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The rite of betrothal

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Q. I have heard that the "rite of betrothal" is becoming popular in certain young Catholic circles. What does this rite entail? Was it more common prior to the Second Vatican Council? Would you recommend that an engaged couple seek out this rite? (Washington)

A. The rite of betrothal was a little-known but long-standing service of prayer in which a couple had their engagement formally blessed by a priest. The 1906 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the ritual was more common in other countries than in the United States. An English version is still available, as an addition to Father Philip Weller's translation of the 1962 Roman Ritual (although the rite did not form part of that ritual itself.)

There is no prohibition against using that rite today, although it has been replaced largely in the contemporary church by the Blessing of an Engaged Couple from the church's Book of Blessings, published in 1989. That newer rite celebrates in prayer a newly engaged couple and asks the Lord to guide them as they prepare for marriage; it can be celebrated by a priest, deacon or lay minister (sometimes by a parent of the future bride or groom).

It includes scriptural readings — frequently from the 13th chapter of Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians ("Love is patient, love is kind … "). The engagement rings may be blessed during the ceremony, and the celebrant prays:

"Lord God, the source of all love, the wise plan of your providence has brought these young people together. As they prepare themselves for the sacrament of marriage and pray for your grace, grant that, strengthened by your blessing, they may grow in respect for one another and cherish each other with a sincere love."

I would recommend that a couple use this newer blessing.

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