emphasis may, at certain periods, have veiled the very rich theology of the sacrament of marriage under its juridical character. It should be recognized that, particularly in the Western Church, it has often been difficult to go beyond this legal aspect and to establish a deep theology which would touch the lives of the married couple. The New Testament, however, can provide texts with a very profound theology rich in vital teachings.

Here we must return to the Old Testament. We could have done so at the beginning of this article; we thought it better, however, to sum up the doctrine of the Old Testament here, showing how that of the New Testament both in continuity and in discontinuity with it.

The Concept of Marriage and its Evolution

In the Ancient Near East sexuality was conceived of as being in the realm of the sacred as can be seen from various myths and the manner in which so many of the rituals were performed. 29 They are founded on the legends of the gods and goddesses and their amours, a kind of an archetype that society tries to reproduce. Sexuality, then, is linked with the legends of the deities. Fecundity and procreation are associated with creation which is the work of a father god and a mother goddess, and the raising of sexuality to the realm of the sacred is in direct relation to this archetype. Love seen as feeling or sensual pleasure is thus often described in mythology and represented in its rituals.

In some way it could be said that biblical revelation is in continuity with this pagan sociological vision, but it breaks with it on the ideological and ritualistic levels. Sexual myths lose their meaning since there is but one God (Deut. 6:4) and there is no goddess. Sexual rites such as sacred prostitution (Deut. 23:18, 19) or magical acts of sexual union with animals (Is. 22:18; Deut. 27:21; Lev. 18:23) disappear likewise. Israel, however, continued to consider sex as sacred since life has its beginnings in God, thus explaining the levitical laws of impurity. Two biblical texts are significant. The older, that of Gen. ch. 2, shows how man and woman belong to one another; they are alike and form one flesh (Gen. 2:21-23; 2:18; 2:24). The later text stresses the identical dignity of man and woman with regard to monogamy: both together are the rulers of creation (Gen. 1:28,29). Fruitfulness has its source in God and the creation of the two sexes is the work of God who is good (Gen. 1:31). The creative word of God expressing his will is then the source from which marriage draws its sacred character and the first couple created is, by that very fact, the ideal model on which society can be built. The interpersonal relationships of the two unite them in the flesh and their social function is one of fruitfulness.

Under the leadership of the prophets the post-exilic ideal of matrimony was reached. Before this time, however, some interesting examples of marriages are found going back before the eighth century b.c. In the story of Abraham and Sarah it can be seen that concubinage was legal and that the wife was still almost her husband's slave (Gen. 13:10-19); in another passage there was question of ensuring the future of a people (Gen. 29:32). It would be unjust, however, to exclude the notion of true love from these unions. Jacob, for instance, served Laban for fourteen years in order to have Rachel as his wife (Gen. 29:20-30). What comes first, though, is the fruitfulness of the race, even if we find the means taken not a little strange, chapter 38 of Genesis being an example. 31

Beginning with the time of the exile, however, the vision of marriage changed radically. If we look at the prophetic books and Wisdom literature we can find important texts concerning the indissolubility of marriage, as in Malachy 2:14-16. To safeguard it, one must be prudent with the foreigner because physical and sensual love cannot be conceived of apart from fidelity (Prov. 5:1-14; 7:1-27). The perfect wife is described in Proverbs chapter 31; while describing the unfaithful wife, Sirach also lists the virtues of the model wife (25: 13 - 26:18). The book of Tobit is of prime importance for biblical theology. The married couple is doubtless always dramatically exposed to evil (Tob. Vulg. 6:14,15); a chaste and holy love is possible, however, and procreation will be the fruit, the aim of marriage (Tob. Vulg. 6:21,22). One can admire the prayer of Tobias and Sarah which will be adopted by Christian liturgy, inserting into the theme of God's covenant with his people that of Christ with his Church. Although there are many different theories concerning the Canticle of Canticles, it should be noted that the joys of human and physical love are treated of rather than the theme of fruitfulness. The setting is that of paradise and, from the theological point of view, an eschatological vision of man and woman with innocence restored. 32

