And the two shall become one flesh

Throughout both the Old and the New Testaments, there are references to marriage. It might be a command from God in Genesis, or a symbolic reference to the intimate relationship God establishes with his people, Israel, or Jesus' own teaching about the significance of marriage perhaps demonstrated in the account of his being a guest at the wedding in Cana reported in John's Gospel, or Paul's use of marriage as in image of the relationship between Christ and the church. Thus, from the faith of Israel and of the church, we learn marriage is important.

The way marriage has been celebrated in the church has differed over time. And as so often happens, tracing the liturgy of marriage also reveals the faith of the church about marriage.

It might be best to make a leap and say that in whatever way marriage has been celebrated in the church, there are a few (and very few) common points. It has been between one man and one woman. There was consent required of both parties. It was "exclusive," that is, there were no other brides for the groom, nor grooms for the bride. And there was a permanence, often stated in the marriage vows as "until death."

Early on in the church's life, it seems that what we would call civil marriage was accepted, and the Christian couple could (but was not required to) ask for the church's blessing -- usually imparted by the bishop.

Eventually, as the church saw in the love of the baptized husband and baptized wife an image of Christ's love for the church, the sacramental reality of marriage became church teaching.

There were and are some (again, quite few) requirements for marriage in the church: among them, neither party could be currently bound in marriage to another; and both must be of canonical age, she 14 and he 16 (yup, that's all). However, the church would bow to a civil law for higher ages, and they have to have some basic knowledge about marriage, such as it's about common life, the possibility of children, and until death.

Obviously, something more is required for such an important commitment on the part of an engaged couple. And indeed, the church recognizes this with its preparation -- remote, proximate, and immediate -- for marriage.

This column is not about all of that nor all of the other aspects of the marriage, before and after the liturgy. It's about the new book "Order of Celebrating Matrimony" issued in 2016, and now the required text for any marriage celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church.

A quick check of the table on contents reveals several forms a wedding can take.

For two Roman Catholics, the first option (but not requirement) is Marriage within Mass. It is placed first in the book because it is preferred.

Two Roman Catholics could choose the next form, Marriage without Mass. This is the form of celebration to be used when one party is a Roman Catholic and the other a baptized non-Catholic.

The third option is for a Marriage between a Catholic and a Catechumen or non-baptized party. This celebration may not be used within the celebration of Mass.

Also included in the book are texts from Sacred Scripture, and additional biblical texts have been added since the previous version in use since about 1970. There are also newly translated texts of Mass prayers, marriage promises, and nuptial blessings, and for some of them completely new texts.

New to this version are options for customs from other cultures: "Blessing and Giving of Arras" and "Blessing and Placing of the Lazo." In appendices can be found sample universal prayers (or general intercessions), Blessing of an Engaged Couple (which cannot be celebrated within Mass), and Blessing of Married Couple on an Anniversary with a Renewal of the Marriage Commitment.

All those involved with the preparation of couples for marriage will profit greatly from a careful reading of the new and greatly expanded "Introduction." It has concise teaching about marriage, its importance for church and society, solid guidance for selection of readings and Mass texts, and the selection of appropriate sacred music for the respective choice of forms for a particular marriage.

A last word about marriage in the church: as soon as a couple has become engaged but before making any other plans, both parties should contact their local parish and begin the pre-marriage process -- even before setting a date for a reception.