One of the more beloved Old Testament selections for a wedding liturgy is the bedtime prayer of the newlyweds Sarah and Tobiah. In popularity, it probably comes in third behind the creation accounts.
These two have had a rather unorthodox courtship, even for ancient times. The angel Raphael, in disguise as a distant relative, has been employed by Tobiah’s father to accompany the son on a mission to recover money set aside in a far land many years ago. During the journey, the angel speaks of a “beautiful and sensible” woman who, by rights, is Tobiah’s to wed. (Tob 6:12ff) The very night the young man meets her, he practically demands Sarah be given him as his wife. (Tob 7:9ff) This, despite the knowledge that each of her seven previous husbands have been killed by a jealous demon on seven previous wedding nights.
Sarah is tearful at the thought of another young man’s likely death, and the shame this brings to her father. She is comforted by her mother Edna. (Tob 7:16-17) Raguel, the father, resigns himself to another tragedy. After the couple is put into the bridal chamber, Raguel instructs his servants dig a hole just in case a hush-hush burial is needed (Tob 8:9b).
Thanks to the advice and assistance of the angel, the young man has healed Sarah of this demonic possession. Throwing fish liver and heart on the coals drive away the jealous demon. Raphael gives chase to the other end of the world and binds him. (Tob 8:2-3)
Before the couple commences with marital bliss, the groom urges his bride to get up and thus they pray:
Tobiah arose from bed and said to his wife, “My love, get up. Let us pray and beg our Lord to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance.” She got up, and they started to pray and beg that deliverance might be theirs. He began with these words:
“Blessed are you, O God of our fathers; praised be your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve to be his help and support; and from these two the human race descended. You said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us make him a partner like himself.’ Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine not because of lust, but for a noble purpose. Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.” They said together, “Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night.
Tobiah is well-schooled in the Torah we see, as he quotes the second creation story in his prayer.
When would I counsel this reading be used? Couples who pray together seem drawn to it. Couples who have experienced hardships or who have known healing. Can an engaged couple express their hopes for marriage as a “noble purpose,” above physical desire? It’s the expression par excellence of Christian marriage: the elevation of the spiritual life, the placement of nobility above lust, the recollection of tradition, the role of the family.
Reading the whole book of Tobit is useful for an engaged couple. Or anyone, really. It’s the only romance book in the canon of Scripture. It’s a great bedtime story.
Msgr. Joseph Champlin, ( who just passed away) suggests in his book “Together for Life” (about this reading), that although the path to common prayer for a couple should be established during courtship, it’s still possible to achieve after the marriage. “Marriage means a great sharing of selves. To pray together opens up a new and deeper level of this sharing.” Is this reading part of marriage prep discussions?.
“Worshipping together on Sunday probably is the best start….Grace or blessing at meals another occasion for learning how to pray as a couple.”
Msgr. Champlin has died? That’s tragic, indeed.
My prayers for him–my wife and I really enjoyed “Together For Life.” We spent a lot of time mulling the readings for the wedding Mass.
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“It’s the only romance book in the canon of Scripture”
I don’t know about the ONLY romance story. There is Solomon’s Song of Songs, and the drama that unfolds in Hosea. There is one large one that is important to us all… God, the bridegroom, and humanity (the church), his bride. This groom loved his bride so much that he died for her; she literally can’t live without him.
Otherwise, it was a really good article on the Marriage of Tobiah and Sarah.
Tobit 8:46 8 is a reading that I feel would be good for you and Brian
what do you think?
This reading was picked by Luca to be read at his wedding. His bride to be Rebecca agreed. I think it’s a beautiful reading for a marriage.
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My wife and I have celebrated 43 yrs. of marriage, all happy, even through the most difficult challenges. The week before we Wed, my grandmother, a woman of great faith, encouraged me to pray with my wife on the night of our wedding, on our knees at our bedside and ask God’s blessings on our marriage. I do not know if she knew this was biblical, but praying together continues to strengthen our marriage. I have been blessed to share this advice with our 6 children, our youngest son was just married last month, and he and his bride had chosen this reading from Tobit, before I told him Grandma’s advice! God’s blessings on all marriages!
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I am not Catholic, but will be reading from Tobit at a wedding of a past confirmand of mine today. I have truly enjoyed reading about the book and its message. What a GREAT way to encourage unity in a marriage! PRAYING TOGETHER!! God will be blessing this couple richly.
“It’s (the book of Tobit) the only romance book in the canon of scripture.” Except, of course, Solomon’s Song of Songs, beautifully interpreted by Gary Chapman in his masterpiece, The Mingling of Souls.
Error conceded. There’s the book of Ruth, too.
Thanks for your post. Why does the lectionary omits the last part of Tobit 8:7: ” Bless us with children”?
Great question. I see the line in the New American Bible online, but not in the NRSV version. I checked my older version of the NAB (1970 edition) and the line wasn’t there either. I will do some research on it and check back with you.
Tobit is a fictional story(even the commentary on the USSCB books of the bible mentions it). To use it as some guide for marriage is nonsense,its not even a parable like in the gospels. The Roman Catholic church for centuries hailed sex in marriage as unworthy if not sinful,that why Aquinas teaches priests should be celibate lest they touch the sacred vessels defiled(that is by having sexual relations). This is all manichaem—a heresy that the most early church fathers & the popes had.Even pope Frrancis admits that Catholics reject various views on sexuality,as they should from a celibate clerical caste system
Yes, Tobit is a novella. Not history.
Praying before jumping into the wedding bed seems like good advice to me. Relying on God to deliver people from difficulty, also good. Like you, I have nothing positive to say about manichaeism. Thanks for the comment, truly.