When Christ speaks of marriage he refers to the text of Genesis (1:27; 2:24), the image of the ideal archetype before the fall. Christ has come to rebuild the Kingdom and his only vision is that of this couple. If one were permitted formerly to send one's wife away propter duritiam cordis (on account of the hardness of your hearts) this will no longer be possible in the new Kingdom (Mt. 19:1-9). Neither polygamy nor divorce has any place in this Kingdom (Mt. 19:6); and if a man put away his wife and take another he commits adultery (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). The difficulties of married life are there, however, and mercy must find a place — the woman taken in adultery is pardoned (Jn. 8:3-9); Christ has come 'to call sinners to repentance' (Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 18:9-14; Jo. 8:11). The new law is more exacting than the old: to look upon a woman with desire is already to have committed adultery; nevertheless, charity can cover a multitude of sins and sinners and prostitutes will go before many others into the Kingdom of heaven (Mt. 21:31,32).

In her life and experience, the Church takes Christ's ideal and makes a decision about it, giving a rule of life which is definite and final so that divorce is categorically forbidden (I Cm. 7:10,11). The married couple will doubtless run up against problems constantly —concrete problems which will require urgent and practical solutions. The Old Testament was preoccupied about this and the letters of the Apostles have attempted to find a solution (cf. Col. 3:18,19; Eph. 5:21-23; I Tim. 2:9-15; I Pet. 3:1-7). It remains difficult, however, for a baptized person, in spite of his conformity to the principles of Christ, to integrate his sexuality into his Christian life.

St. Paul wishes to help the faithful at Corinth to integrate their sexuality into their married life (I Cor. 7:1-9). In the troubled times in which they were living, continency could prove to be a danger which he denounced (I Cor. 7:1,3,5); thus man and wife have mutual rights and duties (I Cor. 7:3,4). Although in the life of the Kingdom which is in the process of formation continency is presented as an ideal, this cannot be for everyone; gifts are varied according to the call that God gives (I Cor. 7:5,6; 7:7,1720,24). Marriage does not take away chastity, however; it supposes it in the gift that husband and wife make to each other in rejecting egotism (I Cor. 7:3,4); this requires that sexuality be somewhat dominated by ascetism (I Car. 7:2,5). Happily the Spirit helps the baptized person to make the works of the flesh die within him or her (Rom. 8:13). The baptized person is the one who wishes to share in the death of the Lord in order to share also in his resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14).

The Mystery of Christ and the Church

From its very beginnings the Church has emphasized the mystery of Christ and of the Church. In prophetic writings the married couple could find their archetype in the covenant which God has made with the human race, an imperfect covenant, it is true, but one in which the Lord could be continually sought while looking forward to the last day. Through his paschal mystery, Christ has come to fulfil this covenant in its plenitude; it has become objectively perfect since the death-resurrection mystery of Christ is a decisive turning point in the history of the world. The model of the betrothed couple is no longer an abstract but exists in very fact, and the covenant of God with men has become a nuptial mystery through Christ. Furthermore Christ himself is the bridegroom and cannot understand how those invited to the wedding feast could be in mourning when the bridegroom is with them; the days will come when he will no longer be there and then they can fast (Mt. 9:15; Mk. 2:19,20; Lk. 5:34,35). The parable of the wedding feast which Jesus recounted to his disciples is very clear on this point. The king prepared a wedding feast for his son, the king being God and Christ his son. Here we see the nuptial mystery of the Kingdom assimilated to the mystery of Christ the bridegroom (Mt. 8:11). The parable of the ten virigns likewise shows Christ as the bridegroom (Mt. 25:1-13). The passage in the Apocalypse which describes the Lamb and the wedding ritual cannot fail to make an impression on the reader. The bride adorned and presented to her bridegroom is the whole of humanity, represented now as a woman, now as a city, the new and heavenly Jerusalem (Apoc. 21:2,10-17), foretold by Ezechiel (chap. 40) and Isaiah (chaps. 54,60-62).

