Marriage in Roman Church/Eastern Churches


Someone asked me in another thread what the difference was between the theology of marriage in the East and West. In the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox), the priest is the minister of the sacrament. In the Western/Roman Church, the couple are the ministers of the sacrament.

I post this just to highlight the beauty and diversity of our Faith.


Any ideas on how to reconcile the two perspectives, or is one of them wrong?


I don’t see why the Sacrament can’t be administered in both ways depending on one’s tradition. The Sacrament of Confirmation is typically administered differently in the East and the West, with the Eastern priests consecrating the confirmands using oil that has been blessed by the bishop, and the Western bishops consecrating the confirmands directly.

Also, Baptism is administered in several different ways, with dunking being more common in the East and pouring being more common in the West.

Therefore, I think the same Sacrament can be administered in several different ways or by different ministers. It seems to me that marriage is just another example of this, and both forms of administering the same Sacrament are valid.



I often see this statement but I don’t know if I accept it. Actually, I think I don’t. Could you provide an authoritative source to support it? Thanks.



We do accept that the priest is the minister of the marriage, and it is encoded in our canon law, which requires a priest to perform the marriage when either party is an Eastern Catholic.

From the Catechism:

Although consent of the spouses is necessary, Byzantine Catholic wedding ceremonies do not traditionally include vows, as the couple are not administering the sacrament to one another. I’ll see if I can find a transcript of the ceremony online.



You mention canon law and that brings me to canon 832 of the Eastern Code: it is possible for Eastern Catholics to validly and licitly marry in the presence of witnesses alone, if no priest is available. Since the marriage of two baptized people is necessarily a Sacrament, I’m not sure how this allowance, which is certainly understandable, squares with what the Catechism says.



It is also important to note that while Latin theology has always seen the couple as the ministers of the sacrament, the Church still reserves to herself the right to regulate the way in which the sacrament is conferred. Two baptized Catholics who exchange vows before a civil official do not contract a valid sacramental marriage (unless they have received the appropriate dispensation). The couple confers the sacrament, but only when they do so with the blessing of the Church. So at the end of the day, are the two views really that divergent?


You’re not the only one who finds this difficult to reconcile. The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law states the following:

[quote=]Although a valid celebration of marriage without the priestly blessing is hard to reconcile with the Eastern theology of marriage, canon 832 of the code provides for an extraordinary form of the celebration of marriage that is substantially the same as that prescribed in canon 1116 of the Latin code. However, if a non-Catholic priest is available, he is to be present to bless the marriage, “without prejudice to the validity of a marriage in the presence of witnesses alone.” In addition, the spouses who marry according to the extraordinary form are admonished to seek the priestly blessing of their marriage as soon as possible.

Eastern Catholics cannot be given a dispensation to be married by a protestant minister, a rabbi, or a justice of the peace, but a Latin-rite Catholic can. The Latin code allows for a lay person to be authorized to witness marriages in the name of the Church if the Bishop’s conference agrees and Rome grants permission. No such provision exists in the Eastern Code. The circumstances would have to be truly extraordinary, with no Catholic or Orthodox priest available. Even then, the couple are admonished to have the priestly blessing as soon as possible. This exhortation does not exist in the Latin code. Ultimately, the Church determines valid form for each sacrament, and my church has determined that, in all but the most extraordinary of circumstances, the sacrament requires the blessing of the priest. Perhaps it is similar to a baptism of desire? God confers the Grace of marriage upon the couple, even though they are not able to marry according to the prescriptions of the Church. I wonder how the Orthodox handle the situation, as their are surely many, many places in which Orthodox faithful do not have access to an Orthodox priest?

Either way, whether by consent of the spouses and the mutual conferring of the sacrament, or by the blessing of the priest, it is through the Church that a marriage becomes a Sacrament.


That same canon requires the couple to seek the blessing of the priest as soon as possible. Furthermore, your statement that the marriage of two baptized people is correct, but only in the case of what the Church determines to be a valid marriage. For Catholics, even when the parties are free to marry, there is no valid marriage if the couple attempts marriage in violation of Canon Law. For Eastern Catholics, it is in violation of Canon Law to attempt marriage without the presence of a priest, apart from these very narrow exceptions.


The Church accept both. See CCC 1623.


I’ve found it to be difficult to square myself. The way I see it is that if the Church has the authority to say that in the Latin Church the blessing of a priest is not necessary, but in the Eastern Churches, the blessing of a priest is necessary for the same sacrament, then the Church also has the authority to make these narrow exceptions for those cases in which a couple has no access to a priest.


My question is this. Do Eastern Catholics celebrate the Divine Liturgy at Crownings as the Latin Catholics do?


As in the Latin Church, Crownings can be celebrated alone or with the Divine Liturgy.

According to Fr. Meyendorff, who literally “wrote the book” on Orthodox marriage, it is the ancient tradition of the Church.


