The origins of a nuptial blessing can be found in the earliest centuries of Christianity. At that time, weddings generally took place within the home, and later the couple would appear before a minister of the church to receive a blessing. In the Eastern Church, the wedding couple would be “crowned” as part of this blessing. In the Western Church, the bride would be “veiled” or sometimes the bride and groom would have a veil draped over their shoulders together. The veiling marked a change of status for the woman and provided a visual linking of the couple to one another.
The nuptial blessing within the current Rite of Marriage possesses remnants of this earlier practice. The rite does not make mention of the veiling of the bride, but the language of the blessing does place a special focus on the role of the woman in the marriage, and in some cultural settings, a white veil is still present.
The current rite places the nuptial blessing after the Lord’s Prayer in weddings that take place during Mass, or after the general intercessions in weddings that take place outside Mass. The blessing begins with an invitation to you to kneel, which is a posture traditionally associated with reverence before a generous God. The presider will call for a moment of silence during which the entire assembly is asked to pray for you as a couple. Then, the presider will stretch out his hands over you. This is an ancient gesture of blessing and the calling down of God’s Spirit.
Four options for the nuptial blessing are provided in the Rite of Marriage, with the fourth to be used in the Rite for Celebrating Marriage Between a Catholic and an Unbaptized Person. Each blessing loosely follows the structure of traditional Jewish marriage blessings, first praising God for the role of marriage in human history and then asking God to shower down blessings on the couple to make their marriage fruitful and strong.