The former Rite of Marriage (1969) has been significantly revised and updated into the Order of Celebrating Matrimony (1991/2016). Some new elements were introduced with the latest edition and translation of the Roman Missal (2010), and others with the assembly of the Latin edition of the ritual late in the last century.
1991, you ask? Yes indeed: it took over twenty years for the English translation to be achieved and implemented.
The introduction to the Order of Celebrating Matrimony includes forty-four paragraphs, up from 18 in the 1971 ritual. We’ll look at these carefully. Why? Most clergy and liturgists ignore these preliminaries and jump right into how to do the rite. And that’s important. But the introduction–the praenotanda in the professional lingo–gives important insight as to why we do the liturgical things we do.
First up, marriage is more than a legal or even a sacramental reality. The Church defines it as a covenant:
1. The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish a lifelong partnership between themselves (canon law 1055.1) derives its force and strength from creation, but for the Christian faithful it is also raised up to a higher dignity, since it is numbered among the Sacraments of the new covenant.
Simply, it goes deeper than a promise, a legal agreement, or an emotional bond. A covenant doesn’t negate these other understandings. My sense is that it elevates them.
God made human beings and placed within us the desire for companionship. We achieve a deeper sense of our humanity by making and keeping a commitment with a life partner. That reality doesn’t negate the situation of people who decline to marry. But it does open a married couple to a profound dimension of what it means to be human. Celibates and other single people have other avenues open to them. They do not “lose” that insight or experience of humanity. Indeed, through friendship or family they might be drawn into the orbit of marriage and have their own experiences of grace, love, union, and so forth.
The Church acknowledges that Matrimony has been “raised” into a new plane and understanding as one of the seven Sacraments. What does that mean? Catholics understand sacraments as signs instituted to give grace. Married life then implies that the opportunity to encounter Jesus and to receive and know divine grace is part of the experience of married life.