QUAERITUR: Things omitted from marriage rite. Was it valid?

From a reader:

I attended a wedding recently. A Catholic woman married an unbaptized man in what was just the blessing- not the full Nuptial Mass. The priest allowed (!) the unbaptized groom to omit the “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” from the vows. The bride recited the vows with the Tridentine formula. At the time I was shocked that the priest would allow this, but I think that he didn’t want to “rock the boat.” Is their marriage valid under these conditions?

The essential part of the marriage ritual is the exchange of consent.

Provided the baptized woman had a dispensation to marry a non-baptized man, if the bride and groom answered “I do” to the questions proposed by the priest (“Do you take N to be your wife, Do you promise to be true to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love her and honor her all the days of your life?” and the same, mutatis mutandis, for the bride), or if they stated their vows, “I N take you N for my lawful wife, etc.”, then the marriage is deemed valid.

Furthermore, the exchange of rings is not essential to the validity of the marriage.  There are three options for this ritual in the book.  It is permissible to omit this rite. The invocation of the Blessed Trinity is one option for the exchange of rings, which has no bearing on the validity of the matrimonial consent.  The essential part of the marriage ritual is not the exchange of rings, but the exchange of consent.

I note that this took place outside of Holy Mass.  The marriage of a Catholic to a non-Catholic should not take place during Mass.   It sounds as though the priest knew what he was doing and was “saying the black and doing the red” of the nuptial rite appropriate for this occasion.

Perhaps you should thank him rather than rock his boat?

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  1. Joshua08 says:

    I assume there is still an option to have only the groom give the bride a ring. It is a relatively recent custom that both get rings. In the old books the prayer is written to bless a single ring, which would be placed on the wife. By the mid 20th century some editions had a note about a plural form

    I am not sure what is meant by the “Tridentine” form. The words used in marriage are the most variable thing in the rites of sacraments after Trent. While only slight differences in the vows say between England and the US, the traditional ring giving is very different (for one the groom would also give a piece of gold and silver to the bride)

    A question of my own, is the nuptial blessing now given in such a circumstance? As the marriage here is not sacramental and allowed only through dispensation, formerly a nuptial Mass and blessing was forbidden (which is why some older parishes has a large gallery in the rectory…marriages to nonCatholics could not be in the church). I understand that nuptial Masses are now allowed, but I always thought that the nuptial blessing had to be given in the context of the Mass, even if the Mass and blessing were celebrated weeks after the marriage took place (as sometimes happened). Do they now allow it outside of the Mass, or is this a different rule in cases of disparity of cult?

  2. Random Friar says:

    I think the questioner meant “Trinitarian,” from the context.

  3. Joe in Canada says:

    I presided at such a wedding this past summer. The groom was a Baha’i and said “in the name of God” instead of the Trinitarian formula, which he couldn’t have used. I thought it was pretty straightforward, but checked with the Chancery anyways. They gave me the same answer as you have given above.
    I also allowed a Baha’i minister to speak. It was after the entrance and before the Sign of the Cross. Perhaps that was stretching it a bit. Both parties, Catholic and non-Catholic, were more involved in their faiths than I am used to.
    I presume the person Father is quoting meant “Trinitarian” instead of Tridentine.

  4. bourgja says:

    Actually, the 1990 Rite of Marriage (which for some reason has not yet been translated into English), does omit the Trinitarian formula from the vows in the case of an unbaptized person. It also adds an epiclesis to each variation of the nuptial blessing.

  5. bourgja says:

    Oops, I mean from the exchange of rings!

  6. Titus says:

    if the bride and groom answered “I do” to the questions proposed by the priest

    Good old Fourth Lateran Council for you: permanent vows, said in the present tense, before a minister with faculties. The validity of secret marriages and the like was a big issue back in the 13th century.

  7. pfreddys says:

    Does someone even receive the Sacrament of Marriage marrying a non-Christian?

  8. Tim Ferguson says:

    no, this would not be a sacramental marriage, as the sacrament cannot be one-sided, and the only sacrament an unbaptized person can receive is baptism. Therefore, this is presumptively a valid, natural marriage, for which the Church makes provision.

