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Nuptial Mass

Mass celebrated at weddings

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Mass, NUPTIAL, “Missa pro sponso et sponsa”, the last among the votive Masses in the Missal. It is composed of lessons and chants suitable to the Sacrament of Matrimony, contains prayers for persons just married and is interwoven with part of the marriage rite, of which in the complete form it is an element. As the Mass was looked upon as the natural accompaniment of any solemn function (ordination, consecration of churches, etc.), it was naturally celebrated as part of the marriage service. Tertullian (d. about 220; ad Uxor., II, 9) mentions the oblation that confirms marriage (matrimonium quod ecclesia conciliat et confirmat oblatio). All the Roman Sacramentaries contain the nuptial Mass (The Leonine, ed. Feltoe, 140-142; The Gelasian, ed. Wilson, 265-267; The Gregorian, P.L., LXXVIII, 261-264), with our present prayers and others (a special Hanc Igitur and Preface). The Gelasian Sacramentary (loc. cit.) contains, moreover, the blessing now said after the Ite missa est, then said after the Communion, a Gallican addition (Duchesne, “Origines du Culte”, Paris, ed. 2, 1898, p. 417). Pope Nicholas I (858-867) in his instruction for the Bulgars, in 866, describes the whole rite of marriage, including the crowning of the man and wife that is still the prominent feature of the rite in the Byzantine Church; this rite contains a Mass at which the married persons make the offertory and receive communion (Resp. ad cons. Bulgarorum, iii, quoted by Duchesne, op. cit., 413-414).

The present rules for a nuptial Mass are: first, that it may not be celebrated in the closed time for marriages, that is from Advent Sunday till after the octave of the Epiphany and from Ash Wednesday till after Low Sunday. During these times no reference to a marriage may be made in Mass; if people wish to be married then they must be content with the little service in the Ritual, without music or other solemnities. This is what is meant by the rubric: “clauduntur nuptiarum solemnia”; it is spoken of usually as the closed season. During the rest of the year the nuptial Mass may be said at a wedding any day except Sundays and feasts of obligation, doubles of the first and second class and such privileged ferias and octaves as exclude a double. It may not displace the Rogation Mass at which the procession is made, nor may it displace at least one Requiem on All Souls’ day. On these occasions its place is taken by the Mass of the day to which commemorations of the nuptial Mass are added in the last place and at which the blessings are inserted in their place. The nuptial blessing is considered as part of the nuptial Mass. It may never be given except during this Mass or during a Mass that replaces it (and commemorates it) when it cannot be said, as above. The nuptial Mass and blessing may be celebrated after the closed time for people married during it. So nuptial Mass and blessing always go together; either involves the other. One Mass and blessing may be held for several pairs of married people, who must all be present. The forms, however, remain in the singular as they are in the Missal. The Mass and blessing may not be held if the woman has already received this blessing in a former marriage. This rule only affects the woman, for whom the blessing is more specially intended (see the prayer Deus qui potestate). It must be understood, exactly as stated. A former marriage without this blessing, or the fact that children had been born before the marriage, is no hindrance. Nor may the nuptial Mass and blessing be held in cases of mixed marriages (mixta religio) in spite of any dispensation. According to the Constitution “Etsi sanctissimus Dominus” of Pius IX (November 15, 1858), mixed marriages must be celebrated outside the church (in England and America this is understood as meaning outside the sanctuary and choir), without the blessing of the ring or of the spouses without any ecclesiastical rite or vestment, without proclamation of banns.

The rite of the nuptial Mass and blessing is this: The Mass has neither Gloria nor Creed. It counts as a votive Mass not for a grave matter; therefore it has three collects, its own, the commemoration of the day, and the third which is the one chosen for semi-doubles at that time of the year, unless there be two commemorations. At the end Benedicamus Domino and the Gospel of St. John are said. The color is white. The bridegroom and bride assist near the altar (just outside the sanctuary), the man on the right. After the Paternoster the celebrant genuflects and goes to the epistle side. Meanwhile the bridegroom and bride come up and kneel before him. Turning to them he says the two prayers Propitiare Domine and Deus qui potentate (as in the Missal) with folded hands. He then goes back to the middle and continues the Mass. They go back to their places. He gives them Communion at the usual time. This implies that they are fasting and explains the misused name “wedding breakfast” afterwards. But the Communion is not a strict law (S. R. C., no. 5582, March 21, 1874). Immediately after the Benedicamus Domino and its answer the celebrant again goes to the Epistle side and the bridegroom and bride kneel before him as before. The celebrant turning to them says the prayer Deus Abraham (without Oremus). He is then told to warn them “with grave words to be faithful to one another”. The rest of the advice suggested in the rubric of the Missal is now generally left out. He sprinkles them with holy water; they retire, he goes back to the middle of the altar, says Placeat tibi, gives the blessing and finishes Mass as usual.

In the cases in which the “Missa pro sponso et sponsa” may not be said but may be commemorated, the special prayers and blessing are inserted in the Mass in the same way. But the color must be that of the day. During the closed time it is, of course, quite possible for the married people to have a Mass said for their intention, at which they receive Holy Communion. The nuptial Blessing in this Mass is quite a different thing from the actual celebration of the marriage, which must always precede it. The blessing is given to people already married, as the prayers imply. It need not be given (nor the Mass said) by the priest who assisted at the marriage. But both these functions (assistance and blessing) are rights of the parish priest, which no one else may undertake without delegation from him. Generally they are so combined that the marriage takes place immediately before the Mass; in this case the priest may assist at the marriage in Mass vestments, but without the maniple. In England and other countries where a civil declaration is required by law, this is usually made in the sacristy between the marriage and the Mass. Canon Law in England orders that marriages be made only in churches that have a district with the cure of souls (Conc. prov. Westm. I, decr. XXII, 4). This implies as a general rule, but does not command absolutely, that the nuptial Mass also be celebrated in such a church.


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