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Many of life’s great milestones are covered by liturgical services: birth – thanksgiving for a church (or “churching of women” in the old days), baptism, confirmation, getting married, being sick, death.  The 2019 Prayer Book introduces a new one: betrothal, or getting engaged to be married.

On page 200 of the 2019 Prayer Book we find this statement:

The text of the Declaration of Intention, to be signed and dated by both parties prior to the marriage, reads as follows:

A robust statement summarizing biblical marriage follows, and it largely draws upon the language and content of the traditional marriage liturgy itself.  Then it states:

It may also be appropriate to conduct the signing of the Declaration of Intention during a public liturgy, to signify that the betrothal has taken place and that both parties have agreed to be prepared by the Church for Holy Matrimony, and to bid the prayers of the Congregation.

A brief liturgy for the signing of the Declaration of Intention appears on page 213.

Those who are liturgically conservative and skeptical of changes and introductions to the Prayer Book may initially shake their heads at something like this.  Also, those who are not particularly liturgy-minded may also find this strange.  Surely “getting engaged” is too personal and too picky of a point for the church to “intrude” in the couple’s life and “liturgize” it.

HOWEVER, take a look at the state of marriage in our country.  Take a look at the Christian marriages that take place.  What is said and taught at them?  How are the couples prepared?  How well do they really know what they’re getting in to, not just logistically but also spiritually?  I get the general sense that although marriage preparation was deplorably fluffy and light for a while, things are tightening up at last.  In a predominantly church-going culture there is a clearer understanding of what Christian marriage is: there are more positive examples, there are fewer people who flout or reject our doctrine, there is an implied cultural support system to help make marriages succeed.  But we don’t have a predominantly biblical Christian culture anymore, and so the Church has to take up the role of marriage preparation and support that the culture used to do for us for over a thousand years.

And so here we are, with something new.  And yet, it’s not entirely new.  The “archaic” tradition of publishing “The Marriage Banns”, which is the in-church trice-announced intention of a couple to marry, has been reemphasized in the Directions for Holy Matrimony, and piggybacking off of that is this new Liturgy for the Signing of the Declaration of Intention, wherein the parish priest announces that a couple has decided to get married and are now seeking the prayers of the congregation and preparatory counseling by the priest.  The Declaration is read, the couple sign it in front of the congregation, and the priest prays for them right then and there.

Because, let’s face it, people who want to get married need all the help they can get.  There are competing definitions of marriage all over our culture.  And it’s not just the same-sex marriage thing, but also the intentional childlessness and the no-fault divorce and the prolific online pornography and so on and so forth.  There is a lot that opposes Christian marriage, and there are a lot of lies that many otherwise-committed Christians have uncritically swallowed wholesale.  The Church must take up the mantel both of teacher and of encourager if her children’s marriages are to survive healthy and intact.

So page 200 may have some “weird rubrics” that may well be historically unprecedented, but this is absolutely the sort of change or addition that the Church today needs.

If you want to read more about the 2019 book’s marriage rite and preparatory material, definitely check out the essay “Holy Matrimony Explained” which is on the ACNA Prayer Book Resources page.

3 thoughts on “Betrothal, or Engagement, has a liturgical reality now

  1. One question: do you think a formal Rite of Betrothal will strengthen marriages or drive young couples away?

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    1. The signing of the Declaration of intent does not have to be conducted in public, that’s just the recommendation. Either way, it will be a powerful and positive resource for training people for marriage, and whenever it is done publicly it will be a time for the entire congregation to be reminded of the biblical doctrines of holy matrimony.

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