In January, the Oratory is for engaged couples!

We are sometimes asked if marriages have been celebrated at Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Because of its status in the Roman Catholic Church, the shrine cannot celebrate marriages. Thus, unlike the archives of a parish church, the shrine does not keep marriage records. But then, why do some people persist in claiming to know someone who was married at the Oratory?

A “tradition” for nearly 20 years

We must go back to March 1941 for the beginning of an answer. The Annales de Saint Joseph reports in the section “Life in the Shrine” that a solemn blessing of engagement ceremony was held in January 1941 for young couples wishing to underline their commitment to the sacrament of marriage. The choice to hold this celebration in January was not frivolous. In fact, it is in January that the Church celebrates the Feast of the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph.

The article tells us that the couples committed themselves to a novena (nine days of prayer) and a triduum (three days of prayer) in preparation for the great celebration on January 23. There are nearly 150 names of brides and grooms on the list of couples “who had fulfilled all the canonical conditions of the engagement”.1

Bénédiction des fiancés

Couples at the solemn blessing of the engagement in the Oratory crypt. Unknown photographer, ca. 1948. CADRG, 184-7

The celebration was presided over by the Archbishop of Montreal, Joseph Charbonneau. And since the Oratory could not maintain registers, they were deposited in the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges.

Bénédiction des fiancés

Bishop Joseph Charbonneau blesses the wedding rings of the engaged couple. Photographer unknown, after 1941. CADRG, 184-2

The blessing of the betrothal seems to continue until the early 1960s.

A tradition of Italian origin?

This is a hypothesis, but the only record of an event resembling the Blessing of the Betrothal ceremony is in January 1940. Again in the Annales de Saint-Joseph magazine, the columnist tells of a visit to the shrine on January 15 by Mr. and Mrs. Michel Di Carlo of Montreal. The newlyweds “came to offer their sheaves and their vows to Saint Joseph. 2

Among the documents kept in the archives, there is a certificate and a prayer in Italian for the consecration of the marriage to Saint Joseph of Mount Royal. The certificate shows the crowned statue of Saint Joseph, well known to pilgrims.

Unfortunately for the moment, it is impossible to affirm with conviction that this beautiful feast of the spouses could be of Italian origin…

A great conventum in January 1958

In its January 19, 1958 edition, the daily newspaper Montréal-Matin announced that the Oratory was inviting “hundreds of couples whose engagements have been blessed at the Mount Royal Shrine for the past 17 years” to renew their vows. The participants will receive the blessing of none other than Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger. There is no longer any mention of a novena or triduum, but it is mentioned that the ceremony will take place during the Week of the Betrothed.

Promesse de mariage

Father Roland Gauthier, c.s.c., rector of the shrine, receives the offerings of the engaged couple. Unknown photographer, after 1956. CADRG, 284-3

“With faith, you can achieve anything”

In 2008, the Oratory archives received this note that testifies to what a blessing of their engagement meant to a young couple:

“On July 10, my children, my four boys, celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary. I had promised Saint Joseph and Brother André that I would get married on July 10, 1948 […] My engagement was blessed by Bishop Charbonneau […] I am very proud of it. My husband and I are passionate about Saint Joseph’s Oratory […] Soon, I will be able to go to the Oratory, I am waiting for the OK from my doctor.”

Even today, it is customary for Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal to welcome the engaged couple to bless their union… and some time later to bless the family!

[1] Les Annales de Saint-Joseph, vol.30-no.3, March 1941, p.85
[2] Les Annales de Saint-Joseph, vol.29-no.3, March 1940, p.78
[3] Roland-Gauthier Archives and Documentation Centre, F001/10.01.15
[4] Montréal-Matin, January 19, 1958, p. 97