Bring Back Betrothal Rites!

Espousal of Joseph and Mary

Image is of the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph

When I was engaged, I wanted to give my Beloved an extra special day- so I organized a Betrothal Rite, an ancient yet scarce practice. Betrothals are different from just being engaged because being engaged is a private arrangement between a couple, even if it is announced publicly. To be Betrothed is a deeper commitment to marry before both God and Church. 

In the Bible we see many examples of betrothals, the most striking example is at the time of the Annunciation Mary and Joseph are betrothed: in Jewish tradition they were as good as married, requiring a divorce to break. The 23rd of January use to be the liturgical feast celebrating the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph, a feast called the Espousals of Mary and Joseph up until 1961. While Betrothals use to be common practice in the West, slowly they were merged into the Marriage Rite so technically many Catholic couples are betrothed and then immediately married right after.

While I am aware there is a Betrothal Rite for the Extraordinary Form, there is no formal one for the Ordinary Form or in my case for Divine Worship used by the Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans to enter into the Catholic Church but keep aspects of the Anglican Patrimony and English Spiritual Tradition (including Pre-Reformation). So with the permission of my Ordinary I put my liturgy training into practice and drew on the texts of the tradition to put together a Betrothal Rite in the ancient English Catholic tradition.

I drew on many sources including the Pre-Reformation Sarum Use, the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) 1549, BCP’s from the 20th century, and the Divine Worship liturgy of the Ordinariates. I was surprised that over almost a millennium you could see how consistent the liturgical tradition was- from the original Sarum Use in Latin, to what was used in Anglicanism for centuries until eventually that tradition was brought home into the Catholic Church via the Ordinariates. Although Betrothal Rites are not traditionally done anymore, the one I put together was in the ancient English tradition of the Anglican Patrimony. Were there was room for choice I chose different wording to the Betrothal elements in the Divine Worship text to avoid repetition at the wedding. 

The strange thing was far more people came to the Betrothal Rite than did the wedding, and it was very well received. I believe many of our Catholic friends not only came to support us, but to see something ancient yet new to them. The Betrothal Rite was held at the end of a Sunday Divine Worship Mass at our Ordinariate community, which was the first experience of that liturgy for our 100+ guests. Afterwards we had a community shared lunch in the under-croft in celebration- although what my Beloved and I were not expecting was a table full of presents for our future life together.

It was a very different experience proposing to my now wife and standing in front of a Church full of our friends, family and parish community to make a public declaration we intended to marry. One aspect I added from a US Episcopalian Betrothal Rite was asking those present, our nearest and dearest, to pray and support us in our marriage as strong marriages make for a strong family, Church community and society.

I would like to see the Personal Ordinariates add an official Betrothal Rite to the Divine Worship liturgy which I believe would be a powerful aid to marriage preparation, and a good excuse for a community celebration and some ‘liturgical tourism’- but most of all I would like others to have the special joy I was able to give my Beloved.

Rite of Betrothal in the English Tradition

Brethren, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, His Angels, and all the Saints, to witness the betrothal of N. and N., and to rejoice with them as they declare their intention to enter the holy state of matrimony.

N. and N., marriage is a gift of God and a means of his grace in which a man and a woman give themselves to each other in love, be united in that love as Christ is united to his Church and become one flesh, to the end that they may together deserve eternal life.

The union of a man and a woman is intended for their mutual comfort and help, as they live faithfully together in both prosperity and adversity. It is intended that, with delight and tenderness, they may know each other in love, and through the joy of bodily union, may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives. It is given that they may have children, if it is God’s will, and raise them to love and fear the Lord, and to praise His holy name.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment. Husband and wife give themselves to each other, to care for each other in good times and in bad. They are linked to each other’s families, and they begin a new life together in the community. It is a way of life that all should reverence, and non should lightly undertake.

The Betrothal

The couple stand before the celebrant and hold hands.

N. and N., The Church understands marriage to be, in the will of God, the union of a man and a woman, for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love, cherish and honour each other until parted by death. Is this your intention in betrothing yourselves to one another today?

Man & Woman: It is.

N., have you resolved to be faithful to N., forsaking all others so long as you shall live?

Man: I have so resolved with the help of God.

N., have you resolved to be faithful to N., forsaking all others so long as you shall live?

Woman: I have so resolved with the help of God.

The celebrant addresses the congregation.

You are the witness of this betrothal now being made. Will you do all in your power to uphold N. and N. as they prepare for marriage and in their union?

Answer: We will.

The Sign of Betrothal

The celebrant receives the engagement ring[s] and addresses the congregation.

Dear friends in Christ, lets us ask God’s blessing on these rings that it may be a sign of the continuing love and care between N. and N. as they prepare for their marriage.

Blessed are you, God of steadfast love, source of our joy and end of our hope.

+Bless O Lord, these rings, which we bless in Thy holy name: given and received that it may be a sign of the commitment of betrothal made today by N. and N., through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The rings are blessed by the priest with holy water.

Man and Woman say together:

We wear these rings as a sign of our betrothal and of the commitment we make to each other in preparation for our marriage.

The celebrant says:

God our Father, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the Law. Grant to these your servants, that loving one another, they may continue to your love to their lives’ end, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

3 thoughts on “Bring Back Betrothal Rites!

  1. Sounds like an excellent idea, and a great way to put the emphasis back on marriage as a solemn undertaking, rather than on the wedding as a spectacle following by an expensive party. If enough people took up this practice, it could indeed be adopted as an official liturgy of the Ordinariates. Grass-roots movements are hard to resist.

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  2. It’s lovely! I should like to “Cranmerise” the language, however: “O God our Father, Who hast taught us…” etc., etc., for the sake of consistency and beauty.

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