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I was listening to a recent podcast on Relevant Radio where the host said there's a tradition in the Catholic Church of not "engaging in the conjugal act" on couples wedding night and that this had something to do with the Book of Tobit. In Tobit, Tobit's son Tobias and his new wife Sarah prayed and burned fish guts to expel a demon who killed all of Sarah's other husbands on their wedding night.

I guess I was under the impression that they also consummated their marriage later that night, but is the interpretation that they did wait? And is it an OK thing to wait, even after marriage? I was under the impression that making love was tied up in the sacrament in some way.

In any event, I'm glad I didn't learn about this 17 years ago, but is it:

  1. OK to wait till later? (how long is average)?
  2. An actual tradition in the Catholic Church?
  3. A correct interpretation of Tobit?

I'd ask 3 different questions, but I think the answers might short circuit each other.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/tobit/8

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  • Interesting question - I've definitely nietly heard of lots of faithful Catholics who engaged in the conjugal act on their wedding night. So I'm not sure
    – Luke Hill
    May 13, 2022 at 15:29
  • As a part of counselling before marriage, the would- be husband and wife are advised to dedicate some days to getting acquainted with each other, before they consummate the marriage. That is a practically good advice for the reason that Catholic marriage, once consummated, has very little chances of developing to a stage where divorce is decreed. May 17, 2022 at 10:13
  • Think I found it, updated my post!
    – Ken Graham
    May 17, 2022 at 13:29

2 Answers 2

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According to Catholic Tradition, did Tobias and Sarah consummate their marriage on their wedding night or just pray together?

I do not believe there is a Catholic tradition that holds that Tobias and Sarah did not consummate their marriage on the first night of their wedding. In fact Scriptures more or less implies that they did consummate their marriage on the first night.

8 When they had finished the meal, and it was time to go to bed, Sarah's parents led young Tobias to the bedroom. 2 He remembered Raphael's instructions, so he took the fish's liver and heart out of the bag where he had been keeping them. Then he placed them on the burning incense. 3 The smell drove the demon away from them, and he fled to Egypt.[b] Raphael chased after him and caught him there. At once he bound him hand and foot.

The Prayer of Tobias

4 When Tobias and Sarah were alone behind closed doors, Tobias got up from the bed and said to his wife:

Get up, dear. Let's pray for the Lord to be merciful and to protect us. 5 Sarah got up so that they could pray together and ask God for his protection. Then Tobias prayed:

God of our ancestors, you are worthy of praise. May your name be honored forever and ever by all your creatures in heaven and on earth.

6 You created Adam and gave him his wife Eve to be his helper and support. They became the parents of the whole human race.

You said: It is not good for man to live alone. I will make a suitable helper for him. 7 Lord, I have chosen Sarah because it is right, not because I lusted for her. Please be merciful to us and grant that we may grow old together.

8 Then they both said: Amen 9 and went to bed for the night.

Although not technically a tradition, there seems to be a little known alteration to the Book of Tobit to make it that altered to make it took three nights before Tobias and Sarah consummated their marriage, instead of just one night. This may be the source of ”Relevant Radio’s tradition”:

One of the more interesting alterations of Scripture that have appeared through the centuries happened in the Latin Vulgate version originally prepared by Jerome. Jerome had been commissioned to prepare an authoritative Latin version of the Bible in 382 AD, and it was completed by the end of the 4th century. The version turned out to be very important in the church’s history. It was the standard Bible used throughout Europe for more than a thousand years.

One of the deuterocanonical books is a very interesting little book called Tobit. Tobit contains some good stories. In one, Sarah had married seven husbands. Each one of the seven had died on his wedding night after going in to Sarah. Then Sarah was given by marriage contract to Tobias, the nearest kinsman to the other husbands, and also a relative of Sarah’s. After the door to their bedroom was closed, Tobias and Sarah prayed and then fell asleep without making love. Unlike the previous seven husbands, Tobias didn’t die. Sarah’s father had prepared a grave for Tobias, but was pleasantly surprised when the door to the bedroom was opened and Tobias and Sarah were both found to be alive.