But this nuptial mystery is seen as a clear doctrine above all in the letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) where St. Paul has set down the mystery of Christ united with the Church. Adam was the type of the one who was to come (Rom. 5:14). If sin has come to everyone through the first Adam, the whole world has been renewed through the second Adam, Christ having given the world the power to share in his resurrection (Rom. 5:15-18,21; 6:5-11; I Cor. 15:49; Eph. 4:2324). In opposition to Christ who has thus renewed the face of the world is the world itself. Christ acts towards humanity as a bridegroom towards his bride; Christ loves it and delivers himself for it (Gal. 2:20). The letter to the Ephesians clearly and succindy sums up this doctrine:

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Eph. 5:25-27.

The love of Christ has transformed humanity in order to unite it to himself, thus making it his pure bride. Christ offered himself completely in order to work his miracle of nuptial love. His love is redemptive and his bride has become his own body (Eph. 5:28-31).

This is the root of what makes man and woman one same body (Gen. 2:24): Christ "is before all things and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church (Col. 1:17,18). This doctrine is applied to the married couple whom God has created in his image (Gen. 1:26,27). If sexuality belongs to the beginning of creation, it does not, however, owe its sacred character to this fact — the original prototype looks forward to the fulness of time. The mystery of the relationship between God and humanity can be glimpsed already in the union of man and woman. The love of husband and wife has been signified in the highest manner by the Word of God who has redeemed humanity. Woman, in her relationship with man, finds her true meaning through the Word of God, her creator and redeemer, so much so that, for Christianity, marriage is a type or symbol which is fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son of God through whom al/ humanity is brought into a union of indissoluble love. The liturgy of the feast of the Epiphany has magnificently joined the theme of the marriage feast of Cana to that of covenant and marriage itself:

"Hodie coelesti Sponso iuncta est Ecclesia, quoniam in Iordane lavat Christus eius crimina: cur-runt cum muneribus magi ad regales nuptias, et ex aqua facts vino laetantur convivae" (Antiphon of the Benedictus, Lauds). (Today the Church is united to her bridegroom because in the Jordan Christ has washed away her faults; the magi hastened with their gifts to the royal nuptials and the guests rejoiced in the water made wine.) 33

In John's Gospel, therefore, the water of the purification of the Jews which refers to the Old Covenant, becomes wine, sign of the New Covenant in the blood of Christ, and the theme of covenant is based on the Cana episode whose setting is a marriage and a wedding banquet.
One might be tempted to think that we have here the literary and mystical presentation of an ideal which we are incapable of living, but we know that, on the level of faith, the whole of the Christian life has nuptial connotations and that each Christian lives this mystery in his own situation, according to his own charism, with its difficulties and struggles, divided between the flesh and the spirit (Gal. 5:16,17; Rom. 7:1425). Conscious of this drama, St. Paul adds that, as a member of Christ, of the Church who is a bride, the Christian has been purified by the washing of water (Eph. 5:26), being drawn from the corruption of a sinful humanity and brought into the covenant in all its purity. The Apostle has thus dared to dictate to the bridal couple the way in which they should live —a moral life flowing from the sacrament of marriage through which the nuptial mystery of Christ is manifested in them. The mutual relations of Christ and of the Church thus become the principle and the model for their married life (Eph. 5:21-32). Each of them, joined through the covenant and communion with God, is truly united to the other; carnal love is transfigured by love and charity; they are "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).


It cannot be denied that, with the exception of the lectionary which offers readings that emphasize what marriage is as well as its roots in the Old and New Testaments, the ritual of marriage itself is too much concerned with the juridical level of promises, too exclusively centred on the level of the human made sacred, without showing sufficiently that human love is surpassed in the covenant made by God and perfectly fulfilled in him through his Son in the Spirit.

We would be unjust, however, if we did not im. mediately qualify what we have just stated. Until recently weddings used to be celebrated before the Mass, reminiscent of the time when promises were exchanged in the house or, later on, "in facie Ecclesiae". In the ritual of Vatican II the celebration of the sacrament of marriage has been included in the Mass itself, in addition to which the readings show clearly that the eucharistic celebration places this sacrament in the context of covenant which we have claimed belongs to it. It is true that the deep meaning of this theology is not as apparent as we should like to see it. It would be necessary to have the very text of the wedding ceremony preceded by a formula which would point out clearly and concretely that the promises made by the bride and groom mirror the covenant made between God and humanity in Christ and in the Spirit, and that the young couple thus become for everyone a figure of this covenant.

