Lost and Forgotten Virtues
In 2014, the Christian romance movie “Old Fashioned” appeared in theaters and reintroduced something seemingly impossible these days: an “old-fashioned-moral-and-virtue-centered” courtship in present-day America. The movie is about the courtship between Clay, a man of good virtues, and Amber, a free spirited woman. As one can imagine, viewer reactions varied largely depending on one’s disposition regarding courtship and marriage. It would be safe to say, however, that those who remembered when moral virtues were commonplace during courtship, found it pleasing. On the other hand, many of those belonging to the more recent generations where “dating” replaced “courtship,” found it eye-rolling and unrealistic. This is especially true for those who’ve replaced dating with “hooking-up.” When asked to describe the movie, don’t be surprised to hear these people use words like “corny” and “out-of-touch.”
There are, however, some who were happy to see such a movie rekindle a virtuous part of our forgotten culture not seen by many. It juxtaposed forgotten virtues and modern thinking in a way that mirrors our present society. Take for instance the scene when Clay tells Amber about his perspective on dating:
“So this theory of yours, I’m curious,” Amber says as she stands outside his front door.
With his back towards her, Clay responds, “I don’t believe that dating trains us to be good husbands and wives. It trains us to be skilled in the superficial.”
“Who talks like that?” Amber facetiously replies.
“I do,” he replies.
From that point on, Clay demonstrates virtues such as chastity, charity, prudence, and justice; all the while, taking great care to protect Amber’s virtue of honor. . . I know, hard to believe, but that’s why seeing this on the big screen was quite refreshing for some. Today, we live in a world where vices replace virtues. Just look around at how the vast majority of couples today violate so much of theSixth and Ninth Commandments. It’s so bad that many people believe virtuous people don’t exist or that they can only be found in the world of fiction. After all, “Who lives a life of virtue anymore?”
Discovering Old Beauty
A year went by since watching Old Fashioned, and I found myself becoming increasingly despondent with the sinfulness in so many of the relationships I was seeing. The co-habitations, pregnancies outside of marriage, fornication, adultery, and hooking-up taking place made me question if there is any hope left in this world. Then something incredible happened one Sunday after praying the Tridentine Latin (Extraordinary Form) Mass at church.
I was kneeling down in prayer, when something suddenly caught my attention. There were a dozen or so people gathered in front of the communion rail at the front side altar of our Blessed Mother. Between the communion rail and the altar stood the pastor and a young couple. I knew something special was taking place, so I left my pew and immediately began making my way towards them. When I reached them, I recognized the young couple standing with the pastor. The young man, Jacob Bain and his girlfriend, Rachel Rauwolf, are very involved in the Quo Vadis young adult group at church. Both considered each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, and I often saw them praying the Tridentine Mass together.
“Are they getting married?” I wondered.
Still unsure of what was happening; I quietly asked a lady next to me if she knew what was taking place.
“They're getting betrothed,” she whispered.
“Betrothed?” I thought.
At first, I couldn’t make any connection to the term “betrothed.” It was as foreign as some of the Latin words in my missal. Strangely enough, the movie Shrek suddenly came to mind, and I instantly recalled how the jolly green ogre was betrothed to Fiona. Then it hit me.
“Ah, they’re getting engaged,” I said to myself.
Having never seen a betrothal ceremony, I just stood in awe and watched with great interest. Jacob and Rachel proceeded to join the pastor in reciting Psalm 126. Afterwards, the pastor addressed them both with an allocution:
Pastor: “My dear children in Christ, it is in God’s design that you are called to the holy vocation of matrimony. For this reason you present yourselves today before Christ and the Church, before His sacred minister and the people of God, to ratify in a formal manner the engagement bespoken here. You are here to ask for the blessing of God and the Church on your proposal, and to ask for the good prayers of the faithful here present . . . “
After confirming they have received approval by their parents and have sought counsel, the priest reminded them that they will be preparing for the sacrament of matrimony by entering into a period of virtuous courtship so that their sacramental union as man and wife will be found worthy and in union with Christ and His beloved bride, the Church.
Jacob and Rachel then joined their right hands and exchanged promises by saying to each other:
Jacob: “In the name of our Lord, I, Jacob., promise that I will one day take thee, Rachel., as my wife, according to the ordinances of God and holy Church. I will love thee even as myself. I will keep faith and loyalty to thee, and so in thine necessities aid and comfort thee; which things and all that a man ought to do unto his espoused I promise to do unto thee and to keep by the faith that is in me.”
Rachel: “In the name of our Lord, I, Rachel, in the form and manner wherein thou hast promised thyself unto me, do declare and affirm that I will one day bind and oblige myself unto thee, and will take thee, Jacob„ as my husband. And all that thou hast pledged unto me I promise to do and keep unto thee, by the faith that is in me.”
