“To have and to hold”. “To love and to cherish”. Such phrases have left an indelible mark on our understanding of what it means to unite in holy matrimony, at least in Western Christianity. But what are the origins of the wedding vow, and how has it evolved over time to become what it is today? While some still prefer traditional vows, others have opted for a more modern twist, while others yet have completely reinvented it to suit modern-day needs and personal tastes.
Religion, Ritual, and Tradition
The earliest wedding vows in the Christian West originated in the manuals of the medieval church. According to the 25th Rite of Marriage of the Catholic Church, the vow is essentially the same for both bride and groom:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
In the United States, however, this pledge often has slightly different wording familiar to many American Catholics:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer of 1549, however, the vow includes a stipulation for female submission to male authority. Where the groom’s vow uses the word “worship”, the bride’s uses the word “obey”:
I,_____, take thee,_____, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
But with the enormous social changes that swept the latter half of the twentieth century came changes to the wedding vow. In 1980 the Anglican Alternative Service Book gave couples an alternate version of the bride’s vow which omitted the phrase “to obey”, and in 2000 an omitted version became the default standard, although couples still have the option of keeping the phrase if they wish. But now it has become a creative art form, with couples writing their own vows, often with the help of books that offer ideas on coming up with perfect, tailor-made wording.
Traditional wedding vows will continue to serve a purpose, but with our decreasingly patriarchal, increasingly egalitarian society, personalized vows will prove even more relevant. Perhaps you wrote your own wedding vows, or would like to when the special day comes. What motivated you to forgo tradition for a more modern, personalized wedding sacrament?