If we wish to state more precisely the deficiencies of the new ritual, two further points could be made: the lack of reference to the notion of covenant in the form of the sacrament itself, and the fact that the bride and groom exchange rings. This custom was practised as far back as the eleventh century in Germany, for example, while on the contrary the people of Normandy observed for a long time the custom of one ring given to the wife by the husband, a custom that was being observed in Paris up to the fifteenth century, and which demonstrates well the covenant which the bridegroom (Christ) makes with his bride (the Church). In our days we have slipped into a deplorable kind of equality. There was, in fact, a complementarity that was stressed through the blessing that belonged exclusively to the bride and which the reform of Vatican II, in giving it to both, has turned into a rather simplistic equality. Would it not be more meaningful to return to the practice of one ring, telling the young couple and the faithful in general that this gesture symbolizes the covenant made possible through Christ, and keeping for the bride her special blessing which consecrates her as a collaborator in the building up of the Kingdom? These suggestions might seem to be very far from the concepts entertained today regarding the equality of the sexes; but should we not go beyond this level so that husband and wife can he raised to the level of the gift of God and of Christ who, above all else, consecrates their covenant and their fidelity to one another.

Choke of Readings

Rather than remaining on a negative plain, however, let us see how the readings as set out in the lectionary have enriched the theology and the experience of marriage. Once again we find recourse to the Old Testament and to the perspectives of the New. While it is not possible to examine all the readings the bride and groom have for their choice, we should like at least to refer to them and see the position of each one briefly.

There are eight readings from the Old Testament all told. The first of these, taken from Genesis, tells of the creation of man and woman (Gen. 1: 26-28, 31a), the theological implications of which we have stressed already. In two other readings from Genesis there is a clear insistence on the unity of marriage: "and they become one flesh" (Gen. 2:18-24); and the blessing of Rebekah: "Our sister, be the mother of thousands of ten thousands; and may your descendants possess the gate of those who hate them!" (Gen. 24:48-51, 58-67). Rebekah covered herself with her veil on meeting her future husband and Isaac brought her into the tent: he "took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her."

Next we have two readings from the Book of Tobit. The first one, (Tob. Vulg. 7:9c, 10, 11c-17), gives us an idea of the ritual of marriage in the Old Testament. Raguel took the right hand of his daughter and put it in Tobias' right hand saying: "May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob be with you, that he may unite you and bless you." The marriage contract was then made out and they ate together. The second reading is taken from Tob. Vulg. 8:5-10, stressing the fact that Jewish marriage is not likethat of the pagans. Then follows the well-known prayer in which it is affirmed that marriage does not only consist in physical love but also in the continuance of the human race.

The three other readings proposed are ones that we have referred to already above, namely, the passage from the Canticle of Canticles (chap. 8): "for love is as strong as death', whose special meaning has already been pointed out, in particular, that of the vision of paradise given to the bride and bridegroom which, through their Christian marriage, they should bring into their daily living. Then there is a passage from Sirach (26:1-4; 16-21) describing the qualities of the perfect wife, and that of Jeremiah (31:31,32a, 33,34) which foretells the new covenant and in which we find the archetype of Christian marriage.

As second readings the lectionary proposes eleven texts, either from the letters of the Apostles or the Apocalypse of John. Chap. 8 of Paul's letter to the Romans needs to be explained in order to justify its inclusion. At the centre of this passage (Rom. 8:316-35, 37-39) is the phrase: "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" This is a reference to the marriage of Christ and his Church, consequently to that of every Christian and in particular, to that of the man and woman who are becoming types of the covenant. Another passage from the letter to the Romans: "present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1,2, 918), refers to spiritual worship, the only lesson to be drawn being on the level of the moral life since St. Paul enumerates the attitudes which this worship exacts.

