Nowadays priests have the option of celebrating both the Ordinary Form of the liturgy (in the vernacular languages – what most of us grew up with) and the older form, now called the Extraordinary Form (mostly in Latin, though some of the individual sacraments could be administered at least in part in the vernacular). Perhaps you’ve been to an Extraordinary Form Mass – if you haven’t, I recommend it!
A few years back I attended the wedding of some friends, celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. For those of us with Catholic grandparents, it’s how they most likely would have been married “back in the day”. The Sacrament of Marriage itself is celebrated immediately before Mass begins, rather than in the middle after the homily (as is done now, in the Ordinary Form). And while the priest is free to preach as he sees fit, many of the older rituals also provided a sample sermon or instruction to aid the priest in communicating the essential truths about marriage.
Here is one such instruction from an older ritual which was very common, and I think it is very worthwhile for our consideration even now:
Dear friends in Christ, as you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred because it was established by God Himself. By it, He gave to man and woman a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way He sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under His fatherly care.
Because God Himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe His own love for His Church, that is, for the people of God whom He redeemed by His own blood. And so He gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self-sacrificing love like His own. It is for this reason that His Apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.
Your marriage is also then most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import, you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives, in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His Only begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. ‘Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the life-long support of His graces in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive.