Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blessing premarital unions

By Juan Masiá Clavel, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Convivencia de Religiones Blog
December 24, 2014

(Synod Relatio. Paragraph 27: "guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage"; paragraph 41: "positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation"; paragraph 42: "continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church"; paragraph 43: "All these situations require a constructive response.")

In pastoral practice, we have confirmed the result of accompanying couples from the first steps of their cohabitation through the premarital rite of betrothal to the formalization of canonical marriage. These couples, being believers, want to see their union blessed, even though circumstances (getting an apartment, solidifying employment, family situations) might counsel delaying the formalization of their union.

In these cases, the betrothal Mass is worthwhile as a mutual promise to contract marriage. In it, they receive blessings on the beginning of the process of their union, which will later culminate in the celebration of the canonical wedding.

Neither parochial nor civil bureaucratic red tape is required. It's a blessing, like so many others in the ritual of blessings, or what is called a "sacramental" -- holy water to cross oneself or sprinkling to bless a home, for example.

The one who is accompanying them pastorally should not meddle in the issue of cohabitation, respecting the decisions in conscience of the "spouses on the road to marriage."

This pastoral practice assumes:

1. A theology of marriage as a process -- distinguishing between a wedding that lasts a moment, and the communion of life and love, which lasts years.

2. A revision of sexual morality -- rather a morality of relationships (reciprocal, loving, fair, respectful) centered on the acknowledgement and mutual promise to wed and grow in an authentically human way (unio consummatur modo humano -- the union is consummated in a human manner).

For example, the following case which happened at the center for pastoral attention to immigrants:

"Satoru and María (fictitious names of two young believers -- a Japanese man and a foreign woman) met while attending celebrations at the immigrant welcome center. María is a domestic worker and is saving money to send to her family in her country. Satoru is a graduate student. To finance his studies, he's putting in time as an occasional deliveryman. He also works as a volunteer.

Drinking coffee with both of them after Mass, they told me they had settled into a cramped apartment in that neighborhood. "Come look and see, Father, and bless our house in passing," María said. "With pleasure," I said, "but just blessing the house seems insufficient. Better to bless you." They both smiled at me and María said, "The wedding might happen within the year, but we aren't able to do it right now." "I'm not referring to the wedding," I answered, "but the beginning of the road to marriage. Since you're living together, it's normal that, as the believers you are, you would want to see your union blessed with all the more reason than seeing your house blessed."

"And that can be done?," Satoru asked. "Of course. If we bless the water for baptism and we bless the oils to pray with the sick and we bless the harvest in September and we bless pets and we bless pilgrims at the beginning of their trip...what stops us from blessing the beginning of a cohabitation of a couple who want to start down the road to marriage? You already know that the wedding is one moment but marriage is a journey. That journey of matrimonial union begins before the wedding, continues after it, and lasts a long time. We trust it will last a lifetime. That's why you heard me say in the homily at your friends' wedding (and I'll also repeat it at yours when that day comes) that God blesses you so that you will stay together "until this life together no longer unites you" (which, put like that, is much better than saying "until death do you part").

"Very good, Father. You don't miss the chance to give a sermon," Satoru said, laughing. "Well, end of sermon and let's set the date. What's good for you?" "Next weekend Satoru's mother is coming from her town. We could come with her to the church." "Better for the church to come to your house. Didn't you say you wanted the house blessed?" "OK, so my mother will cook something."

That Sunday afternoon we four met at the small apartment and, seated on the Japanese tatami mats on the floor, we celebrated the Eucharist. At the offertory, María and Satoru said yes to one another to begin their premarital journey. After the mass, we snacked on the mother's homemade sweets and wine from María's country. We had to take the photo to send to the distant family. A few weeks later, María told me of her family's surprise: "'What a strange wedding!', they said." She had to explain to them in a letter that the wedding would be later. "I wasn't going to give them all of Father Juan's explanations about the premarital journey. But my grandmother seemed like she understood it. She said that in her day that was called the statement of intent and asking for someone's hand."

On the other hand, Satoru had a problem when he told the priest of the other neighborhood parish about it. He [the priest] said, "That 's not done, nor what you're doing, living together already. You have to wait until after the wedding to sleep together." I calmed Satoru down. "Don't worry. What's happening is that that priest taught at the seminary and now that he's retired, he's still reading canon law more than the Gospel of Jesus. What Jesus wants is for you and María to love each other more and more. This is why I've blessed you at the beginning of your journey..."


  1. This sounds absolutely right. Good for the priest. I once had a pp whose stratagem for non-practising Catholics was to get them to agree in thair pre-marriage talk that they hadn't really lived up to the Church's rules, give them absolution on the eve of the wedding and tell them to "hold off" for one night! Then marry them with full nuptial honours. Fellow clergy purse their lips and "Tut" Too bad!

    Church practice MUST change. Traddies argue that it cannot but they forget that St Paul didn't take dictation from God; he was a religious genius as well as a believer and reflected on his own experience AND that of his contemporary Christian friends and converts, and incorporated sound experience into his theology. Retrodoxy will not wash - not now. Nor did it for Paul

  2. I agree with Fr. Juan's approach too. In the immigrant community here in the US we see this a lot -- families that have formed and been living together for years without canonical marriage for economic and legal reasons. Being judgemental and demanding that they separate before bringing them to the altar is a non-starter and a good way to lose that family completely. Interestingly, in translating this, I had to use the official Vatican English translation of the Relatio and it contains quite a bit of conservative hedging language that isn't present in the Spanish version as quoted by Fr Juan...