When my husband and I became engaged, we decided to have a betrothal ceremony. At the time, we knew very few couples who had had one, and fewer people still who knew anything about it.
A betrothal ceremony, or a Rite of Betrothal, is the traditional way of becoming officially engaged in the eyes of the Church. It's a short but beautiful ceremony, in which the couple solemnly pledges to marry one another on a specified date. We were drawn to the ceremony for several reasons:
As a blessing for our engagement.
My husband and I were both in school during our engagement. In the midst of scouring the web for bridesmaid dresses and trying to keep up with reading for class, it was a lovely pause in our lives to solidify our response to the call of marriage and receive graces that helped make our engagement a period of deeper spiritual enrichment than it might have felt otherwise.
One element I particularly love about the Rite is that it includes a blessing over the engagement ring. There's a temptation as a newly engaged young woman to scrutinize and compare rings with other engaged friends, yet having your ring blessed can be a powerful reminder to reject comparison. It's a gift to receive your engagement ring again after the ceremony, now transfigured by the blessing into a sacramental. These days when I'm changing diapers or washing dishes and catch a glance of my sacramental engagement and wedding rings, it serves as a reminder to say a quick prayer for my marriage and family.
As an opportunity for our families to come together to celebrate our engagement.
We tried to keep things simple in planning our wedding, so our betrothal ceremony became the perfect opportunity to get our families together in lieu of having an elaborate engagement party. If you or your fiancé come from a family that isn't particularly religious, the ceremony can be an opportunity to express to them your belief that marriage and family are founded on, and strengthened by, faith.
As a reflection of how seriously we took marriage.
Far more than being a nice thing to do, a Rite of Betrothal contractually obligates the engaged couple to be married on a specific date. What the man has proposed to the woman then becomes a binding agreement, which, if the engagement were to be called off, would have to be formally dissolved by a priest. Thus, for the couple and for the witnesses, the ceremony sets the tone for the gravity of marriage as not merely a declaration of love, but a profound covenant wrought by God.
Betrothals can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. We held our betrothal ceremony after our parish's Saturday Vigil Mass in the small chapel where we'd gotten engaged, with only our immediate family members present. However, another bride I know had hymns, flowers, formal invitations, and a guest list of fifty.
You might have yours after Sunday Mass with family members and your bridal party and go out to brunch afterwards. You might have a larger ceremony and have a reception in place of an engagement party. Or you might have it at your parents' home, with a private Mass and an intimate dinner, if you have a family friend who is a priest.
Unless your priest is familiar with old and somewhat obscure devotions of the Church, it's likely that he won't have heard of a betrothal ceremony. The priest who did our ceremony (and later celebrated our marriage) happened to be a zealous convert to the faith, so he was thrilled when we introduced him to this tradition. If you're met with hesitation, seeking out a priest who is more comfortable with traditional liturgical practices might be the way to go.
Engagement is frequently seen as a frustratingly harried waiting period, but it's not. It's a pilgrimage. And a betrothal ceremony is a holy seal and blessing sending you on your way down the path to your vocation--down the path to greater union with God. In a world where the meaning of marriage is constantly misshapen to fit personal desires, a betrothal ceremony is a beautiful and bold way of witnessing to the truth of God's design for this sacrament.
The text for the Rite of Betrothal can be found here.
Dominika Ramos is a native of Houston, Texas though she dreams of spending her days frolicking in the English countryside. She and her husband met at the University of St. Thomas, where she studied English literature, and they were married at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham on the Feast of the Visitation in 2014. Her life is currently composed of running Pax Paper, a hand-lettering and illustration business, blogging about the transcendental aspects of motherhood (among other things) at A Quiet Quest, and chasing after her rambunctious and delightful toddler son. PAX PAPER | BLOG | INSTAGRAM