For Christmas, from a very good friend, I received a copy of The Visible Church: Her Government, Ceremonies, Sacramentals, Festivals and Devotions, which is “A Compendium of the Externals of the Catholic Church” and “A Text Book for Catholic Schools”. The book is by Rev. John F. Sullivan, printed 1921. It contains 70 “lessons” in various categories including Church government, the religious state, the Sacraments, the Mass, Sacramentals, Church calendar, etc.
Lesson 18 is entitled “The Ceremonies of Matrimony” and contains some interesting information:
First, that Matrimony is both a sacrament and a contact. “The making of this contract between certain persons is null and void by the natural law and the revealed law of God.” (p. 75). For example, one diriment impediment (i.e., something that renders a marriage altogether invalid unless dispensation is granted by the Church) to marriage is a spiritual relationship: “The marriage of a sponsor to his or her god-child is invalid…” (p. 80).
Second, “In all other sacraments (except private Baptism given by a layman) the minister of the sacrament is a clergyman. In Matrimony the ministers of the sacrament are the parties who receive it; the priest blesses their union and sanctifies it with the rites of the Church.” However, a priest’s blessing “is not essential to the sacrament, and may be omitted under certain conditions, as follows:”
If a couple wish to marry in a place where for a month there will be no priest qualified to join them in matrimony, they may simply express their mutual consent in the presence of two witnesses, and they are thereby validly and lawfully married… Afterwards, if possible, they shall have the marriage recorded and ritual prayers read… (p. 84).
Third, “The State (the civil government) has no power to nullify marriages. It has the right to regulate them, by requiring the obtaining of a license and the subsequent registering of the marriage; but it has no right and no power to annul a valid marriage or to grant a divorce from it.” (p. 75).
Fourth, under the old rites (pre-Vatican II), the couple would receive a Nuptial Blessing, “…directed rather to the woman than to the man… The woman can receive it only once. If it has been given to her a previous marriage, it is not repeated. It is never given outside of the Mass.” (p. 73).
O God, who by Thine own mighty power, didst make all things out of nothing: who, having set in order the beginnings of the world, didst appoint Woman to be an inseparable helpmeet to Man, made like unto God, so that Thou didst give to woman’s body its beginnings in man’s flesh, thereby teaching that what it pleased Thee to form from one substance, might never be lawfully separated: O God, who, by so excellent a mystery hast consecrated the union of man and wife, as to foreshadow in this nuptial bond the union of Christ with His Church: O God, by whom Woman is joined to Man, and the partnership, ordained from the beginning, is endowed with such blessing that it alone was not withdrawn either by the punishment of original sin, nor by the sentence of the flood: graciously look upon this Thy handmaid, who, about to be joined in wedlock, seeks Thy defense and protection. May it be to her a yoke of love and peace: faithful and chaste, may she be wedded in Christ, and let her ever be the imitator of holy women: let her be dear to her husband, like Rachel: wise, like Rebecca: long-lived and faithful like Sara. Let not the author of deceit work any of his evil deeds in her. May she continue, clinging to the faith and to the commandments. Bound in one union, let her shun all unlawful contact. Let her protect her weakness by the strength of discipline; let her be grave in behavior, respected for modesty, well-instructed in heavenly doctrine. Let her be fruitful in offspring; be approved and innocent; and come to the repose of the blessed and the kingdom of heaven. May they both see their children’s children to the third and fourth generation, and may they reach 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, world without end.