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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“How can we account for differences in the Gospel accounts? Well, suppose after we left Church today, there was a terrible accident or explosion or fire. Soon the news media would be here, interviewing people as to what they saw or heard. Each person would probably say or report what struck him—or what he saw or noticed. All these reports would be different and yet they would be true.”
— Fr. Valentine Young (February 2019)

Mutuality vs. Male Headship within Marriage
published 7 January 2018 by Fr. David Friel

LENTY OF discussion has taken place within the Church over recent years on the topic of marriage. Some of this discussion was occasioned by the new English translation of the marriage ritual (published in 2016). Certainly much of the conversation has also been prompted by the 2014-2015 extraordinary synod on the family and Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia (2016).

Recently, my research interests took me in the direction of marriage, also. I decided to study a host of liturgical rites for marriage throughout history in order to assess their approach to the relationship between husband and wife. In particular, I looked for evidence of rites that stress mutuality between spouses versus rites that stress the headship of the husband.

The result of my research is an article published in Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal (vol. 21, no. 3, 252-289; full article available here). Antiphon is the journal of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, which bills itself as a multidisciplinary association of Catholic scholars, teachers, pastors, and professionals (including architects, musicians, etc.) that promotes scholarly study and practical renewal of the Church’s liturgy in the Anglophone world.

The title of my article is Mutuality and Male Headship: Liturgical Evidence from Marriage Rituals throughout History. It begins with consideration of the marriage rituals of the Roman Empire and Judaism before proceeding to those of the Christian East and West.

Summarizing the findings of this research is quite difficult, on account of the number of rites consulted and the widely disparate approaches they take. Nevertheless, the following paragraph from the article’s conclusion helps to convey some of what I discovered in concise fashion:

Generalizing quite broadly, the earliest Christian rites could be characterized by their ability to accept differentiation of roles together with equality. The rites of the middle period tend to stress the differences of roles to the exclusion of equality. Finally, in the more modern rites, there is a propensity toward the rejection of role differentiation in the name of total equality.1

As I have noted elsewhere, the marriage rite has historically proven itself to be very adaptable. This exploration of so many marriage rituals revealed to me anew the great richness of the Church’s liturgical theology on marriage.

The same issue of Antiphon also features:

1. An important analysis of Magnum principium by Msgr. Maurizio Barba, S.L.D. (“The Motu Proprio Magnum Principium on the Edition of Liturgical Books in the Vernacular Languages”)

2. An interesting argument for restoring proper order to the Sacraments of Initiation by Joshua Madden, Ph.D. (“‘Circa Aetatem Discretionis’: A Proposal in Favor of Restored Order Confirmation”)

3. A scriptural-liturgical approach to St. John’s Apocalypse by Ian G. Coleman, M.A. (“The Rubrics of Revelation: A Liturgical Reading”)

Access the full articles by becoming a subscriber to Antiphon or by requesting single issues of the journal here.


1   David M. Friel, “Mutuality and Male Headship: Liturgical Evidence from Marriage Rituals throughout History” Antiphon 21, no. 3 (2017): 287.