I have a copy in my hand of The Ritual of Marriage with Divine Liturgy © 1978 by Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, PA.

  1. Procession, Psalm 127, Opening Blessing
  2. Litany of Peace
  3. Bestowal of Rings
  4. The Marriage Vows
  5. The Crowning
  6. Prokimenon - Tone 4
  7. Epistle - Ephesians 5: 20-33
  8. Alleluia - Tone 4
  9. Gospel - John 2:11
  10. Litany
  11. Toparia - Tone 7
    12, Hirmos - Tone 5
  12. Cherubic Hymn
  13. The Great Entrance
  14. The Nicene Creed
  15. Anaphora
  16. Hirmos
  17. Litany of Supplication
  18. Communion Hymn
  19. Communion Prayer
  20. Communion
  21. Litany of Thanksgiving
  22. Conclusion or Marriage Service
  23. Dismissal


The Marriage Vows

The groom and bride join their right hands upon the Book of Gospels. The priest covers their hands with his stole and right hand and then says to the GROOM:
*Repeat after me:*I, N. take you N., to be my wife, and I promise to love you, to respect you, to be always faithful to you, and never to forsake you until death do us part. So help me God, one in the Holy Trinity, and all the Saints.

Then the priest says to the BRIDE:

*Repeat after me:*I, N. take you N., to be my husband, and I promise to love you, to respect you, and to give you matrimonial obedience, to be always faithful to you, and never to forsake you until death do us part. So help me God, one in the Holy Trinity, and all the Saints.

The priest blesses them with the sign of the cross, saying:

What God has joined together, + let no man put asunder.

The Crowning

The priest places a crown on the head of the groom and bride, saying for each:

The servant of God, N., is crowned in marriage for the servant of God, N., in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And blessing the couple, the priest says:

O Lord, our God, crown + them with glory and honor.

The Ritual of Marriage with Divine Liturgy © 1978 by Byzantine Seminary Press, Pittsburgh, PA.


Marriage vows in the Byzantine Rite are a Latinization, and, while often included, are by no means necessary. The last several Byzantine weddings that I have attended have not included vows. I don’t know if the ritual has been updated since 1978 to correctly reflect our theology, but in my parish and others nearby, they are not used. I’ve never seen it, but I understand there are still a few parishes/regions that still refuse to give Communion to infants and have Stations of the Cross. That doesn’t mean it properly belongs to the Byzantine tradition.


The history of the Byzantine celebration of marriage is long with many changes. There was not even a blessing until the fourth century. The fourth century brought the adoption of some traditional Graeco-Roman rite. In the fifth century the rite was not obligatory. These early forms were not part of the Divine Liturgy, but the couple received from the reserved Gifts. In the sixth to eleventh century there were two prayers, ceremonies of crowning and Holy Communion, and a Common chalice for the couple (the common cup is actually from the Graeco-Roman tradition of opening the wedding banquet). Holy Communion was included until the sixteenth century. In more modern times it was incorporated into the Divine Liturgy which is popular in Greece and the Balkans. Emperor Leo VI The Wise, introduced the ecclestical blessing (for all but slaves), that was 886-912 A.D…



Certainly, the Church has that authority. It has to be consistent, though, and I cannot see the consistency in saying:

  1. The consent of the couple makes marriage. This is true in East, West, North, South.
  2. A valid marriage between the baptized is necessarily a Sacrament. Again, true everywhere.
  3. In a certain situation, two Eastern Catholics can validly marry without the presence/blessing of a priest.
  4. The priest is the minister of the Sacrament.

Number 4 seems to be an outlier.

I looked at the work of Pospishil (an Eastern Catholic Priest) called Eastern Catholic Marriage Law–a commentary on the Eastern Code–and he comments on c. 832 by saying: “Catholic teaching and practice declares the partners to the marriage contract, which cannot be separated from the sacrament, to be the ministers of the sacrament. Consequently, the presence of the priest is, doctrinally speaking, of secondary importance. This is a continuation of the practice of the Church of the first millennium” (p. 385).

This book was published before the Catechism, however. I don’t know if he has made any changes to this commentary since then. I wonder where # 1623 of the Catechism came from–there are no references.



The two perspectives are two sides of the same coin, otherwise, they would not be Catholic.



The new (actually, first) Eastern Code does not fully reflect Eastern theology.

So, yes, there are some places where we see a lack of consistency between theology and law.

Rome was not willing to allow a full Eastern expression of marriage in the code because that would go “too far.” Allowing the Eastern Churches to reclaim their theology that the priest is the minister would have had certain consequences that they were not yet willing to accept. Remember that even the Eastern canonists who worked on compiling the code were all trained in Western canon law.

Much progress has been made in allowing the Eastern Churches to recover their proper theology and praxis, but this is still a work-in-progress.

From a genuinely Eastern perspective, the priest is the minister of marriage. For “proof” of that (and I mean the word proof in the philosophical sense) one does need to look to the Eastern Orthodox.

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