One of the alterations of Scripture that entered via the Vulgate was a change in this little story. It was altered to make it three nights before Tobias and Sarah consummated their marriage, instead of just one night. And when Tobias did finally approach Sarah romantically after three days of prayer, The Vulgate put these words into the mouth of Tobias: “And now, Lord, you know that I am not taking this sister of mine out of lust, but only out of love for offspring.” In recent years the Catholic Church has recognized the tampering that was done in the Vulgate, possibly even by Jerome, and has changed its newer translations to reflect the original version of the story.

The Vulgate’s version of Tobit was important through a long period of the church’s history. For one thing, the story of Tobias and Sarah was used to support the church’s long-held contention that the purpose of sex is procreation, and not pleasure. **For centuries the Church insisted that newlyweds wait three days before consummating their marriage, following the example of Tobias and Sarah. ** The purpose of the requirement to abstain from sex for three days was to demonstrate to God that the man and woman were in control of their passions, and that they were only going to have marital relations for the purpose of having children. - Tobias Days and the Purpose of Marital Sex

George Desnoyers does not give any quotes to his source about the three days, but simply refers to the book: Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven – Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church.

Stained Glass - Tobias and Sara

Stained Glass - Tobias and Sara

The Book of Tobias recounts the story of the pious aged Tobit and how his son, Tobias, with the aid of the archangel Raphael, was able to restore his father's health and wealth. The archangel Raphael, in disguise, leads Tobias to the lands of his kinsman Raguel. Raguel gives his daughter Sara in marriage to Tobias but warns him that Sara's seven previous husbands had all been devoured by demons on the wedding night.

With Raphael's aid, Tobias prepares a potion, the smell of which drives the demons out. He and Sara are able then to successfully consummate their marriage.

The dog sleeping on their bed belonged to Tobias and accompanied him and Raphael on their journey. In this context he may also symbolise marital love and fidelity.

Relevant Radio may have stated that there is a tradition in the Catholic Church of not "engaging in the conjugal act" on couples wedding night and that this had something to do with the Book of Tobit. However, I really doubt that to be the case. If it is a Catholic tradition, it is not a very well known tradition and may possibly limited to a specific region. I have never heard of it!

You need also to understand that the reason Tobias survives the demon’s assault is that he exorcises him using, I am not making this up, the burnt liver and heart of a man-eating fish he had wrestled to death earlier in the narrative. The angel Raphael captures the demon and ties him up in Egypt! Yes! This is the best Bible story ever for sheer entertainment value!

But, here is the reason many Catholics include readings from Tobit in their wedding Mass:

When the door was shut and the two were alone, Tobias got up from the bed and said, “Sister, get up, and let us pray that the Lord may have mercy upon us.” And Tobias began to pray,

“Blessed art thou, O God of our fathers, and blessed be thy holy and glorious name for ever. Let the heavens and all thy creatures bless thee. Thou madest Adam and gavest him Eve his wife as a helper and support. From them the race of mankind has sprung. Thou didst say, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’

And now, O Lord, I am not taking this sister of mine because of lust, but with sincerity. Grant that I may find mercy and may grow old together with her.” And she said with him, “Amen.” Then they both went to sleep for the night. (Tobit 8:4-9)

So, the Book of Tobit offers some powerful insights into the components of a godly, fruitful marriage. Tobias practices such circumspection and restraint in his wedding night with Sarah. First, he heeds the wisdom and advice of his friend to create a space of safety and welcome with his bride. Yes, most wedding nights do not involve an exorcism of such extreme qualities, but each couple needs to approach their marriage with the air cleared between them of all the past things that might separate them. - Talking Marriage & Sex with Tobias and Sarah

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Curious enough, there is a tradition, distantly similar to what you have in mind, among the followers of Hinduism in the State of West Bengal in India . It is named `Kaalratri ' literally, the black night , and refers to the night after the marriage day and before the reception from the groom’s side. As per Indian mythology, Lakhindar, Behula’s husband got bitten by the serpent and died on that night after their marriage. So, the bride and the groom are forbidden to meet each other on that night.

Of course, West Bengal like any other part of India , has many Catholics as residents, who are not known to have been following the tradition of Black Night.

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