Updated: Sep 17, 2021
Shortly after my husband proposed, we came to one another with the desire to have a Betrothal Ceremony. For me, it was something that I knew I wanted to do even before we got engaged. We dated longer than I would say that couples typically do, about 6 years, and during that time we were very intentional about our discernment. Engagement is of course a time to continue that discernment but by the time he asked, my heart was already set! However, we brought the idea to one another and took time to pray and discern before committing to it.
When we did agree to move forward with the process, we couldn't wait to share it with others and extend an invitation. However, I knew that choosing a Betrothal Ceremony wasn't common practice and when we spoke about it with others we received curious looks.
Some would ask, "So you're getting married early?"
Others would say, "Oh! This is like a smaller ceremony before the big event."
I quickly realized that this was an opportunity to discuss the ancient Rite of a Betrothal and share with others why we found this to be an important part of our engagement process.
What is a Betrothal Ceremony?
Betrothals go back to the early Church and have roots that extend all the way to Jewish tradition. While not intended for the same type of purchase or contractual exchange as it was in Jewish custom, it is a promise that the couple will be giving themselves to one another in marriage. Technically speaking, a betrothal is the giving of one’s troth, a solemn pledge to give one’s true fidelity and promise to marry. This isn't just an engagement ceremony, but a binding agreement to marry each other on a specific date.
If you have a moment, read the words of the Solemn Rite of Betrothal, they are beautiful.
In the name of the Lord, I, Steffani Aquila, do declare that, in the form and manner wherein thou has promised thyself unto me, do declare and affirm that I will one day bind and oblige myself unto thee, and will take thee as my husband. And all that thou has pledged.
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
We decided on September 8th, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For us, this had to happen on a Marian feast day to honor her betrothal to St. Joseph and to continue our devotion to her.
“ Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 1:18)
Our engagement period was dedicated to her and it only seemed right that we follow her footsteps in this regard. I wore a white and light blue dress to remind us of Mary on her birthday, and the imitation of her and the Holy Family that we were so intentionally seeking.
Sanctifying Our Engagement
We chose this for our engagement because we both wanted to bless this short 9 months of preparation and seek God's graces. I knew from spending many years as an event planner that this time would go by quickly and be filled with lots of hype, distractions, obligations, and preparation. It happens to everyone, and it's inevitable! But as Catholics we know that the most important thing is the Sacrament of Marriage, not the details of the party which can demandingly present themselves. Taking myself out of "event planning mode" was the most fruitful thing I did during this brief engagement. It gave me the mental, spiritual, and emotional space that I needed to elevate our relationship from dating to preparing for a life long marriage. That didn't just happen, it took work on our part! We also were fully aware that good preparation would not just happen by our own merit, but through God's grace and mercy so we sought to intensify our relationship with God.
We decided on several concrete actions to be able to attain this and build a routine that would hopefully pour out into our marriage.
We would start by praying together more intentionally throughout the week.
We went to confession together every two weeks (we were already attending weekly Mass together).
We would have a betrothal ceremony.
A Fringe Benefit
In addition to that came a benefit that we still reminisce about three years later. A celebration of our engagement that had lots of loved ones from our community! We still had an engagement party and of course a full wedding and reception, but there were so many people dear to us that it was impossible to invite them all to those things. By having a Betrothal Ceremony, we were able to extend an invitation to all our family, friends, and members of the parish community that my husband was working at during that time. An absolutely lovely couple from the parish offered us the gift of a reception to follow where we played some fun games, had light bites, and were able to visit with everyone. They presented us with handmade gifts that we still have in our home, and a picture of Mary and Joseph's betrothal which hangs in our room.
Consider this in your engagement preparations, or if you know someone that is engaged, suggest it to them. Engagement can become such a race to the finish line, but it was honestly one of my favorite seasons in life, I want everyone to feel this way. It comes and goes so quickly, but is filled with a sweetness that should be savored. Remember that Betrothal Ceremonies are not intended to be "one more thing," but a point in time where you intentionally dedicate your relationship to each other and God. It can be done simply and beautifully, with or without a large crowd, with or without a reception. The purpose is to help you more fully prepare for the Sacrament, and give you the graces to do just that!