But the offering of our bodies to God is, in marriage, fulfilled through the mutual offering of the bodies of husband and wife; thus sexuality enters into this offering which is an image of the covenant of Christ with his Church. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:13c-15a, 17-20): "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit." The body of the baptized person belongs to the Lord and is a member of the body of Christ. The text mentioned above recalls that if the Christian is a free person, then by reason of this very liberty perversion is forbidden to him or her. Certain marriages, one contracted with a prostitute for example, could only he a profanation of the temple of the Holy Spirit. Union with Christ is as intimate as is union of the flesh, and the Christian couple should, in their relations, attempt to imitate the holiness of the divine intimacy without any profanation.

In the first letter to the Corinthians (12:31-13:8a) St. Paul affirms the importance of charity and enumerates its qualities, a teaching belonging to all Christians and to every moment of life. In the context of marriage, however, it seems opportune to recall the primacy of this charity. A reading from the letter to the Colossians makes the same point. While addressed to all Christians, it is especially fitting in the context of marriage because charity is the only thing which allows the oblation, the complete gift of one to the other without an egotistical turning in on self. The first letter of Peter is likewise a fervent appeal for union among brothers and sisters.

Two other readings are taken from the first letter of St. John, the first making the point that love should be shown "in deed and in truth" (I Jn. 3:18-24), the second being an affirmation that God is love (I Jn. 4:7-12). The love of God for his people and the love of Christ for the Church are the archetypes of marriage which in itself becomes the presence of the divine covenant among us. St. Paul presents this nuptial mystery in another reading of the Mass (Eph. 5:2a, 2133), a text which was frequently found in older lectionaries and which is the starting point of the theology of marriage: "This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

The lectionary of the nuptial Mass then gives ten perimpes from the Gospels whose choice has been carefully made, requiring from the future bride and groom and the priest who will bless their union a deep reflection together.

Some of them concern all Christians but are adapted to the concrete circumstances of married couples. Thus we have the beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12): "Rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven." The Christian husband and wife should try to fulfil these beatitudes which will guide their steps on the eschatological way. It has been remarked already that the theme of the renewal of the covenant, of regeneration, is referred to by St. John in his account of the marriage feast of Cana (fn. 2:1-11). If we limited our attention to the fact that Christ shares in the Christian wedding ceremony and blesses it we would seriously diminish the value of this text for use in the liturgy of marriage. We havestressed already the importance of this text, showing how the feast of the Epiphany links the theme of covenant with that of marriage which mirrors it. The Christian bride and groom are then a light to the world as is indicated by the choice of Matthew 5:13-16. They are lights for other Christians because they are a sign of the fulfilment of the covenant of God with his people and of Christ with his Church. -What God has joined together let no man put asunder is the theme of Matthew 19:3-6 because they are no longer two but one flesh as Mark affirms in another pericope (Mk. 10:6-9).

Several other readings magnify love; it is the greatest commandment (Mt. 22:35-40), the commandment of loving one another (Jn. 15:12-16), of abiding in the love of God (Jn. 15:9-12). We are, in effect, not simply "made one" in Christ, but have become "perfectly one" (Jn. 17:20-26). If this be true for all Christians, how much more so is it true for married couples. United in Christ, they "build their house upon a rock" (Mt. 7:21, 24-29); their union is able to stand up against all storms because it is founded on the love of Christ and the Church which is the archetype of their own love.

As we see it, Vatican II has made a great effort in order to give the bride and groom on their wedding day a choice of readings which will shed light on the fundamental doctrine of marriage. We could have made use of this lectionary in order to illustrate how Christianity has added its contribution to the doctrine of marriage that we find in the Old Testament. The liturgy is not, however, simply a course of instruction nor a body of doctrine; rather we must let it speak to us because in so doing we let Christ himself speak to us in the ever-present proclaiming of his Gospel.

Christian liturgy is therefore in direct continuity with the Jewish liturgy of marriage. In this matter, as in the Eucharist for example, similar forms can and often do draw out a new richness.