  9. buffaloknit says:

    Thank you Fr. Z, for this great question/answer. I am married to a non-Catholic, and discovered an unfortunate amount of ignorance from Catholic friends and relatives about the sacraments. I was surprised by individuals who would buy us presents, fly to our wedding, stay at a hotel then say ‘well, you’re not really married now, are you, since there was no Mass.’ I hope I’m “really” married! The point is, matrimony-the sacrament-can happen outside of a Mass. Obviously, this is not something the Church encourages, but for a variety of reasons can and does happen. The fact that the Church has a set of rules for how a mixed marriage should happen, points to the awesome power of the Church to deal with a variety of situations-and the hugely important social function the institution does. We all can probably think of individuals who “go through” the motions of joining the Church so their future Catholic spouse’s parents/grandmother/etc can enjoy a wedding Mass for the happy couple-regardless of whether or not either party does or plans to practice the Faith. “Going through the motions” is not a good thing, ever. I am impressed with what the priest did in the situation in question and think it was a teachable moment for everyone.

    Mixed marriages should not happen during a wedding Mass, for the reason Fr. Z explained. I think there is a great deal of confusion (possibly related to the notion that everyone should receive Communion at every Mass he or she attends) as far as what needs to happen for a “real” marriage to take place (for example, question such as: can a real marriage happen without a Mass? or, can the words mentioned in the reader’s question, be omitted?)

    At the end of a wedding ceremony between a Catholic and non-Catholic, the happy couple is just as married as they would be, *sacramentally* as if two-Catholics were married during a Mass. The Catholic party has received the sacrament of matrimony, even without the blessings of a nuptial Mass. By definition, a marriage between two non-believers, is not a sacramental marriage, but marriages between Trinitarian-ly baptized folks, is sacramental. In a disparity of cult situation, the Catholic party has received the sacrament of marriage. Since baptism is the “doorway” to the other sacraments, the un-baptized individual, has not received a sacrament, but is obviously, “trying to do good” by his woman, and “make her honest woman”- to use two ridiculous cliches.

    I know of priests who will celebrate a wedding Mass for a mixed marriage (Catholic+non-Catholic) and even between a Catholic and non-baptized individual (Catholic+non-believer), or, will elect not to celebrate a wedding Mass for Catholics who simply do not want one. If the non-Catholic party, in the question Fr. Z just answered, does not believe in the Trinity, than the Trinitarian form wasn’t/shouldn’t be used for the ring-exchange. I suspect that the practices I just mentioned contribute to confusion/ignorance among the faithful with regards to what does and doesn’t constitute a sacrament.

    The notion of “mixed marriages” or “disparity of cult” issues, and the robust response the Church has for these folks who find themselves in those situations, in a culture that is ashamed of so very little in the sexual/marital department, is totally fascinating to me. The Church is encouraging marriages, since the basic unit of civilization is not the individual, but the family, which is where babies come from. I think the Baltimore catechism spelled this out quite well-in shocking detail to me as a middle schooler-at the time I recall thinking “how could the Church be so *permissive*?” Contrary to what some folks think-especially regarding weddings-the Church doesn’t make up rules and “red-tape” for the sake of rules and red-tape. At the same time, the church is not being somehow “overly permissive”-as I think the reader might have been implying- in regards to allowing whatever happened, to happen, but is doing a totally natural and logical thing.

  10. o.h. says:


    Thank you for your comments. One correction: the baptized party in a D of C marriage has not received the sacrament of marriage. The marriage is either sacramental, or not; there is no “half-sacramental” marriage.

  11. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I agree, it sounds like the priest handled it right.

    Most of the time, when I have a wedding with a non-Christian, it is usually someone who just never got baptized, but who has no problem with the Trinity. In that case, we do the Trinitarian words with the exchange of rings. The one time I was part of a wedding with a Catholic and a Jew, the dispensation was granted for the Rabbi to conduct the ceremony so that resolved that.

    Tangentially related…

    When I rehearse a wedding, I always tell the couple that the validity of their marriage doesn’t depend on whether the rings go on all the way. Sometimes they don’t; and it’s amusing–and a little alarming–to see the groom try to force it! So I head them off the night before.

  12. Fr. Fox: Good tip about the rings. We should put together practical wedding prep/rehearsal/ceremony tips for priests.

  13. eulogos says:

    o.h. If the non-Catholic party was baptized (with flowing water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) then the marriage IS sacramental. If the non-Catholic party was never baptized, then the marriage is valid, but not sacramental.

    Interestingly, if two non-baptized people marry, the marriage is valid, but not sacramental. If one party is baptized some time later, it is still valid but not sacramental. But if the other party is baptized, the marriage thereby becomes sacramental, because a valid marriage cannot exist between two baptized people without being sacramental. This is what happened in my marriage. I was baptized a year after my marriage, but my husband was not baptized until over 30 years later.