The ceremony continued with more prayers, the exchanging of rings, and the declaration of their betrothal. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Their ceremony can be seen on YouTube, and more information about theceremony for the Rite of Betrothal can be found online.
Third Stage of Courtship is a Rite
The courtship process consists of four stages. The first is friendship. Second is courtship. Third is betrothal, and the fourth is Marriage. Since courtship is rarely taught these days, it would behoove everyone to take the time to learn more about it, especially through an orthodox Catholic perspective. One of the best and most accessible ways to learn about it is via a YouTube conference talk by Fr. Chad Rippenger titled “The Four Stages of Courtship.”
In it, he points out that in the past, especially in Catholic countries; the Church did not consider a couple engaged until they went through the Rite of Betrothal. Essentially, this Rite is a series of promises made in the presence of God between the man and woman that confirm they will marry each other. Once the promise is made, both are bound to marriage unless there’s grave cause not to.
One of the best and most accessible ways to learn about it is via a YouTube conference talk by Fr. Chad Rippenger titled “The Four Stages of Courtship.”
Restoring the Sacred
When I asked Jacob and Rachel what got them to go through the Rite of Betrothal, they immediately gave credit to their pastor and their discovery of St. John Cantius Church. “If it weren’t for St. John Cantius, we wouldn’t be betrothed,” said Jacob.
I wasn't the least bit surprised, especially since the church is dedicated to “restoring the Sacred.” It’s pastor, Fr. Frank Phillips, and the Canons Regular religious order that he founded, has been helping people discover a profound sense of the Sacred through solemn liturgies and devotions, treasures of sacred art, and liturgical music. Many drive from afar every Sunday to experience these things at their reverent Novus Ordo (Ordinary form) Masses (one in English and the other entirely in Latin - both done Ad Orientem), and Tridentine Latin Masses (Extraordinary Form), which is offered daily. Their story is an amazing one in that it tells how the church went from near closure to one of, if not the most, vibrant parishes in the Chicago Archdiocese.
Their devotion to the restoration of the Sacred has brought to life the longtime Catholic Latin axiom of “Lex Orandi (law of prayer), Lex Credendi (law of belief), Lex Vivendi (law of living),” which is to say “how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live.” This is so important today, especially when one considers how the watering down of Catholic worship in the past three generations has fueled the heresy of modernism, which convinces people that the standard for what is true is interior to oneself and not of external reality. As a result, our society has come to the acceptance and normalization of many grave sins because they have allowed their “inner truths” to become disconnected from the “external truths and realities” of traditional Catholic Church teachings.
By restoring what the Saints have always considered Sacred, we can become better grounded in the fullness of Truth. The restoration of the binding force of Catholic Tradition should not be looked down upon, as many do today. Instead, it needs to be brought back into our daily lives simply because it helps us become holier. When we pay attention to the “Lex Orandi” in our life, we can really grow in holiness, thus making a major positive impact on our “Lex Vivendi.” Jacob and Rachel are shining examples of this. Their betrothal should encourage us to learn more about the many forgotten things of the Old Rite that is desperately needed today.
Three Final Thoughts
First, as a cradle Catholic who was raised in the New Rite; I was never taught about the Rite of Betrothal and the teachings about courtship, as taught by Fr. Ripperger and other orthodox Catholic clergy. When I consider the nine years of Catholic elementary school, four years of Catholic high school, almost two decades in a Catholic ecumenical movement, and all the other Catholic things I was involved in; I find it very concerning that it took more than four decades before I encountered this wonderful Rite and the teachings about courtship. I’m sure there are those, who unlike me, have already learned and experienced it, but I would be willing to bet that they represent a minority. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder if the Rite of Betrothal were widely practiced by the last three generations of Catholics; would we be seeing the high numbers of divorces, co-habitation, unholy civil unions, babies born out of wedlock, abortions, and so many of the grave vices that plague us today?
Second, should we really be promoting the restoration of the Sacred Rite of Betrothal? Given the shortage of young virtuous people these days, is it something we just leave to wishful thinking because it seems almost impossible? Or maybe it needs to be left in the world of fictional movies and books. Before answering, consider what Our Lady of Fatima told Sr. Lucia: “the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family,”
Lastly, I’d like to end on a positive note by mentioning how moving it was to see young girls watching Jacob and Rachel’s betrothal ceremony. I’ll never forget when of them asked a lady, “Are they getting married?” The lady responded, “No, not yet. First they have to become betrothed, That’s what they’re doing now. They’ll get married later.” The little girl smiled, turned and continued watching the ceremony. At first, it was just cute, but more than halfway into the ceremony; I noticed she was still smiling as her eyes remained glued to the ceremony. Clearly, it was making a positive impression on her. I’m quite confident the little girl will never forget what she saw, and that she too will likely find herself on the other side of the communion rail with her future husband. Ah, and there it is . . . maybe this is the hope of our future . . . one betrothal at a time.