In reaction to the denial of the sacramental nature of matrimony by several Protestant reform groups, the Council of Trent reaffirmed a number of late medieval decrees which confirmed marriage as a sacrament that has to be administered by a priest. Until that time, most often the marriage vows were exchanged at the home of the bride in the presence of a handful of members from the two families of the betrothed. After a short reading of the Rites (which are said outside Mass), the priest would bless the rings and the newly wedded couple. This function tied the knot and the marriage was convalidated.

The Council of Trent, in the decree Tametsi (1563) sought to bring marriage under ecclesiastical control and declared that the Church strongly disapproved unions unless they had been solemnly celebrated in Church. This meant that after Trent, the Catholic Church in Malta had to boldly emphasise the sacramental nature of marriage. By taking effective control over marriage, the Church had to oppose an old system of widely held uncultivated and unorthodox values. The attempts, which the local Church made to enforce Tridentine principles were met by the cherry-picking responses of the grass roots who sought to, selectively resist, manipulate, or, appropriate the decrees ratified at this ecumenical council. This was Catholic Hospitaller Malta of the late sixteenth century.

The purpose of this short paper is to succinctly document a milestone of a silent upheaval in Catholic Malta, and trace some of the effects it had on the local population.


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