    Susan Peterson

  14. Tim Ferguson says:

    I know of a Catholic gentleman, now deceased, and very beloved to me, who did not have a wedding ring. It had started to be a custom in this country when he got married that both the bride and groom would have a ring. He fretted about the issue, since the cost would be difficult for him at that time.

    He talked with his father, a not-so-good Catholic at the time, who told him, “Son, I know some men that get married and wear a ring, and when they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing (I believe he used more colorful language in that spot), they take off their ring, and think that makes it all okay. Wear a ring, or don’t wear a ring, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the ring that goes around your heart when you say ‘I do’ to that lovely young gal of yours. That you can’t take off until death, and don’t you ever pretend you can.”

    That man and his wife were married for nearly fifty-five years until his death.

    P.S. His father came back to the sacraments and died after confessing and receiving Last Rites.

  15. o.h. says:

    You are talking about a mixed marriage, not a disparity of cult marriage. Buffaloknit had said that in a D of C marriage, such as mine, the baptized party would be sacramentally married. This is not the case. A marriage is either sacramental, or not; it cannot be half sacramental.

  16. buffaloknit says:

    Hello O.H.-Opinated homeschooler!

    Yes, the idea of a “half-sacrament” or “real vs non-real” marriages is a bad idea and a slippery slope. One doesn’t somehow receive “more Jesus” when receiving under both kinds, etc. I brought up the issue of ‘is this a sacrament or not’ because I think a lot of folks are unclear about this. The issue of ‘validity’ is what the person asked Fr. Z. about. A natural or non-sacramental marriage, or “disparity of cult” marriage, can still be valid, and similarly, a sacramental-marriage can happen outside of Mass.

    It makes sense that both parties need to be baptized-folks for sacramental grace, however, I don’t totally follow what the Catholic Encyclopedia is saying. And, honestly, I have not been able to find a clear-cut answer to the disparity-of cult question in the Catechism or elsewhere and would appreciate whatever insight you may have!

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia,
    “The primary reason why Catholics are debarred from intermarriage with unbaptized persons is because the latter are not capable of receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony, as baptism is the door to all the other sacraments. Furthermore, according to the more probable opinion, the Catholic party who, with a dispensation, marries an unbaptized person, does not receive the sacrament or the concomitant graces (cf. Sanchez, Bk. II, disp. viii, n. 2; Pirhing, Bk. IV, tit. i, n. 71; Schmalzgrüber, Bk. IV, tit. i, n. 307; Billot, “De Ecclesiæ Sacramentis”, pars posterior, 359 sqq.; Hurter, III, 538, n. 598; and Wernz, who examines the reasons for the opposite opinion and answers them, “Jus Decret.”, IV, 63 sqq.). The Church has not decided this question; hence the opinion of Dominicus de Soto (In IV Sent., art. iii, ad finem), Perrone (II, 306), Rosset, who holds that it is the more probable (De Sacr. Matrimonii, I, 284 sqq.), and Tanquerey (Synopsis Theol. Dogmat., II, 648, n. 31), to wit, that the Catholic does receive the sacrament, is tenable. The marriage, according to both opinions, is certainly sacred (Leo XIII, “Arcanum”, 10 Feb., 1880) and indissoluble.

  17. o.h. says:

    Interesting! I was under the impression that the issue was settled. Certainly the priest who married us believed it was. I was also under the impression that it was dissoluble, under the circumstances where the unbaptized party, after separation, wished to convert and marry a Catholic.

    So how do you know the initials don’t stand for Old Hag? ;-)

  18. Bender says:

    if two non-baptized people marry, the marriage is valid, but not sacramental

    It might be true that, as a technical matter, the marriage is not “sacramental,” but that does not mean that it is impossible for the couple to receive the graces that come with the sacrament. God can convey His graces upon anyone He wants, even non-baptized persons.

    Suppose you had a teenaged girl, a non-baptized Jew, and she became betrothed and later married to an older non-baptized Jewish man, who just so happens to be in the carpentry business. Would there be in this marriage an “outward visible sign,” instituted by Jesus, of the conveyance of (invisible) grace? No. Of course not. The teenaged girl hasn’t even given birth to Jesus yet, He was still in her womb when their betrothal became a marriage. But is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that God gave to this nice Jewish girl and nice Jewish boy the wedding present of a whole host of graces creating an indissoluble bond?

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