1. Epistle to Diognetus, Ed. K. Bilhmeyer, Die Apost. Vater I, Tubingen 1924, 114 I. 11-14.
2. Before (in the presence of) the Church. The connotation is not only theologically juridical but local, i.e. in front of the church door.
3. For the history of marriage in both East and West see the book of K. Ritzer, now considered a classic, Formen, Alter: and Religioses Brauchtum der Eheschliessung in den Christlichen Kitchen des ersten Jahrtausend, Aschendorff, Munster, 1962. For a theological-liturgical vision of marriage, see A. Nocent, Contribution a ['etude du rituel du manage dans Eulogia, Miscellanea Liturgica in amore di B. Neunheuser, Studia Anselmiana, 68, Analecta Liturgica, 1, 1979, pp. 242-265.
4. In the Sacramentary of Verona, under the tide: Velatio Nuptialis, L.C. Mahlberg, Sacramentarium Veronense, Rome, Herder, 1956, new edition 1978, nn. 1105-1110.
5. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 56.
6. Numerous allusions to this have been found in manuscripts from Central France. Cf. J.B. Molin, Pr. Mutembe, Le Rituel du Manage en France du RIP au XVI' siecle, Paris, Beauchesne, 1974, p. 246.
7. K. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 240.
8. Veronense nn. 1106, 1109, 1110.
9. Sacramentaire Gelasien, Rome, Herder, 1960, n. 1446. Note the word: serviret (that a chaste fecundity may serve to multiply ...). This has been modified in the Gelasian Sacramentaries of the eighth century and in the Gregorian Sacramentary which has the word servaretur, which changes the theology of the prayer, going from the theological to the moral order: that the chaste fecundity of marriage be preserved while sons of adoption are conceived. Gregorian Sacramentary, ed. Deshusses, n. 835.
10. J. Neubauer, Beitrage z. Gesch. des Bibl.-talmud. "Eherechtf, pp. 24, 25, Leipzig 1920. K. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 57.
11. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 58.
12. Justinian, Novenae, 75, 5f.
13. Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 231, PG 37, 374.
14. John Chrysostom, Homily IX on the Letter to Timothy, PG 62, 546.
15. J. Goer, Eucologion sive Rituale Graecorum, Venice 1730; Akademische Druk, Graz, Austria 1960.
16. See: C. Valenziano, Costanti e Variazioni in Celebrazioni Coniugali di Culture Cristiane in AA.VV. La Celebrazione del Matrimonio Cristiano, Bologna, Ed. Dehoniane 1977, p. 328. Contains an excellent study on the manner in which the rites have undergone adaptations.
17. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 58.
18. Sacr. Veronense, L.C. Mohlberg, Op. Cit., n. 11051110.
19. Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 25, CSEL 30, 238-245.
20. Isidore of Seville, Ethymologie, 19, 25. W.M. Lindsay, Isidoni Hispanensis Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri 20, vol. 2. Oxford 1911. E. Martene, De Anti-guts Ecclesiae Ritubus, Ordo II.
21. H.L. Strack, P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrash, Munchen 1922, 2, 396.
22. J.B. Molin, P. Mutembe, op. cit., pp. 255-270.
23. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 299.
24. Struck, Billerbeck, op. cit., I, 514f.
25. Ritzer, op. cit., p. 202f.
26. J. B. Molin, P. Mutembe, op. cit., p. 262. A. Nocent, Art. cit., p. 258f.
27. Many cultural exchanges took place between England and Normandy about the tenth century. 28. Paris B.N. ms. lat. 1211.
29. See for example, M. Eliade, Traite d'Histoire des Religions, Paris 1949. J. Henniger, Le Mythe en Ethnologic, in the article, Mythe in the Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplement, VI, col. 225-246.
30. See E. Testa, Genesi, Introduzione, Storia Primitiva in La Sacra Bibbia Rome, Marietti 1969.
31. The story of Tamar and Judah concerns the problem of descendants.
32. J.P. Audet, Let sent du Cantique des Cantiques. Poeme d'amour mue en ecrit de sagesse, Revue Biblique 1954, pp. 67f. With an important bibliography.
33. Cf. Jn. 1:29-34; Mt. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Mt 2; Jn. 2:1-11.


Home | Who we are | What we do | Resources | Join us | News | Contact us | Site map

Copyright Sisters of Our Lady of Sion - General House, Rome - 2011